Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Tri To-Do List

So I want to know what events are on your triathlon To-Do list? Beyond that, what are your favorites? I am starting to rough out my season schedule and that always gets me thinking about racing priorities. There are so many great races in so many fabulous locations. Generally our budget (pre-baby) only allowed us to fly to one race a season, the rest are mid-west-ish.

Let's start with my favorite races.
Ironman Lake Placid is probably the greatest location I've ever raced in, followed very closely by the uber-difficult DeSoto Triple-T (foothills of the Appalacians in Southern Ohio). The town of Madison and the amazing crowd support there puts Ironman Wisconsin on my short list. I dug the Wildflower experience, but it will probably be awhile before I make it back. My club's local race, the Tri-Shark Classic is always an outstanding race to kick off tri season.

I've tried to click off most of the midwest "classics" the last few seasons. I've gotten in Memphis in May, Pigman Half Iron, Muncie Endurathon, Chicago Tri, Steelhead and Spirit of Racine. These are all legitimate classics, but none of them make the short list. Memphis in May is the closest. I did really like racing the off-road mountain bike tri and the olympic on back-to-back days. It also has an awesome atmosphere. I'd have to say I downright dislike the Chicago Tri and won't go back unless it is for the elite event because the age group Olympic event is way, way overcrowded and dangerous on the bike. Still, everybody should do it once so they can say they rode on Lake Shore Drive.

I always try to do a few new races each season, so if someone has midwest suggestions then let me know!

What about the to-do list?
This is always fun to dream about.

Kona sits at #1 but only because it is the World Championship. In many ways, it is the pinnacle of our sport and I will be incredibly excited to check it off next fall. In general though, I like courses with mountains and scenery (definitely not Kona). If it wasn't the World Champs I don't know if Kona would be very high on my to-do list. I guess I really have a split list. Races to do because of the course/location and races to do because of the prestige of the event. The prestige list is short, so let's stick with that. #2 on this list would be Xterra world Championships in Maui. This is the only race that is near the top of both the prestige list and the bitchin location list. I really, really want to do the Kona-Xterra double, but I think they are now two weeks apart. I'm almost certain they used to be just a week apart?? #3 Depending on location, I am some years interested in making it to the Olympic distance world champs. Only when a cool location intersects with the prestige of the event!

My to-do because it sounds cool and/or tough list is longer.

Money absolutely no object?
Ironman New Zealand
X-terra World Champs
Ironman Canada
X-terras in all kinds of exotic locales

In the states?
Escape from Alcatraz
World's Toughest 1/2 (Auburn)
Xterra Nationals (Lake Tahoe)
Xterra Eastern Regionals (VA)
Silverman (non-IM North America IM in NV)
Boise 70.3 (to visit the Hartmans!)
70.3 World Champs
Hyvee (because it is close and fast)
Lifetime Fitness (MN)

In the last 6 years, I've been fortunate enough to have made good progress through my original to-do list. I've gotten to travel with some awesome friends and meet more at the races.

So help me -and other readers- plan by telling us your favorite races and what's on your to-do list!

I'll see you at the races!

Monday, December 3, 2007

Make No Little Plans.

"Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men's blood."

Daniel Burnham



Daniel Burnham was the famous Chicago architecht who devised the 1909 "Plan of Chicago" that essentially shaped the city as we know it today. Burnham was also the brains behind the hugely ambitious 1893 Chicago World's fair. To say this guy knows what he is talking about when he says "Make no "little plans" is an exercise in understatement.


First off, a big thanks to Mr. IronWil for the awesome new blog header!

Kona was on NBC this past weekend and watching the race helped to snap me back into triathlon mode. I always take a good chunk of time completely off from triathlon after an Ironman. Add a new baby and my brother's wedding to my post-Wisconsin activities and my down-time has been extended even more. Fortunately for me the only race I am really concerned with doesn't happen until next October. I have the luxury of really easing into this next tri season. In fact, if I want to peak in October I absolutely have to ease into the season.

Goal setting is one the most essential elements in any endeavor. My buddy Bolder calls it a Declaration of Intent. Burnham admonishes me to make no little plans. One of the best ways to stick to your goals is to make them public. Letting other people see your goals -no matter how ambitious- adds a great deal of accountability.


So here you go. My top goal for 2008 is to place (top 5) in my age group at Kona. Since it is the World Championships that means top 5 in the world! Wow it sounds crazy when you put it that way! I barely made top 5 at Wisconsin, how do I plan on jumping up to top 5 at Kona? One big advantage I have is qualifying this year. I've got a whole year to improve unlike anyone that qualifies in '08. Looking at the last few years, it is going to take at least a 9:20 to snag 5th place. Times vary greatly according to conditions, but here's how I broke down a 9:20:

Swim: 58

Bike: 5:05

Run: 3:10

Transitions: 00:07


All of a sudden this seems to enter the realm of possibility. On any given day in-season, or out-of-season I could go out and do that swim or run time as stand alone events. The swim is 1 minute faster than Wisconsin and the run is 8 minutes faster. Actually if I don't walk aid stations I don't even have to run faster than I did at Wisconsin.


The bike, then will be key. My best bike is 5:09 in Florida four years ago. I am a much better biker now, but Kona is (usually) no Florida. With another year of bike-heavy training, 5:05 should be manageable.


That leaves me with putting it all together- which is the tricky part, of course. That can only be decided on the day. Sub 9:20 would be the race of my life, but far from impossible. My 4:23 half-IM at Steelhead is a good indicator that this could happen.


Bottom line is not to make little plans. I could go to Kona with the intentions of racing conservatively and saving face. I've now been Sub-10 3 times and could probably go another high 9 hour race without tremendous difficulty. But why? Why not risk it all? Who cares if I have to walk it in- I'd be among good company. Because of the costs associated, this will probably be a one-time trip for me. I'm not going to play it safe.


Here's my promise to my family, my teammates, my sponsors, my tri-club members, and blogland at large:


I won't play it safe at Kona. I will race for a huge PR or blow-up spectacularly!


Friday, October 12, 2007

Hello, babies. Welcome to Earth.

"Hello, babies. Welcome to Earth. It’s hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It’s round and wet and crowded. At the outside, babies, you’ve got about a hundred years here. There’s only one rule that I know of, babies — “God damn it, you’ve got to be kind.”"

-"God Bless You Mr. Rosewater" Kurt Vonnegut






Proudly announcing Jonah Allen Sweet!

Born: September 30, 2:41pm

5 pounds 7 ounces, 18 1/2 inches long




Last Saturday Cara was hosting her home cross country invitational (she coaches for Prairie Central High School). After a long day of setting up, coordinating race results and tearing down, we were looking forward to a relaxing Sunday of sleeping in and getting some things ready for the baby who was supposed to come around November 1. This due date had Cara and I a bit worried because she is the Matron of honor and I am the best man in my brother's wedding next weekend. She kept saying we needed to videotape our reception dinner toasts which was not at all appealing to me. Well that problem was quickly resolved as we found ourselves making a trip to the hospital very early last Sun. morning.



