Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The Cheap Triathlete Gets Serious

When I started this blog, one of my reasons for it was to express my views on being a triathlete who was unlike other triathletes in my attempts to keep it a manageable hobby both in terms of financial resources and time constraints. Yet I’ve found myself evolving as an endurance athlete and have become increasingly aware that my perceptions and goals have shifted.

In the last year or so, I’ve accomplished goals that I never even had the audacity to set in years past. Things I always accepted as being true (“I guess I’ll always be a 10 minute miler”) have begun to change. So what does that mean?

It means I don’t want to just be a triathlete. I want to be good. Or at the very least, better and always getting better.

I may have been a little dishonest with myself in believing I could do triathlon cheaply. Or maybe I just wasn’t invested enough in the effort. But let’s face it, when registration fees range from $85 to near $1000 per race, it’s hard to imagine how this sport could be inexpensive. And, for better or worse, I still try to do some things as cheaply as possible (my Kinvara 2s are almost a year old and have at least 1200 miles on them).

BUT I have reached the point in my triathlon career where I want to improve, even if it means investing a little more money into that effort. So, I now have a coach. Well, coach/team. I'm proud to say that I've joined Brian Hammond's group, the Everyday Triathletes!

Over the past couple of weeks I did some research, spoke to Brian and even got the opportunity to chat with one of his athletes, who had nothing but praise for him. I met with him last week and we sketched out a training plan, which I'm very excited about and hope to get into a little bit more as the weeks go by.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Meeting a Champion: Chrissie Wellington

Last week I had the rare opportunity to meet a triathlon celebrity. This would not have been possible if my friend and fellow NYC Ironman hopeful Trey hadn't alerted me to the opportunity a few weeks ago. He mentioned it in a tweet, so naturally I signed up on the spot. Ever since I started doing triathlon, I've heard Chrissie Wellington's name mentioned though admittedly I never did too much reading or investigation. If I had, I would have realized what a legend she is. You know what, just go take a look at her Wikipedia entry.

Her story is amazing, as you must have gathered if you read anything in that article. I was struck by how humble she is despite everything she's accomplished. It was actually pretty funny because it seemed like she was trying to be very casual in talking about how she got where she is (sincerely, not in a falsely humble way) but there's just no way it can be done. You can't hear the things she's done and not be absolutely stunned.

The talk was great. I very much enjoyed the questions that were posed to her by the host as well as the answers she gave. Also, the woman never stops smiling! While waiting to meet her, I read through the prologue, introduction and got about 5 pages into the book itself. It made me emotional. Can't wait to finish it.

Actually meeting her was sort of impersonal, and I can see why. When faced with the idea of meeting hundreds of people in the span of an hour, I can't imagine one can think of enough things to say so that each person feels like they truly met her. But it was enough to say hi and mumble whatever silly thing it was that I thought to say in the moment. Meeting someone who's accomplished as much as she has in this sport was an opportunity that I'm grateful to have had!

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Race Report: The Brooklyn Half Marathon

What a day it was on Saturday. First, I can't tell you how excited I was to be running Brooklyn. The last time I ran it was in 2009, when my half PR was right around 2:10 and I was riding high off my first marathon. If I remember correctly, it got a little stuffy on that day, too. I think I had to take a couple of walking breaks and ended up finishing in 2:22:00.

If someone had told me then how I'd run the race three years later, I would have laughed.

Post-race with friends Amortya and V
On Friday night, I sat on the couch eating a disordered dinner of baked beans and spaghetti squash. I considered the fact that I might have put a little more thought into that, but ultimately I wasn't too worried. I've had a couple of really good half runs and figured I could hardly expect the streak to continue. Why worry about it? When my roommate Jeremy came in, I told him I didn't intend to go crazy, only to finish under two hours.

It's interesting how much impact sheer mentality can have on a race. When I ran the Verrazano Half Marathon nearly a month ago, I went in thinking it would be my best chance to break 1:50 because I kept hearing about how flat it was. The minute the race started, I went out aggressively and I was looking to pass as many people as possible. I raced hard, but I'm not sure I ran my race. The performance was good enough for a slight PR, but I was disappointed.

