Sunday, September 26, 2010

USAT National Championships

My teammate Dan Mackenzie and I traveled to Tuscaloosa, AL this weekend for the USAT Pro/Elite National Championship, along with 42 other pro men. This race was also an ITU Pan Am cup race, so was draft-legal on road bikes as opposed to time trial non-drafting format, and included some guys from Australia, Canada, Ireland, and Barbados. I’d never raced in a such a strong field before, as there were over 15 guys who race at the World Cup level, including a group of Olympians and all the US National team guys, whose ITU races & travel expenses are covered by USAT. Some also live at the Olympic training centers for free. I was looking around the room at the pro meeting 2 days prior to the race, and it was a bit overwhelming. It’s important to be confident, but at the same time you know where you stand as a swimmer, starting swim training at age 25 instead of having years in the sport. I knew who almost everyone in the room was, from watching them on TV or reading about them online. It was stacked to say the least. A few big names were winner Brenden Sexton of Austraila, Olympians Jarrod Shoemaker, Matt Reed, and Greg Bennett, US National Champ Matt Charbot. It basically included all the top US ITU athletes, minus Olympian Hunter Kemper who was injured. Many of these guys have been racing triathlon for 10-15 years.

Going into the race I thought it would be all about the swim for me, like all ITU races are... but by the end of the day I realized for the first time, it wasn’t really about the swim do to the circumstances. It turned out, if I would have swam 20 seconds faster, or slower for that matter, it really wouldn’t have mattered. I knew a huge main pack would form, and then the rest of us. We all knew the heat and humidity would affect the day, as it was in the mid 90s by our 2:15pm start time, and river water temps were about 85. As expected, a huge swim pack of about 20 of the 44 guys stayed together and grouped up on the bike. A chase pack formed a bit back, and then a string of a bunch of guys all coming out the water somewhat alone. That included me. Looking around, there was no group within reach in front of me to attempt to go solo on the bike and bridge up to, but also no one right behind me to work with. So, I caught up to one guy, rode with him for a lap before he was dropped, and then waited until Sean (recently 8th in the World Duathlon Championships) and Darin Shearer bridged up to me. The 3 of us worked together for the rest of the 8 lap bike portion, wishing we had a group of 20 to pull us along as opposed to only 3. But, this is part of draft-legal racing with the swim being our weakness, and the tough part about racing ITU for us, since coming out of the water 30 or 45 seconds back of a large pack. We kept moving up on athletes who got dropped from the packs ahead. Some joined us, and some were dropped and eventually lapped out of the race (ITU rule). I felt strong on the bike, and went through both large water bottles early, as it was very hot. I started cramping late into the bike, and took 3 salt tablets immediately, which I think helped. The cramps stayed until about 10 min into the run, and then disappeared. I debated trying to break away after I had gapped my group on the top of the hill, but realized riding 2 laps solo would be very tough if I tried, and I’d likely get pulled back in by the group

The run turned into another sufferfest, just like Chicago. With temps around 95 and sun beating down, people were dropping, including myself and Jefferson, who is a 29 min 10k runner who ran for Nike/Oregon Track Club. It was a struggle to keep shuffling, and ice cup after ice cup being poured down the jersey, I made it to the line in 28th place. It was ugly, and embarrassing, but I knew it was the right thing, to keep on gutting it out. By the end of the day, 16 out of the 44 athletes didn’t finish, they either were lapped out on the bike, or succumbed to the heat.

Hot, dizzy, and discouraged, I took a while just sit down in the athlete’s lounge and do nothing. Just sit. It was cool to be a part of the race, but anytime you run 11 min. slower than usual, no matter the reason, discouragement is there. Running well in heat is always possible, but much more difficult when you’ve been red-lining it in the swim and on the bike for 80 minutes leading into it.

The week before the race, I almost decided not to go after my teammate Jordan switched to race the non-drafting format Westchester Tri in New York, which had prize money too but a legitimate shot at it, with most of the top US guys at Nationals and for us being better at non-drafting events.

My 2010 season is likely over, unless I race in November. All in all, it was not a great season as far as my results went. However, I earned my pro license in May, learned a ton about racing, and have thoroughly enjoyed getting a chance to pursue my goals. I’ve learned the importance of needing to stay consistent in training, to choose races carefully that play to your strengths and make sense financially. ITU racing is fun, especially with the big names there and TV helicopters overhead like yesterday, but it’s also expensive, difficult to make money, but doesn’t make much sense if swimming is your weakest discipline. I will still keep working the hardest at improving my swim, and may race 1 or 2 draft-legal races next year, but the focus will be on non-drafting and Ironman 70.3’s, which I think will suit me well. At the beginning of the year my goal was to turn pro, and that was it, nothing further. I thought I’d likely stop if I achieved that goal. I’m taking what I learned this year and making necessary changes, which will be big this next year (more to come on that soon). As long as I can cover my costs, have support, am racing for the right reasons, and taking care of my responsibilities, I’d love to keep going. Just like last year, I’ll say it again. One more year. Thanks for your support.