After about 12 hours of labor (which by the way Cara says is harder than Ironman) Jonah Allen Sweet made his debut. For being a full month early he was a bit small, but didn't have any real problems other than a bit of jaundice which let him spend a day in the baby tanning salon bed.

Mom and baby have been home now for more than a week. Lexi (our dog) is adjusting to the new center of attention pretty well and would like nothing better than for us to leave Jonah alone on the floor where she could give him a thorough licking bath!





Jonah has been sleeping well between meals (2-3 hours). I can't even begin to imagine having a newborn and managing the type of training I was doing leading up to Ironman Wisconsin. To date, all I have done is 2 easy rides since Wisconsin. I forsee lots more time on the trainer this winter!







For more Jonah news and the full lead-up story check out my wife's blog:

Friday, September 14, 2007

Imagine.

“You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.”




In 2002 I did my first-ever Ironman in Wisconsin. I was 23 and just a year out from my collegiate running and swimming endeavors. I had dabbled in sprint tris since grade school, but I had only done two Olympic distance races before tackling the Ironman. Furthermore, I had never swam a full 2.4 miles, biked more than 100 or run more than 18 miles! Still my goals were lofty. Even as a grade schooler I didn’t dream of playing in the World Series or even running in the Olympics. I wanted to go to Kona and do the Ironman! I wanted to contest the winds and brutal heat and find out how I measured up.


Me and my brother Andy after a kids tri.
(Circa early 90s!)


Call it cocky, youthful bravado, but I had put massive amounts of time and effort into competitive swimming and running over the years. I understood how to hurt and figured that would be enough to qualify. On race day, IT band issues forced me to walk more than I had planned and I ended up finishing in 10:55- about 30 minutes out from a slot. I realized this was going to be a hell of a lot harder than I had anticipated. I re-grouped, did some research (hey I'm a librarian!) and figured that if I could go under 10 hours then I would surely get a slot the next go around. I redoubled my training efforts and incorporated some ½ IM races into my schedule. I managed to go sub-10 in my next two races but narrowly missed slots both times. I was stronger than ever last spring before Lake Placid, but a broken collarbone put a kink in my training and I just missed another slot, finishing in 10:05.

Getting so close was frustrating, but that was just a minor aspect of Ironman racing. I loved long course racing! I've learned that I am never more aware of being alive than during an Ironman. You become acutely aware of your body and the world that surrounds it. Those races also gave me a tremendous amount of respect for my competitors and training partners. I knew how hard I trained so I could guess how hard these other guys worked to keep beating me. Racing –actually racing- Ironman will take everything you have. The race will look you square in the eye and say, “Is that all you got?” then kick you in the nuts like a schoolyard bully and walk away laughing! “Better luck next year, kid.” Triathletes- and in particular Ironman triathletes- inspire and motivate me. If Frank Farrar at age 78 can finish under 17 hours, I can sure as hell figure out how to get further under 10 hours. Sometimes the race beats us, but something deep inside, something incredibly strong makes people come back time and again to face down the distance. My hat is off to you all.

So, last fall I signed up for Ironman Wisconsin with redemption in mind. I was going to train like crazy and go back and smoke the course that broke me down 5 years ago. If any sport rewards discipline, determination and sheer bullheadedness it is long-course triathlon. I’ve had people ask me what kind of training you need to do for an Ironman or for a sub-10 Ironman. On one hand this is an easy question to answer. Anybody can go back and see the exact workouts I did to get ready THIS season. I’m a huge fan of training, but not training logs. In fact through my sponsorship with Team RaceAthlete my Training Peaks log was the first time I ever tracked my training over the course of a season. You can see my season totals and individual workouts here. What is not obvious is everything that came before. All those cold mornings on summer swim team. Growing up in the country and always being outside doing something or other. The cross-country state meet in 8th grade. Setting a collegiate record in a swim relay. How do you tally all this up? You don’t. You can’t. It’s not about adding up miles and watts and yards in some mystical equation that will yield a Kona slot, or a sub-3 olympic tri, finishing your first 5K, or a Boston qualifying time. Over the years it becomes an attitude. A lifestyle. It’s about being healthy and active. It’s about finding out what your amazing body is capable of. It’s about the journey.

A big part of the journey this year was Team RaceAthlete and our team sponsors. I am hugely indebted to Stu and Roman for all the time they sunk into making this team a reality. Putting together a team of fully-sponsored age group athletes was an idea whose time had come. From a marketing perspective, we all know that Faris Al-Sultan is going to be stupid fast on any bike costing more than $1500. But what can a top-of-the line BMC, Zipp wheels & Power Tap, 2XU wetsuit, professional coaching, testing at the Boulder Center for Sports Medicine and a world-class bike fit do for the average age grouper? Quite a lot as it turns out. First off, eight out of eight members of Team Race Athlete finished Ironman Wisconsin- no small feat. I think seven of eight had what they would consider good or great races. Of those who had raced Ironman before, most set PRs on one of the toughest courses out there. As for myself? I finished 37th overall and finally nailed that Kona slot! I’M GOING TO HAWAII TO RACE THE BEST IN THE WORLD!!
Race Report

Swim
Goal: An hour or better.
Time: 59:48
Swim Place: 128
Age Group: 14

I really don’t swim much (seriously!). Swimming gets really neglected because I have traditionally been a weak biker in comparison. I’ve seen much better returns devoting my training time to riding. What this generally means is that I swim about 3000 yards no more than twice a week.


Me and Iron Wil heading out for a practice swim



Since the water on race day was mid-seventies I opted for my sleeveless 2XU wetsuit. Coming from a competitive swimming background (I was strictly a sprinter) I hate having full sleeves unless the water is below 65. Before the race I had the chance to talk with BMC and 2XU sponsored pro triathlete Wil Smith (left) and found out he does the exact same thing. For this race I decided to position myself a bit more aggressively. I made my way to the front and all the way to the inside where I encountered Simply Stu slacking off and hanging onto a kayak (manned by a Tri-Shark volunteer!) before the start! Traditionally I have started wide to stay out of the washing machine and just ate the extra distance. This race, I was in the hunt for any extra time I could get so I started inside and up front where I would get on faster feet and swim a straight line. I still don’t know if I like this strategy! I ended up swimming a touch faster than usual, but the first 400 meters was really brutal. I had to be very conscious of defending my space and swimming the proper pace. I never push the swim that hard. For me the difference between going really hard and fairly easy is only about two minutes. By taking it relatively easy I get those two minutes and much more back over the course of the day. The swim was mostly uneventful. Swam a poor line a couple of times and didn’t have a good draft the whole time, but I came in around my time goal. Out of the drink and ready to rock!