On Saturday, I ran like I had nothing to lose. Big deal if I wasn't passing people or on track to run a 1:50. I only wanted to run under two hours anyway. There was no pressure whatsoever.

And yet...I was on track to run a 1:50. Or at least close to it. I utilized the stopwatch app on my phone but only glanced at it three times. At mile 1, mile 2, and just as I crossed the finish line. Why these particular places? Well, I wanted to ensure that I had settled into a good pace. After I saw I ran my first mile in 8:23, I thought it was probably a little fast. So after mile 2, I checked again and saw that I'd run an 8:24. It was good enough for me. An assurance of some level of consistency was all I needed, so I put the app in the background and ran my race.

That's not to say I wasn't looking at the time clocks at each mile. I certainly was and I had a decent idea that I was doing under 8:30 miles. But I kept telling myself it didn't matter. "Great," I thought, "I'm on track to get the 2 hour half. Anything better than that is a bonus." I didn't let myself think about what that bonus could be. When my mind did start wandering to that, I'd remind myself that I would get that sub-2. That's it.

What the what?!

Imagine my delight when I pulled the app up mere meters from the finish line and saw that the timer had climbed just over 1:48. As I crossed and hit the stop button, it said 1:48:18. I don't often smile uncontrollably or without inhibition, but I was doing it on Saturday. I think I had gotten all the way to bag pickup before I could stop.
The PR train is going to stop somewhere. Until it does, I plan on enjoying the ride.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Guest Race Report: The Brooklyn Half Marathon

Name: Szymon
Hometown: Port Washington, NY
Runner since: 2008
Favorite Recovery Food: Pizza
Favorite Recovery Drink: Water. Lots of it.

The past 5 months have not been great to me when it comes to running. In January, I had an epic cough and enough chest congestion to make me miss running for a month. Afterwards, in early April, I had shin splints, so again, my running volume suffered. On May 7th, I caught something while on little sleep, large running volume and travelling. I did not run at all until May 19th, the Brooklyn Half. Considering on Tuesday I was a definite “no go”, I am very happy that I came out and ran the half. Did fairly well, all things considered.

My half marathon goal has been 1:29:59 (~6:50 min/mile pace). A more conservative goal, I figured, was anything as long as my pace was below 7 minutes per mile. So anything below 1:31:54. Regardless, this was going to be the first half marathon that I actually raced to my maximum abilities. I did not hit either goal, but I did manage to lower my PR by 5 minutes. Here’s how we got there.

I drove from Long Island to Coney Island to park. I woke up at 4:45am, had a coffee, a pop tart, threw a GU into my pocket, but forgot to account for the clusterfuck that was happening at the entrance to the Aquarium parking lot. It delayed me by at least 10 minutes. That meant I’d probably not have time to visit the bathrooms since it put me in the starting area at 6:40am. Fine, I’ll warm up along the course! There must be porta-pottys along the course right? Wrong. Not on the roads around Prospect Park anyways. So I got to the starting line without using the restroom beforehand for the first time ever. Oh, did I mention I forgot to have anything to drink other than coffee in the morning? Rookie mistake. I haven’t raced in a while, but come on. I guess I was going to be drinking a lot in the fluid stations.

I knew all along I wasn’t going to be doing 1:29:59 and really wasn’t even sure what I shape I’d be in. I figure I could maintain a 7:05-7:10 pace all the way. I took my Chocolate Outrage GU (outrageously chocolaty by the way). Gun goes off and I start at 45 seconds on the clock. The first mile went well, I felt I was going a bit fast but felt good. Second mile went well too. I thought I was in a pretty good pacing area as I was going a bit hard but was convinced everyone around me was caught in that too. By the time I finished the first 5k, I felt strong. I was taking fluids, maybe a bit quickly but effectively. I hit 21:38, so an average pace of 6:55. A bit fast, but there were some downhill areas. I knew that inside Prospect Park I’d slow down.

I ran the next 5k in 22:14, that’s a 43:52 (7:02 min/mile) 10k. Not too bad considering. The pace for that split was 7:11 min/mile. Again, considering it was through the hilliest parts of Prospect Park, I was happy. However, this is also the split in which I first felt the shivers and goosebumps. Considering it was in the high 50’s/low 60’s and I was running mostly in the shade maybe this was expected, but I couldn’t stop thinking it was also an effect of my dehydration.