P.S. I am getting my USAT coaching certification in January, and am seeking additional athletes of all levels to coach. Spread the word!

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Brad Rides

My roommate Brad is cycling across the country, beginning next week, to raise money for a great cause. Check out his blog!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Malibu Triathlon race report: A Costly Puncture

The last 3 races have all been disappointing, but for different reasons -not because I'm out of shape, struggling with confidence, or some other issue...just things you can't control too much (like staff infections, heat exhaustion (although now I realize it was partially my fault in Chicago..nutrition was bad, calorie intake way too little for the afternoon race on no lunch), and now a flat tire.) You live, learn, and try to avoid bad luck.

I flew into Santa Barbara for a day and a half (AKA paradise, I could write another separate entry on why SB is the perfect place for any pro triathlete to train...minus the cost of living) and headed to Malibu with great friends from Multisport Ministries and Riptide teammates Jordan Jones and Josh Merrick.

The swim: The ocean swim wasn't too bad. Waves were smaller than most years, so it was relatively calm. My arms were heavy from the start, but that was fine, as I never blew up and the heaviness never got any worse throughout the race. It was a chilly 58 degrees, but I didn't notice it at all when the gun went off. For once, my goggles didn't fog which was great. I've finally learned the secrets to no-fogging!! Finally! It has to do with simply buying new goggles..frequently, and not racing in the same pair you use at the pool since the anti-fog stuff wears off after a few uses. A little spit can help sometimes, but never rub it around with your fingers, which removes the original anti-fog stuff. I also found some good Barracuda anti-fog drops (which also never worked before in old goggles), but adding these to newer goggles helps basically, get new goggles and only plan on using them for a few races. Then replace them. For the pool, use separate goggles and wash them out with shampoo (baby shampoo and use fog drops right after that). That's the only thing that's worked.

I came out of the swim as the 6th pro I believe, right with my teammate Jordan and about 1:30 back of Olympian Matt Reed, which was a fine position for us both. Josh was about 4 min. back, but as always his bike and run moves him up in a hurry. On the bike, I road side by side with Jordan out of transition, didn't see a huge speed bump, tried to hop it but slammed my disc wheel right on it as I didn't bunny hop far enough! Jordan laughed with me about it post-race, it was loud, and sounded like my bike could have cracked. I felt great on the bike, and both Jordan and I were biking great and moving up in the field, passing all the super-swimmer women like Hayley Piersol & Olympian Julie Ertel within the first mile or two. We caught my friend Chris Berg a bit before the turnaround and were both feeling great. I was having probably my best race to date, sitting in 5th behind an Olympian, the 8th place Ironman Kona finisher Mathias Hecht from Switzerland, Fraser Cartnell of the UK and of team Trek/KSwiss. He was also the Ironman UK Champion and is a multiple time Ironman 70.3 Champ. Jordan was in 4th.

Boom! On my way back along the coast, on the beautiful PCH, AKA the Pacific Coast Hwy for all you non-SoCal lingo speakers, I heard a loud pop, looked down, and saw air spraying out of my disc wheel. My day was done, my tubular was flat, and I found myself sitting on the side of the road with my hands on my head and my thumb up eventually trying to find a ride back. I killed some time by hurling some rocks into the ocean and found that a great way to take out anger, along with screaming very loudly. Athlete after athlete rode by me...I was crushed, and sat on the side of the road for about 25 minutes until the Triathlon Lab van rescued me. From emotional high to devastation, I had thrown my bike down screaming (a few, or perhaps a few too many, words I shouldn't repeat on this blog...words that rarely come from my mouth). I was crushed emotionally, as this would likely have been my best pay day as a pro so far, as top 5 get paid.

I made it back just in time to catch the finish and to see Jordan finish an incredible 2nd place (with a blazing sub 32 min run) to Olympian Matty Reed, and collect his $2500 check. Reed came home with $5000. Josh rounded out the podium with a 5th place finish and also a paycheck after a crazy fast run as well, where he passed a few to grab the final spot. Congrats to my Riptide men for huge results!! I was so pumped to see them do so well.

Things like this happen, and there's not much you can do about it. Just move onto the next race. It's part of racing, and you just have to accept it.

Here's a podium shot I took... wishing I was up there too. Just serves as more motivation, that's all. I'm getting hungry to be up there :)

Thanks to the Multisport Ministries men who helped sponsor the trip, Bethany Nickless for letting me borrow her car for the weekend, and my boys in Santa Barbara who let me stay at their place.

Here's a few pictures of some great things from the weekend.Los Banos Pool: 50m. In the Santa Barbara harbor lot. Awesome. I used to swim there daily at lunch with a group of guys. I miss the pool, and miss those guys. I got a short pre-race Friday workout in with them, it was great to be back.