Bike
Goal Time: 5:20 (under perfect conditions)
Goal Watts: 195-205
Time: 5:28 (20.5mph)
Ave. watts: 193
Bike Place: 86
AG Place: 7

Funny thing about me and cycling. It is my favorite of the 3 sports, but it has also traditionally been my weak event. In fact, I’ve spent the last 5 years focusing primarily on riding with the single goal of bringing my cycling in line with my abilities in the other sports. It has been a long -and at times- frustratingly slow process. Sometimes I would only see small gains over the course of an entire year. With the guidance of Coach Mike Ricci from D3 Multisport, this was the year that things finally started to turn around. Of course, having a brand new BMC Time Machine tricked out with Zipp parts, wheels and a Powertap didn’t hurt. The biggest change I saw with the coaching was doing more intense intervals and riding progressively harder for long training rides. The Powertap helped to really focus my training and racing efforts.

I crossed paths with fellow Tri-Shark Eric Arndt in transition (he managed to swim about a minute quicker!). I started out very easy on the bike and my day nearly ended ½ mile into the ride as the athlete in front of me launched both rear bottles on the first bump on John Nolen Drive. It was very close- I actually weaved in between two bottles as they were rolling. Easy solution here tri peeps: Elite Ciussi Gel bottle cages. Bend them in and the gel tabs hold the bottles like vice grips. My plan was to take the first ten miles easy. My legs felt OK- but not great, which actually ended up being the theme for the entire day. Memphis in May turned out to be the only race this season where my legs felt really great during the bike. Coach Mike's recommendation for my goal wattage range was 195-205, which represents 68-72% of my FTP. After the first 10 miles I let the wattage go up to the low 200s. A few people were passing me, but I was making up places at the same time. The temps were outstanding! I started taking in nutrition after 10 miles. On the bike I use a custom formula from Infinit Nutrition that has 260 calories per bottle and all the electrolytes that I need. I supplemented this with a few gels, bananas and half a plain white bagel at mile 56. Nailing down my nutrition has been a huge boost to my racing. The biggest change I made as a result of racing with the Powertap was really backing off on the hills. I thought I rode the hills conservatively before, but in reality it was nowhere close to easy enough. Backing off on the hills made it easier to ride strong on the flats and to not trash my legs for the run. For Wisconsin I cobbled together an 11-27 cassette from an 11-23 and 12-27. This gave me a great gear range for this hilly course. Having the 27 was one of the smartest moves I made. I was able to stay seated and spin smoothly up almost all the hills. Unless I needed to stretch my back I tried to stay seated when climbing rather than standing and mashing. The Zipp 606s were a perfect set-up for this course- aero yet light.



After the race my wife said to me, "I've never seen you smile that much during a race." It's true. Sometimes people mistake my grimace for a smile, but I often race pretty deadpan. I thought alot about how Natasha Badmann is always smiling even on her bad days. Staying positive is one of the best race day strategies. As it turns out a couple of my bike pictures have me with a silly grin!



At mile 56 I checked my average watts and I was a touch high (219 zeroes excluded). This was kind of nice though, because I knew that I could back off and easily maintain pace. Having lots of support from the Tri-Shark club scattered over the big climbs really helped. It’s always great to see someone you know on the course to break up the monotony. Of course the Alp d’Huez like crowds in Verona certainly helped out as well. It was funny to notice how when I hit the crowds my wattage shot up! Felt pretty solid on the second loop. I hit mile 100 and was continuing on the theme of feeling good, but not great. I think my nutrition was pretty close to spot on, but I definitely struggled during the last 12 miles. There are still a few hills in the section back to Madison. Add in a stiff headwind and 100 miles of riding and this section was wicked hard. I actually started taking in more calories because I was worried I was running low. Thinking back though I just think it was damn hard- nothing more.


Run
Goal: 3:15-3:20
Time: 3:18
Run Place: 32
AG: 5

For most of my Ironman races I’ve come off the bike to pretty severe stomach cramps. This time the stomach was feeling great. I almost didn’t want to think about it in case I would jinx myself. I don’t like having a heart rate monitor strap on all day, so I just put it on for the run. My run plan was to keep the heart rate around 150. I wanted to run relatively conservatively until mile 18 where I would lay it on the line. Early on I hooked up with Brian Fort who I swam against in high school. He was having an amazing debut race and we ended up running miles 3-8 stride for stride. It was great having someone to work with. We were making up places like crazy and even reeled in a few pros who were having a bad day. We sort of added Heather Haviland to our steady little group for a couple miles. I was hitting my heart rate ranges, but not watching mile splits. At mile 7 I realized that we were running almost 7 flat miles! (including walking most aid stations)! No matter what the HR said, I knew I couldn’t hold 7 flats for an IM marathon, so I dialed it back a couple notches. For nutrition on the run I really tune in to my body. If I start craving pretzels I probably need salt. If my stomach gets queasy I just take water for a mile or two. I did carry some Espresso Hammer gels and took two of these over the course of the marathon. Coke saved my race in Coeur D’Alene so I was looking forward to that magic again. Since I was feeling good I held off on the sugar rush until mile 13.

I knew that a few guys from my age group had gone around me on the bike and I figured a few more were probably ahead of me all day. I was doing my damndest to pick up places while still maintaining a pace I could hold onto for 26 miles. My first half was about right on: 1:35. I knew from experience that I probably would not be able to negative (or even) split an IM marathon. 1:35 gave me a bit of a cushion. I never felt really terrible during the run. I never felt super-strong like I did at Steelhead. Again having lots of support on the course helped keep me out of death-march mode. When I hit mile 18 I didn’t have the reserves to really pick it up like I had hoped. My goal of “laying it on the line” ended up translating to just maintaining pace. The latter stages of an IM marathon are very tricky. I always position myself right on the brink of blowing up. I’m so precariously balanced on this edge that I felt I needed to walk through the mile 24 aid station just to make sure I had calories for the next two miles. Rounding the final homestretch I checked over my shoulder to make sure I wouldn’t have to kick it in. Seeing that the coast was clear I slowed down and enjoyed the last two hundred meters. I gave some high-fives and crossed the line in 9:55:11. I was three minutes slower than Florida (much faster course) but it was my best placing ever! I ended up 37th overall! That improves to 18th when you take out the pro field!

Not too long after finishing I got a call from relatives who were monitoring the race on Ironmanlive. They said I was 4th in my age group. I couldn’t believe it! I wasn’t ready to start celebrating because I didn’t know how many slots my age group was going to get. I was hoping that 4th just might do it. Because many racers in the 25-29 age group eventually become pros, it is almost always the hardest age group to qualify out of. As it turns out my age group did only get 4 slots! Two of those rolled, but again if I was even 5 minutes slower over the course of the whole day, I would have been shut out again. Everything finally became real the next morning at Kona registration. I sat down next to Paula Newby Fraser and wrote a painfully large check to at last secure my trip to Kona. To top off the day I found out that my fellow Tri-Shark club member and long-time training partner Chris Daniels had also gotten the last slot in his age group. Yeah Baby! Another year of the Chris & Chris training team!!