The next 5k took us down some hills and on to Ocean Parkway. I knew I was going fairly fast and expected some slowing down. I knew it was going to be hard because at mile 7 I felt the tiredness a bit. Not a good sign considering I was just half way there. I pushed on down Ocean Parkway, quite a boring part of the race. I ran with this one redhead-bearded dude running in Vibrams. We hit 15k at exactly 1:06. Overall pace 7:04. Split in 22:0 (7:05 min/mile).

After passing the 15k mark I started feeling my fast starting pace and dehydration catch up to me. The shivers and goosebumps continued. Again, I was unsure to the exact reason as this early in the race, I ran through the entire Ocean Parkway segment in the shade. It was a cool temperature but also I expected to be sweating more. Sweat was dripping off my hat so I guess I was ok…ish (I never felt dizzy or weak or lightheaded, so that’s good). Once I hit the 10 mile mark, it was only 5k to go. But each mile started feeling longer and longer. At the fluid stations for mile 10, 11 and 12 I walked for 5-10 seconds when I drank water. I knew I needed to keep on hydrating as I did not want to pass out right after the race. When I hit 20k, the clock said 1:29:04 (7:08 overall). Split: 23:07 (7:23 min/mile). I think mile 12+ was the real killer here as I was essentially jogging compared to my initial pace and people were passing me left and right.

The last 1k was horrible. Took me 5:12 (8:19 min/mile). The 800m left to go sign really did not help me here. It felt like a mile before I saw the 400m left to go sign. Up the ramp to the boardwalk I saw the finish line. I crossed it slowly, raised my hands a bit to pretend I finished strong for the photo and walked on. I went straight for the water, taking it in as much as possible and went for a bagel as I was obviously depleted of sugars as well.

Unofficially, I timed myself at 1:34:30. But on the whole, I missed my goals. So how do I get to 1:29:59?

  1. More Lactate Threshold runs. I have been doing a lot of tempo runs and I think they are the main  reason I can maintain a below 7 pace for a long distance. I’m currently running 4-4.5mi @ 6:40-6:50 pace. I’d like to continue that and do 1 weekly LT @ 6:25-6:40 for 5mi.

  2. Longer long runs. This will come naturally as I am switching to marathon training, but before the half my longest runs were in the 14 mile range. That’s fine, but it did not really put me under considerable glycogen shortage and don’t think I trained my body to deal with it.

  3. More tempo runs. 5mi LT runs are one thing, but maintaining a fast clip for 13.1 miles is not easy. Doing 8-10mi runs at HM pace a few times before the race should be effective to teach my body the pace and train myself to maintain it.

  4. Drink much less alcohol. In fact, cut it out as much as possible. This is a tough one as I love a good beer. Maybe a good start is no beer during the week? The reasons for this are that I may lose a bit of weight, which will help my speed. But mainly, drinking less will help my recovery and allow me to run stronger during my training.
These principles stay true for the marathon so I’ll be working on that for the next 4 months. After the marathon, I’ll try for another half in the winter time. As long as I stay healthy and hydrated, I’m confident I’ll hit my goals then.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Race Report: The Bassman Half Distance Triathlon

Well, it’s a week and a half late, but here it is. My overall impression of the race itself was very positive. I thought the race directors did a fantastic job and I was very impressed with how organized it was, considering the fact that there were sprint, half distance tri, half distance du, aqua bike and relay events. I was mildly confused only a couple of times on the run course and I'm frequently confused for no good reason at all, so that’s probably worth disregarding.

In terms of my own race, I did better than expected. I went in hoping to do the swim in an hour (sounds slow, but it actually took me a bit longer than that during my first half attempt), the bike in four hours (mostly I just wanted to make the cutoff) and the half in two and a half hours (going in, I thought this was optimistic). All that would have put me at 7:30 for my overall time, excluding transitions.