SB City College Track: Up there with the new Westmont track, the most scenic track in the world, across from the harbor. I miss doing my 400s there.

Westmont College Track: the new track I wish we had when I ran there.

Malibu Beach Inn: View from our Malibu hotel. Thanks so much to Steve Silverstein and Erik Burkholz for sponsoring the stay and race! I was looking for a floor to crash on, and ended up with a pullout couch and a view like this!

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Chicago Tri Race Report

After two recent races that didn't go as well as I had hoped, it's been a bit hard to focus and stay on track this week. The thing about triathlon is, you can't judge an athlete by a single race. Some days things just happen, and the only thing you can do is stay positive and keep after it. Some tell me I am hard on myself, and I do hold myself to high expectations, but I think that's necessary to continue to climb to the top. After coming home from Canada, I had two days in Denver, then packed up the time trial bike and flew to Chicago to race the largest race in the world, with over 10,000 athletes, and visit my cousin Brandyn. The pro race was absolutely stacked, with a few former Olympians, world cup ITU athletes, 6 members of US National teams, the winner of St. Anthony's, and some Ironman 70.3 winners. My goal coming into the race was top 15, after seeing the list. By the end of the bike leg I was in 14th or 15th, and finished 18th on the day, but it turned from a race into an episode of Survivor.
The swim in Lake Michigan was nice. I wore a swimskin for the first time, since it wasn't wetsuit legal, which helped a ton. I learned my lesson at Boulder Peak, being 1 of only 3 pro's not wearing one, and as a weaker swimming compared to these guys, I need the help! They aid you about 30 seconds in a 1500m swim (as tested in the pool a few months ago). I swam well the first 1000m, and was in a great position for me. The last 500m I fought through it, but drifted a bit mentally, as well as literally too far left against the seawall, which made me lose contact and the ability to draft of off my teammate Jordan, and into choppier water as waves were bouncing off the wall. The run out of the lake to transition was almost a half mile I bet, on cement, by far the longest run-out I've done. I passed 4 or 5 people on the bike leg, and entered the run in 15th and feeling strong.
It was about 95 degrees out by 1:30pm when we entered the run, and extremely humid. That's when people started dropping like flies, myself included. My first few steps off the bike didn't feel good already, and unfortunately that never changed. Long story short, if you could get through without heat exhaustion, you'd have a great race. There were about 5 or 7 of us that it hit hard. Cameron Dye went from 1st onto the run, to finish 12th I believe. Olympian Matt Reed ended up 7th. Stephen Hackett ran a 44 minute 10k (or shuffled/walked), and Ethan Brown dropped out in front of me on the run, as I saw him sitting under a tree along the course. People were suffering out there. I was struggling at mile 2 already, just from pushing it hard for the previous hour in the water and on the bike. Running in that heat & humidity isn't usually a problem for me, but I don't test myself much after an all-out swim and bike. I was forced to walk some at about mile 3, my body was shutting down early. I wasn't cramping which was great, so my nutrition has been working, but my head was pounding, and I felt like I was in a furnace, and I was very very weak. At each aid station, I forced myself to drink 4 Gatorades the last 2 miles, or I knew I wouldn't make it across the line. I poured cups of water on my head every mile, but after 10 seconds later my body was screaming for more. I nearly dropped out many times, and debated what was the right thing to do. I ran/walked a 44 minute 10k, 9-10 minutes slower than usual : finish slowly and trash the body, or drop out and come back stronger in training this week. I flew to Chicago, which is a long ways, so knew I needed to finish the race. I stumbled across the line, onto the ground, was hauled to the medical tent on a stretcher chair where they took my vitals. My heart rate and blood pressure was very high, so they made me take an IV in my right arm. I told them I don't need it, since I'm not a huge fan of needles, but they ignored me and said, "yes, you do!" 10 minutes later I was told I should probably go to the hospital, and was asked if I wanted to. I refused of course, knowing I don't have the health insurance for that, and once I got an IV in me I'd be fine. The hospital was not necessary and would be going way too far. I had heat exhaustion, and knew it. Lying there with ice on top of me and the IV in my arm, I didn't really know what to think. I wasn't really mad, but just simply sad. I was having a strong race, and if I could have run my usual 34-35 min 10k run split, that would have put me in 9th or 10th, and 1oth place took home $600. 10th in a race this competitive would have been a great result. Usually I'd be very frustrated, this time I simply was very bummed, probably because I don't really know what I could have done differently to avoid this. I felt hydrated coming into the race. Sometimes there are answers and things you can learn from, other times you simply don't know why it happened and how to prevent it for next time.
I have two more races left for 2010 for sure: Malibu and Pro Nationals in Alabama, and will finish the season strong and with confidence. I have a plan for next season already, a different plan from this year, which I know if I stick to it, I'll reap the rewards. It will take more discipline, training, and planning than ever, but now know what it takes to compete at the top.