I got to go up on stage and get my award from Mike Reilly- a pretty damn cool experience. Even better than that was going up on stage later for a picture with my family! Everybody that is not pregnant in the above photo did the race (Cara's already notched a Wisconsin finish). This was Heather's (Andy fiancee) first and Andy's 4th. It was the first time we've raced the same race and I loved all the training and racing I got to do with my brother this year! I could never race as well as I do without my families. My families include my relatives, the Tri-Shark Club and my new RaceAthlete family. Thanks to you all.

Now almost a week later, I’ve already completely shifted my focus. After so many months of intense training it feels good to be doing something else. Cara is teaching, coaching high school cross country, taking a Master’s class and –oh yeah- she’s 7 ½ months pregnant. She was extremely patient and accommodating during all my training and racing. I think she was as relieved as I was that I finally got my slot. Now I’ve got a kitchen remodel to finish, some lights to wire and some beers to drink! There is the wedding in October then some big changes in the Sweet household come November.

Thanks for sharing the ride!!

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

ALOHA!!!!!


Wow what an amazing experience! I have so much to say about Ironman Wisconsin and the great support from Team RaceAthlete and the Tri-Shark Club. I'm trying to gather some pics to work into my race report. I'll have something up in a couple days!

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Game on!

Steelhead 70.3
Benton Harbor, MI
Aug. 4, 2007

I was all set to train right through this race. It is a tactic that has served me well before. The Evergreen International was my only other "A" race this season besides the big dance. Steelhead was just a B or C on my schedule. Coach Mike had other plans for me. Instead of the big lead-up week I had intended he wanted me to taper (again!!!). I've only been making small gains in my IM racing the last few seasons, so I have been following coach's advice and doing things differently this year. I've been doing a lot more short course racing. I've been doing workouts with more structure to them. More intervals. More rest. And in this case a taper week when I would have done a big training week on my own.

So how did all this play out? Very well. 6 minute PR well. 13th out of nearly 2000. Before, during and after I just considered this race another in a series of stepping stones towards Ironman Wisconsin. It ended up being one heck of a step.

Although it seems much further away, Southern Michigan is only about a 3 hour drive from Central Illinois. I headed up with my brother and his fiancee on Friday afternoon. We racked the bikes and met up with some of the Tri-Shark club members for dinner. Even though we got started at some ungodly early hour, parking was still horrendous and didn't leave us with quite as much prep time as I would have liked. On the flip side, the morning was gorgeous with temps in the 60s and very light winds.

Swim
Lake Michigan was as calm and warm as I've ever seen it. When I did this race 4 years ago the waves were absolutely wicked. Back then it wasn't a point-to-point swim with the current either, it was out and back. For those that did the 2003 race (before the sellout to the 70.3 series) every part of the old course has changed. I started in wave 11 which assured that I would be doing a lot of passing all day. I started the swim a bit wide and fell into my long course rhythm pretty quickly. It was actually too warm for my long sleeve 2XU wetsuit- I would have been better off in the sleeveless. I took almost no time to start catching the earlier waves. This meant lots of dodging and weaving around. Annoying, but I don't think it slowed me down that much. I felt like I was getting a decent boost from the current, but still came out of the water about where I usually do (29-30 minutes). A long run through the sand did a great job of blowing the nice relaxed heartrate I had mostly maintained during the swim!
(30:22, 68th)

Bike
I remembered the Steelhead course as consistently rolling with a few longer hills, but no real climbs. This new bike course did have quite a few rollers, but no where near as many as the old course. I put on a big rear cassette and ended up never having to leave the big chainring in front. On the bike things were really clicking. I did a 100 mile training ride the weekend before at over 20mph, so I wanted to really lay it on the line for this race. Felt really good from the gitgo. It was a bit scary having to do so much passing of the earlier waves. I had a couple close calls due to riders not staying right or swerving while trying to get a drink. My brother reported seeing a peloton of drafters, but it was actually pretty clean around me. I hit the halfway point thinking there would be no way I’d keep it up for the second half. I was averaging around 23mph and 220 watts. I knew I was working incredibly hard and had to stay on top of the calories. I used 3 bottles of my custom Infinit formula (270 calories per bottle) and two gels. Seemed pretty good calorie intake considering I only ended up in the saddle for 2:23!! I actually managed to pick it up slightly in the second half! Great ride for me- the biking is finally starting to come around. 49th best bike split.

After Steelhead, a new smackdown Sweet-family style has firmly established itself. At the Evergreen Olympic tri I averaged 1 watt more than my brother Andy. Well, he retaliated by throwing down 1 watt more than me at Steelhead! Sept. 9, 2007 the saga continues………

Run
Whenever I have a really good ride, I don’t know what to expect out of my legs. I finish up the ride wondering if I overdid it and fried my legs. Leaving T2 I still couldn’t get a good sense of how the run was going to go. My stomach is always a bit queasy coming off the bike. Taking only water the first couple run aid stations usually goes a long way in remedying this. I set a solid, but manageable pace early on. There are a couple good-sized hills on the run course to keep you honest. The weather was cooperating by not warming up past the low 80s. I picked up a few age group spots in the first miles. Around mile 5 a guy from my wave flew around me and I decided it was time to take some risks and lay it on the line. I went with him and bumped up to a pace faster than anything I've held onto during a 1/2 IM before. This definitely resulted in some serious suffering, but I held pretty close to this pace for the rest of the race. The run course incorporates two loops which was great because I got to see so many of the Tri-Shark Club members. We brought at least 15 people up to this race! It really helped seeing someone you knew every couple of minutes. I gave it everything I had left the last couple of miles to try to close in on my pacesetter. I didn't manage to catch him, but it sure helped my time. I ran about 1:25. This is only 4 minutes off my open half marathon PR set in cool weather on flatter roads! In other words, I was moving along at a pretty good clip. I think my run split was the 12th best of the day.

Overall time: 4:23:40
13th overall
3rd in my AG

My age group placing easily got me a slot for the 70.3 World Championships. I'd love to do this race, but my lovely wife will be having our first baby within a week or so of the race. Needless to say I wasn't granted a hall pass for this one!

I would have been content training through the race and just turning in a decent time. A big PR is a nice confidence boost going into Wisconsin though! Only a couple weeks of hard training left.

Game on.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Race Recaps

I wanted to give everyone some quick recaps on my last few races. I had some time away from racing after my big spring racing block to get some serious training in. Check. A couple mid-season races, another short, intense training block and then it will be taper time! Wow it is coming up fast, but I'll be ready!



Dragon Tri
Pekin, IL
Saturday June 23
1.5 mile swim, 20 mile bike, 4 mile run

Yeah, you read those distances right. This smaller race is organized by my former high school swim coach, Andy Weinberg. Andy believes that the time spent in each triathlon discipline should be more balanced, hence the funky distances. I'm all for it! If we're going to be 3 sport athletes then lets be balanced 3 sport athletes!