The swim was two .6 mile loops around Absegami Lake. The water was chilly but not nearly as bad as I expected it to be. After a few minutes of swimming, temperature wasn’t an issue at all. Honestly, aside from a general lack of enough experience with open-water swimming, I didn’t have too many issues at all. Sighting went, if not well, better than expected. I did a lot less weaving than I recall doing in past races. Bottom line: I have a lot of work to do in my swim, but this was a decent start. I completed my swim leg in 53 minutes.

The bike was definitely the most challenging part of this race and not because it was a particularly difficult course. I finished in 3:53, which was just under my goal. The course wasn’t especially hilly or tough, but I had issues with the nutrition and hydration. I’ll discuss this in more depth at the end. On a frightening note, one woman actually took a spill and broke her arm. It’s always scary to see something like that happen and to realize that, at a certain point, the only reason it wasn’t you was some measure of good fortune. Luck, as it were. Realizing that injury is something of an inevitability can be daunting and is something I’m wrestling with on the bike.

Finally, there was the run. The glorious, wonderful, final-stretch run. Although I went into the race believing all would be fine if I could just get through the bike, I began to doubt myself a little bit at mile 59.2. I worried that I didn’t have enough energy for the run. Fortunately, I was very, very wrong. The run was amazing and I was in the perfect frame of mind for it. It energized me, and I took it one mile at a time, knowing that only my favorite race distance stood between me and a half iron finish. Seriously. I don’t think I’ve ever been in a better mood starting a half marathon. It was especially interesting observing other runners. Judging from the looks on nearly everyone else’s face, I may have been the only one enjoying myself on that last leg. But then again, who knows what my face looked like. I finished the half in 2:14:16.

I achieved my goal, which was to finish. I made all the cutoff times and even did 22 minutes better than I hoped. Ultimately, though, I should have done better. I attribute part of this to a general lack of experience. I wasn’t totally certain when and how hard I should push. I attribute a much larger part to my poor nutrition/hydration plan. First, breakfast wasn’t nearly caloric enough. When I did my long bike ride the week prior I consumed double the calories I did before this race. And that was only for a bike ride! That was mistake number one. Number two was not consuming enough on the bike. Or the run, for that matter. It’s a good thing I was in such a good place for the run or I might have suffered more for that. Basically, I had a bagel for breakfast, four gels, some Mike and Ikes (don’t ask) and Gatorade. I know what you might be thinking:

Don’t look at me like that! It’s a learning process. And boy, did I learn. I realized just how bad a job I did with this when, the day after the race, I wasn’t sore at all. That can only mean that I had a TON left in me and just didn’t have the energy to tap into it. So that’s why I say I should have done better. I think I really could have.

But you know what? There’s this:

Mission accomplished. I'm on the right track, even if I have a long way to go. 

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

My Pre-Test Test (First 60 Mile Ride)

As you may have read previously, I signed up for the Bassman Half Distance Tri last week. I was (and still am) nervous about it, though I'm pleased to report that my fears were partly assuaged this weekend.

What scares me most about the race is the bike portion. At an attempt of the Amica Ironman 70.3 in 2010, I did not make the bike cutoff and thus was unable to start the half marathon leg. Granted, I'm in much, much better shape this time around, but that has done surprisingly little to shake my persistent fear of failure at Bassman.

Since my training started, I've gone on a few relatively long (40 miles) rides. But sometimes (especially last weekend) they go around the city, which is terrible for gauging how the ride will go under regular triathlon circumstances. Once I'd registered, I knew I had only one more opportunity to ensure that I'd have the ability to complete the bike course. (You might be wondering why I wouldn't make sure of this before registering for a half distance tri. For that, I have no reasonable answer. If I did things the right way more often, I'd find myself in many fewer frustrating, unfortunate and occasionally amusing situations. I'll save that introspection for another day.)

I knew this past weekend would be a pivotal one and that it would give me a good idea of where I stand in my training. I had the Verrazano Half Marathon on Saturday morning, planned a swim for later that day, and...a 60 mile bike ride planned for Sunday. The half went off without a hitch. The swim went well too, though I did it in a pool instead of the ocean because it was close to 40 (4.4 C) degrees out on Saturday.