The swim was in a nice residential lake. 3/4 of a mile out, 3/4 mile back, no wetsuits. I like swimming without the wetsuit, but it does slow down the times a bit. It rained some during the swim and bike, but I got into my long course swim groove and felt relaxed and comfortable. Andy recruits lots of his swimmers for this race, so I was a ways back coming out of the water (35:31).

The bike had a number of rolling hills and a few fast sections with new pavement. This was a C priority race and I was really feeling the week's training. My legs hurt the entire ride, but my power ended up being right in there with my other races. We had light rain on the ride and I made up quite a few places. I really enjoy this new aspect of racing since I used to spend the whole bike getting passed. I came off the bike in 3rd overall. (53:44)

I expected my legs to feel like crap on the run, just like the bike. Nope. Felt great from the get-go. Go figure. The run course had some good hills which I like. I moved into second overall in the first mile. I wanted to have a good run even though first place was way out in front. I kept the pressure on and turned in the day's fastest run split (25:48- I said it was hilly!)

Second overall. 1:56:05 Decent race for me. Fun course.
Results: http://www.dragonracing.biz/dragontri.htm


Proctor Cycling Classic
Brimfield, IL
Saturday June 30, 2007
Cat. 5, 34 miles

Another training race for me. This is one of the larger bike races in Illinois. It is designated the Illinois State Championships. I have not purchased a cycling license, so I race cat. 5 which still seems plenty hard. Like Hillsboro earlier in the year, I came to Proctor with a big group (about 8) of strong triathletes. We did a good job of planning ahead of time. The plans were simple: do everything possible to avoid the race coming down to a field sprint. With this in mind, I launched the first hard attack 1 mile in hoping the rest of the field had not warmed up that well. Most of the pack countered easily, but the high pace was established early on. This course actually has quite a few hills, which is one of the reasons I wanted to race it. Our group led a number of attacks the first lap.

At the start of the second lap, the peloton was mostly together, but people were starting to hurt. We don't have a King of the Mountain, but we do have King of the Hill (which is fairly short, but really steep). A crash in the middle of the field on this climb gave a big group of us a chance to make a break. I spent a ton of time and effort trying to organize the group. No one wanted to work together. So frustrating! Lack of coordination allowed a few people to bridge up. My long-time racing buddy Gabe was involved in another crash when someone stopped pedaling in the middle of a climb. I may have ran over his bike, arm or something, but managed to stay upright myself. This crash narrowed the lead down to about 8. Some coordination now, but not much. Another guy that was riding well tried to get me to leave the pack and go alone with him over the last few hilly miles. I figured he was underestimating the hills and the power of the pack, so I let him go. Oops, he was stronger than I thought and managed to solo the hilly section for the win. I kept the pace high over the hills and whittled down the remaining pack.

Unbelievably Gabe picked himself up after the crash and managed to bridge back to the pack with little or no help! Amazing! By the 1K mark Gabe and I had shaken everyone except one rider. We were all wasted and had pitiful sprints. Gabe tried to lead me out for the win, but I was on the other guy's wheel. Gabe took second, other guy 3rd and I was 4th. I came to find out that if I had nipped the other guy at the line I would have been the Illinois State Road Race Champion for Cat. 5. All in all, an excellent day of racing and training. I learn a lot every time I enter one of these.
Results

One of the things I learn is to question whether I should do these races at all. Road racing is risky business when you have to register for an Ironman a year in advance. On a very sad note, a female cyclist was killed in the Women's 4/5 race. The race was safe, and very well organized. It was just a tragic accident in every sense of the words. Apparently, Beth Kobeszka, of Chicago, and a member of the XXX Racing Team was bumped and crashed over the centerline on a hill. She was struck by a horse trailer coming the opposite direction. You can find out more here:
http://www.xxxracing.org/index.php
Cyclingnews.com also ran a story: http://www.cyclingnews.com/news.php?id=news/2007/jul07/jul03news
My condolences to Beth's family and friends. Hopefully they can find a small bit of solace in knowing that Beth (like the rest of us) was doing something she loved.

Lake Evergreen Tri
Hudson, IL
Saturday, July 21
1.5K Swim, 40K bike, 10K run

Last, but not least was the Lake Evergreen Tri this past weekend. I was really stoked to have a go at this course. This is a local race that my tri club is heavily involved in putting on. It is small (around 300) but due in part to pretty good prize money the competition is top-notch. Kiwi Brian Rhodes flew in from Boulder to throw his hat in the ring along with some of the best racers in the midwest. This is really one of the first times I have ever had an Olympic distance race as an "A" priority race. In the past, all my "A" races have been longer. This means that I was tapered and rested for the race.


Swim: No wetsuits. Perfect. I don't like the things. As it turns out though, my wetsuit helps my times more than I like to admit! I raced in the elite wave along with about 30 others. From my vantage point there was a distinct gap between the uber swimmers and the rest of us. I didn't have as many feet to follow as usual. I went a bit off course sighting into the sun. I felt great though! Probably too great in hindsight. I have a tendency to lapse into energy-conserving long-course swim mode. This is not good in an Olympic race. I was probably not pushing myself hard enough for this distance. Felt good the whole way though. (Swim 24:19)


Bike: I've been logging tons of bike miles and was ready to rock! In the end my ride was more Kenny G than Korn! To be fair to myself, this course was actually accurate unlike Memphis in May which is a good mile plus short. There were also more rolling hills that slowed things down than I had anticipated. My legs felt better than any race this year. I was hoping for a sub-hour ride, but knew I would have to have an outstanding day to do it. Again I was mostly alone for the ride, which didn't help. I only picked up two places. Power was decent, but not stellar- pretty much in line with my other bike legs. Head unit said 251 ave. watts. Normalized power should be a good deal above that. Time: 1:02:36 (23-something mph)

Run: I really wanted to have a faster run than Memphis. At Memphis my run was the only thing a bit off. The Evergreen course is almost completely flat. I took off at a good clip and never really dropped off much. In fact although I couldn't go faster, I felt like I could hold the same pace for more than a 10K which is a good sign for Wisconsin. I picked up a few more places on the run, but not quite as many as I hoped. My goal was to run under 37 and I went 37:48.

2:06:27
10th overall
2nd in my age group (behind a former age group world champion)
Results

All in all, an OK race. Actually my fastest time on an accurately measured course. Top-end speed was lacking, but that is to be expected when you're training for a race that lasts longer than a work day!

A final note is that Brian Rhodes was a class act! Very, very cool guy. We were so excited to have him come out to the race. I'm pretty sure he thought it would be a somewhat easy way to make a decent paycheck. He did a nice little swim clinic for everyone the night before the race. Very approachable, down-to-earth and wickedly funny. His words to us afterwards were something to the extent of: "Christ, why didn't anyone tell me there would be all of these fast, young kids? I would have swam harder. I guess I should have googled them!". Rhodesy ended up in 3rd behind Daniel Bretscher (24 and soon to be pro) and Brian Hague (22). We hope to see all of them back next year.

This all got me to thinking about the Illinois Visitor's Guide, which is what I will leave you with!

Illinois Visitor's Guide

For those of you who have visited the great state of Illinois, or plan to in the future, I pass this on:

Illinois Visitor's Guide. This list of rules will be handed to each person as they enter the state.

1. That slope-shouldered farm boy did more work before breakfast than you'll do all week at the gym. He doesn't need your respect, but he sure deserves it.

2. It's called a 'gravel road.' No matter how slow you drive, you're going to get dust on your BMW. I have a four-wheel drive because I need it. Drive it or get it out of the way.

3. Any references to "corn fed" when talking about our women will get your butt kicked...by our women.

4. Go ahead and bring your $600 Orvis Fly Rod. Don't cry to us if a flathead breaks it off at the handle. We have a name for that little 13-inch trout you fish for...bait.

5. If that cell phone rings while a bunch of mallards are making their final approach, we will shoot it. You might hope you don't have it up to your ear at the time.

6. That's right. Whiskey is only two bucks. We can buy a fifth for what you paid in the airport for 1 drink.

7. The Fighting Illini and the ISU Redbirds are as important here as the Lakers and the Knicks...and a dang sight more fun to watch.

8. So you have a sixty thousand dollar car. We're real impressed. We have a quarter of a million dollar combine that we only drive two weeks a year.

9. Let's get this straight. We have one stoplight in town. We stop when it's red. We may even stop when it's yellow.

10. Yeah, we eat catfish and turtle. You really want sushi and caviar? It's available at the bait shop.

11. They are hogs. That's what they smell like. Get over it. Don't like it? Interstate 57 goes two ways- I-70 goes the other two. Pick one.

12. So every person in every pick-up waves. It's called being friendly. Try to understand the concept.

13. Yeah, we have golf courses. Don't hit in the water hazards. It spooks the fish.

14. Now, enjoy your visit to Illinois. Oh, and one last thought...."The "s" on the end of Illinois is silent...."


Cheers!
Chris

Monday, July 9, 2007

These Are Days

These are days youll remember.
Never before and never since, I promise, will the whole world be warm as this.
And as you feel it, you'll know its true that you are blessed and lucky.


-These are Days. 10,000 Maniacs



Well folks, I just got back from an awesome weekend of training on the Ironman Wisconsin course with the Race Athlete Team, some great people from my Tri-Shark Club and about 50 other Tri Geeks. We all converged in Madtown for the second Wisconsin Ironman Brick Adventure or WIBA. A huge thanks to Iron Wil for coordinating the entire weekend. She did such a great job that we had about twice as many people as we thought for dinner Friday night!

The weekend in brief looked like this: Friday- Power Clinic presented by Saris/Cyclops at the very cool Zoned 4 Fitness club. Then we went for a dip in Lake Mononoa and a shortish run in the stifling heat and humidity. Saturday was truth time with a long morning swim followed by riding the scenic but challenging Ironman Wisconsin bike course and then another run to cap it all off. Sunday morning saw a bunch of stiff and sore triathletes waddling around Madison on a long run.



The workouts showed that my training is on the right track for Sept. 9th, but I don't really feel like writing about all that. It was on the drive home that the 10,000 Maniacs song kept running through my head. That is what I want to try and convey about the weekend. I love this sport. There were many times over the weekend that I experienced pure and simple happiness just to be outside training with friends, family and my teammates. As triathletes, we really are all blessed and lucky to be able to do what we do.


These are days you'll remember. For all the hours I spend training alone, triathlon will always be a social activity for me. WIBA was so great, in part, because I got to spend time with my family, my friends and my team. I loved bringing these groups together. My brother Andy, his fiancee Heather and my wife Cara were all along on the trip. Ironman Wisconsin will truly be a family affair since Andy, Heather and myself will all be racing. Cara will be 7 months pregnant in September, or she probably would have joined in. Even though she has outgrown her wetsuit she joined in the open water swims in Lake Monona. This will be the first Ironman my brother and I have ever done together. My teammate Bolder took this hilarious (because it wasn't intentionally posed) shot of us at the Cyclops power clinic that I had to post:

Andy is crazy enough to have done Ironman Wisconsin 3 times in a row (this year will be #4). If you want to know how to manage the brutal Ironman Wisconsin weather, talk to this guy! I had a very solid and tough ride with Andy and local Tri-Shark Chris Daniels. If I hadn't been having a good day, I'd have been left in the dust. Andy- can't wait to get out there and tear up the course on race day with ya! (he's dropped almost an hour every year, so that's a tough trend to follow). A huge thanks to Cara, Andy and Heather and the rest of the fam for their support this season!


In addition to the family unit, I managed to bring along about 15 members of my local tri club. We have a strong contingent of around a dozen club members doing Ironman Wisconsin. This takes me right back to the social aspects of triathlon. It is soooo much easier to train for one of these things if you have a strong support network in place. Want to start a long ride at 5AM on a Saturday morning to beat the heat? I can come up with a small pack any time of year! Whenever you get in a slump there is somebody to pull you up. You guys are the best!

Last, but certainly not least were my Race Athlete Team members. Due to logistics, we couldn't get the whole team to Madison, but Stu being the local was there. Wil was super-organizer, Rural Girl came down from the Northern reaches of the state and Bolder joined us from the Great West. Stu was kind enough to demonstrate to everyone how not to manage your race day nutrition. Talk about taking one for the team!!

Something that the Race Athlete team and the rest of blogland doesn't know about me is how essential the concept of a team is and always has been to me. A quick bit of Sweet history. I ran cross country, track and swam from grade school all the way through college. I thrived on being part of a team that was working towards the same goal. So much positive energy can come out of a strong team. You can reach levels way beyond what you could do alone. When I graduated from college, I was in a bad funk for a couple of years because I went from being on 3 very close-knit teams to nothing at all. A major pillar of my support structure just disappeared. When the Race Athlete team is at its' best, I get that same sense of working together towards a common goal. That's where we were at this weekend. We confronted the course under difficult conditions. We encouraged each other. We shared advice. We made fun of Stu.

These are days I will remember.

Monday, June 18, 2007

What it Takes.

I've been absent in blogland for a few weeks and with good reason.

I've been training. Hard.

In fact, I just wrapped up my biggest bike training week ever. Over 300 bike miles.
The week included 2 century+ rides, one day of hills, one Time Trial, one hard group ride and a couple recovery rides. I use this same TT for my regular power tests. This TT fell in the middle of the bike week, so I wasn't sure how it would compare to my other tests. I ended up bumping my FTP (Functional Threshold Power) up almost 20 watts to 288! Very excited about this. Starting to think I may actually see 300 before Wisconsin. Power data for most of these rides is available in my Training Peaks profile: http://www.trainingpeaks.com/publicview.asp?p=ChrisSweet

You see, triathlon in general and Ironman in specific just don't favor the swimmers and runners (my background). At least half of my race at Ironman Wisconsin will be spent on the bike. For this reason, I expect to see better time returns from these big bike-focus weeks over putting the same time into swimming or running.