I was anxious about the ride and calculated that I needed to be able to bike 58 miles in 4 hours and 30 minutes if I wanted to make the dreaded cutoff. That works out to 13.3ish miles per hour, which I knew should be very doable. The morning of, I puttered around the apartment, filling water bottles, devising some sort of nutrition strategy, and just plain old worrying. Once I had a bottle in each cage and some Shot Bloks in my tiny saddle bag, I was ready to go and headed off to Central Park.

And you know what? It was fantastic. I did 10 (yes, 10) loops of Central Park. I stopped when my cycle computer hit 58 miles so that I could make note of the time. 3:58. I knew I was in business. The whole ride came out to 62.4 in 4:15. Having the computer to monitor my pace was essential. I was doing hills at 9-11mph, downhills at 20-22mph, and tried to cruise at about 15. Here's another thing: it wasn't even hard. I wasn't sore on Monday and I wondered how much better I could have done if I had pushed it.

I didn't lose too much sleep over that. Mostly I was ecstatic that it really looks like I'll pull off Sunday's race. And even more exciting, I'm starting to really believe I'll be ready come August 11.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Race Report: The Verrazano Half Marathon

I wouldn’t exactly say I was disappointed with this weekend’s performance at the NYCRUNS Verrazano Half Marathon, but I also wasn’t quite pleased with it. One way or the other, though, I view it as a very exciting step.

Let’s start with the race itself. It was waaaay down in Brooklyn. In Bay Ridge, to be exact. The scenery was gorgeous. Kudos to NYCRUNS for having the gumption to take advantage of such a simple, beautiful course despite its distance from Manhattan. I would imagine other race organizers might have shied away from something so far away (or maybe I’m wrong and just a snobby Manhattanite). But from what I can see, the race was a staggering success. It was a nice, small field, the course was fast and the field was competitive.


I was, however, less than charmed with the fact that there were no mile markers. Or if there were mile markers, I didn’t see them. (Edit: there were, in fact markers on the ground that runners were advised of. Apologies for the oversight and special thanks to race director Steve Lastoe for clarification) The course consisted of two out-and-backs. The first went out about 4 miles and came back to the start, which started a second 2.5ish mile out-and-back to the end of the race. Normally I try to minimize the information to which I have access by not wearing a watch. Instead, I’ll check the time clocks at each mile marker so that I have at least a good idea of my pace. This race had only one time clock and no mile markers so I found my normal race calculations to be pretty impossible. Even timing it would have been little help. The only piece of information I have about anything before the end of the race is that the time clock said 1:09 something once I’d done the first loop. So, 8ish miles? 8:30ish pace? I guess? I didn’t even really know what to do with that once I headed out for the final, smaller loop.

Recently, I've begun to recognize that I'm now capable of racing people. I know, this sounds silly but it's true. Previously if I was passed by another runner, I'd almost cede my position to them and make no attempt whatsoever at keeping or catching up. But I've somehow gained the wherewithal to strategize. To know when to stay five steps behind or right on their heels or even when to just blow past. It's all very psychological, and I'm starting to truly understand that.

I PRd at this race (1:51:11), not because I was smart about it, but because I raced hard. If the NYC Half Marathon was all about finesse and smart running, this one was about brute force. I don't think I was even a mile in before I started trying to pick people off. It went decently, but I got myself into some trouble as I found myself dueling with someone around mile 4. It was too soon to be racing that hard, and I sensed that, even if it was too late to do much about it.

The brilliant thing was that, even after I lost that battle and she'd raced on ahead of me, I kept racing. Even though I was a little spent, I kept up the pace and out-raced a few more runners. For years, races have been a battle between my body ("Really Brain! We can do this! Let me speed up. Please?") and my brain ("Shut up and keep running. There's a waffle in it for us at the end..."). But on Sunday they were united ("All systems go. Next target: the girl in the aqua tank top. Increase speed to 7.0 mph.").

It was absolutely a good feeling and I'm proud that I pushed my limits and didn't give up. HOWEVER, I did end up sacrificing what very well could have been a sub-1:50 run if I had done it properly. It happens. Too bad it happened on a course as flat as this one, where a near-2 minute improvement was possible if not likely. Still, though, I'll take that PR and be proud of a hard-fought race.

More scenery!