As far as the big picture training goes, we've moved out of the early season strength/power period and have entered Ironman bread and butter: endurance. Coach Mike's season plan uses a sort of inverted periodization. Get strong and build power early, then put the endurance in later.

So how has this plan been working for me? So far this season, I've only done two races that I have done in previous years. Both were small PRs. I raced decently at Wildflower and had my best short-course race ever at Memphis in May. I've only got 3 more tris planned before the big dance.

Is Team Race Athlete partially responsible for my performances? Definitely! I am training harder than ever because: #1 I have a coach and preset workouts, #2 The sponsors took a chance on this team and I want to race at my best to show my appreciation, #3 I am seeing benefits from training with power and #4 I just plain like being part of a team again. It is great to be sharing the journey to Ironman Wisconsin with a group of teammates who share the same goals.

Now that I've got a bunch of miles and a few races on the BMC Time Machine I feel I can give my readers a fair evaluation. Look for this soon on my blog.

Chris

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

The times, they are achangin...

Memphis In May Race Report
May 19 & 20
Millington, TN

For six years now, I have been more successful at long course races than short course. I kid you not, I dread the bike portion of a sprint tri more than anything else in the sport. For those same six years I've had decent run and swim splits, but lagged on the bike. Those times? They are achangin!

This past weekend I headed down to race the Memphis in May triathlons. Memphis is one of those Midwest classics that has been on my to-do list for a long time, but it just never lined up right. Well, two weeks after racing Wildflower I was ready for something shorter and faster. Memphis was definitely the answer.

I say Memphis in May triathlonS because there are actually two events. Saturday is an off-road tri and then the headliner olympic race on Sunday. I was competing in the Amateur Challenge competition which is scored by adding both race times together . I headed down with my wife (who is sitting out of racing this year due to being well into her second trimester!) and my brother's fiancee. Being relatively new at my current job I don't have a lot of vacation to spare so we left for Memphis after work on Friday. We rolled into town around 2 AM, caught about 4 hours sleep then headed to the race course. In mountain biking, course knowledge is everything so I wanted to get there early to pre-ride the course. Turns out this was mostly unnecessary. The mountain bike course consisted of about two-thirds grassy fields and 1/3 technical singletrack.

Memphis in May Off-Road Tri: Saturday, May 19.

Swim: The swim was somewhere around 600 yds. Water temps were in the upper 70s so I opted not to use a wetsuit (I wish USAT would change the wetsuit cut-off to 72!). Even if it puts me at a slight disadvantage I greatly prefer swimming without the wetsuit- even if it is a really, really nice 2XU Elite wetsuit! I went pretty hard on the swim came out in around 9 minutes.



Bike (10 miles): I love mountain biking. If I actually lived someplace with mountains I would probably never touch my road bike. The Memphis in May Mountain Bike course was actually better suited to a cyclocross bike, but they wouldn't let me use one (I asked). It was a brutal ride simply because it is uber-difficult to ride a fat tire mountain bike in grass. You can never seem to get going. The short technical singletrack section was actually pretty decent. A good twisty woods section was followed by the coolest part of the weekend: the kudzu hills. Part of the course goes right over what I assume is the remnants of a strip mine. There are short, steep hills and a steep drop-offs to a small pond. What made it so unique was the kudzu (an invasive species of vine for those of you not in the know). The kudzu had so taken over this area that we could have been on a trail in a tropical rainforest. Awesome. I picked up a couple places over the course of the bike, but also got passed by two racers. For you X-terra racers, I just installed a new set of tubeless Maxxis Ignitors. So far they really do seem to be a great all-conditions tire. My first foray into tubeless and I love the traction! The dual suspension Titus Racer-X was overkill for the course though.


Run (3 miles): The run covered some of the same grassy fields with rolling hills. Pretty tame and uninspired for an off-road run. I felt pretty good and was giving it about a 90% effort. I picked up a number of places and only got passed once. At about mile 2.5 I went around a guy from my age group. I gave a little surge to try and get clear, but he stayed with me. Thinking about Sunday, I didn't want to completely trash my legs. Unfortunately my nemesis had other plans and started a sprint which I decided I had better counter. I turned it on for the last 200 yards and won the sprint by a couple seconds. Turns out this was a good thing since that kick was for the age group win.


I finished 9th overall in a time of 1:03:35. They haven't posted any splits. It was a good first day and I figured I'd be logging a heck of a training weekend if nothing else!


Memphis In May Olympic Tri: Sunday, May 20.

After a stellar nap Saturday afternoon I was ready to give the Olympic distance race my best shot. Olympic distance is a bit of a misnomer. The race is billed as Olympic but everyone knows the bike course is a little more than a mile short. Therefore the ave. mph you see in the results is always a bit fast. I've actually raced more Ironmans than Olympic distance races. I've never really had what I consider to be a great sprint or olympic distance race. My focus has been long-course racing (as it is again this year) so I never worried about it too much. Part of my overall season plan for this year involves more short races and less half Ironmans. The plan is to improve IM speed and power by racing shorter distances. If Sunday was any indication, the plan is working!

Swim (~1.5K): MIM is fairly unique in the fact that it uses a time trial start rather than waves. I really like this format. Racers ended up more spread out on the bike course so there was much less drafting. With the TT start, it is really just you against the clock. The water was again about 76 so wetsuits were legal. With a 1.5k swim I wasn't willing to give up the wetsuit benefit. My biggest problem with wetsuits in warm water is overheating. I came up with a great solution to this one. While waiting in line I spotted an ice cooler. Sure enough it was open and I broke into one of the bags and started dumping ice into my wetsuit. I got some funny looks, but it actually worked quite well. We're supposed to need the wetsuits to keep us warm and here I am dumping ice into mine! The TT start really allowed me to ease into the swim rather than the chaos of a fast wave start. My stroke felt long and smooth. I am faster with the 2XU wetsuit than without- if I can keep from overheating! Due to the TT start I went around way more swimmers than I usually do in a wave start. Came out of the water in 20:28 which is a very solid swim for a former 50 yard freestyle specialist!



Heading off to the swim in nice 2XU
wetsuit packed with ice!


Bike (~40K): The bike course is a little more than a mile short of 40K. So when you go look at the split times they are super-impressive. This is easily the fastest course I have ever ridden. There were really no hills to speak of. Race morning was almost windless. I like the Power Tap the more I train and race with it. I know that my functional threshold is around 270 watts. For a 40K I wanted to be 90-95% of that. I averaged about 250 watts- right on track. This corresponded to a 58:30 bike split and 24 mph ave! Easily my best short course bike leg! I've never even time trialed that fast. In all my years of racing my bike place relative to the rest of the field has always lagged behind my swimming and my running. By doing tons of bike training year in and year out I've made small improvements every year. This could be the season where my biking finally catches up!

RaceAthlete BMC Time Machine in action!

Run (10K): I got off the bike thinking my legs were going to be trashed from the stellar ride and I was fine with that. To my surprise my legs actually felt pretty good. Here's where too much long course racing may have held me back a bit. I'm so used to playing a conservative hand for long course that I fell into the same routine for this race. My legs felt good, but I was worried about blowing up so I took the first 3 miles at about 80-90% of all out. I hit 3 miles and figured I had nothing to lose. The run course has some rolling hills which are partially offset by having some shade as well. I felt pretty good for the rest of the run. I didn't race with a watch, but just going off feel I knew I would be in the 2-2:05 range- big time PR! I ratcheted it up to darn near 100% effort for the last mile. My run was 38:16 (6:10 mile pace).

The end result? 2:00:09! 9 seconds from going sub-2 hours! Sub-2 has always been one of my long-term pie-in-the-sky triathlon goals. MIM was short of being a full olympic distance, but I'm finally in the right neighborhood. This race draws in top-notch competition. What for me was an awesome time only put me 10th in the 25-29 age group! I was 30-something overall including the pro field, so that's not too shabby, I guess. I managed to move up a couple spots in the 2-day rankings and finished 6th overall in the amateur challenge. Full results are here.

Memphis in May is a great venue for turning in fast times. I liked having the option of racing twice- good training and seemed to make the trip more worth it. The TT-style start is great for beginners and it seemed to cut down on drafting as well. The post-race barbecued pork and Krispy Kreme doughnuts were outstanding! Definitely a must-do tri.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

"Friends around the campfire" (Wildflower Race Report)

Wildflower ½ Ironman
5/5/2007

In “Racing the Sunset” triathlon legend Scott Tinley examines retirement among professional athletes. The book provides some interesting insights into the psyches of elite athletes and their interdependence on sport. Tinley uses his own triathlon career as a lens through which to study this complex issue. It has been a few years since I read this book, but one of the most memorable sections is when Tinley describes the pivotal moment at which he realizes that his career at the top level of the sport was over. As he narrates it, it was in the middle of a race on the run leg and he became entranced watching a hawk soar on the air currents. Without realizing it, he comes almost to a complete stop. Upon reflection, Tinley recognizes this as the moment he no longer cared as much about beating others as he did about simply enjoying life through triathlon.

The Wildflower Triathlon is Tinley’s home turf. It seems appropriate that his words start off this report. I often have a hard time getting started on writingimportant race reports. Those of us who embrace the triathlon lifestyle know how much living is wrapped up in a race weekend. Times, splits, places- those are all easy to write about, but they tell a lousy story.
Many long-standing triathlons are held in absolutely beautiful locations. I’ve been fortunate to race in many different states, but it wasn’t until Wildflower that Tinley’s words came back to me. I’ve spent very little time on the West Coast and I over the past weekend I was constantly overwhelmed by the landscape. The rugged, arid landscape is so completely different than my native Central Illinois. I loved the contrast between the sparkling lakes and dry hills. Even as I suffered on the bike I was enthralled watching the vineyards and mountain streams. I’m not quite yet ready to give up my competitive career –such that it is- but I definitely understand where Tinley was coming from. The Goal is the Journey and the journey always involves noticing the hawks and wildflowers.

For those of you who don’t know, Wildflower is one the country's oldest races. It is held at a county park halfway between Los Angeles and San Fransisco. The race has a long-standing reputation as the “Woodstock of Triathlon.” As far as I know, it is completely unique in the fact that it is a huge race (this year there were 7,777 participants in 3 races) held far away from any major city. Almost everyone camps at the park which is completely full of triathletes and spectators. The camping atmosphere along with a little help from the hardworking, hard-partying Cal Poly college student volunteers really give the weekend a feel reminiscent of what Woodstock must have been.

RV Fleet!

This trip marked the first time the entire RaceAthlete team would finally be together in one place! Awesome. Prior to Wildflower I had met Tyler and Roman on my trip to Boulder and Michelle and Stu on our trip to Zipp. Everyone met up at the L.A. airport and we headed out in a fleet of 4 RVs to destinations unknown……….literally because we neglected to bring a map or directions! Joining the RaceAthlete crew was my good friend Tricia from our local tri club and an absolutely great group of bloggers and podcasters that are collectively known as the Tri-Blogger Alliance. The RaceAthlete team sponsors were represented by Dave from Zipp, Rachel from Saris/Cyclops and Tim from Colorado Multisport. I would have to say that overall I was most impressed by Rachel’s finish. She picked the wickedly hard Wildflower long course tri as her second-ever triathlon! Studly!
Brett's bike- ready to race!

I’ll have to fast forward past a myriad of small adventures to actually get us to race morning. After getting packed and ready, we jumped on a pontoon boat shuttle to the race start. The boat shuttle was definitely a first and a very cool (literally and figuratively) way to start the morning. Morning temps were great- probably upper 40s/lower 50s. Too bad it didn’t stay that way long!
Morning boat shuttle.

I got in the water for a warmup about 15 minutes ahead of my wave start. It was nice and cold (about 65) which is how I like it if I’m going to have to wear a wetsuit. I almost got ran over by the pro men’s wave start as I extended my warmup a tad too much. My wave went off 10 minutes after the pros. The start was extremely narrow for the wave size and I made the mistake of starting just one row back. Very brutal first 5 minutes. I couldn’t get clear of the pack for quite awhile and was having problems breathing (this almost always happens to me due to cold water, starting out really fast and wetsuit constriction). I was having a rough time of it, but eventually hit my rhythm and turned in a decent swim without overexerting myself. Swim time 30:14.

Even though I come from the Midwest, I love riding hills and mountains. This course has an overabundance. I looked briefly at the course profile and didn’t think it looked that bad- after all I did Lake Placid last year. When I got out there and saw portions of the course I realized I had underestimated the difficulty of the hills. I took this into consideration and modified my race plan a bit. My biggest mistake was not putting on a 12-27 rear cassette. I managed pretty well with 12-25, but if I ever go back it will be with lower gears. I’m still new to racing with power, so my race plan was to approach the race like other halves that I’ve done and then go back and see what the Powertap can tell me. One thing I knew for certain is that I had to ride conservatively. The bike and run are so consistently difficult I knew that if I blew up early on I would never get my legs back. I did find myself watching my wattage more than I expected. I was trying to keep most of the big climbs at or under 300 watts (my functional threshold is 270, so rest assured I was hurting a bit). The hills were a little steeper than Placid, but in general not as long. I got passed a few times, but thought that I was riding fairly well. Because of the wind there were almost no “easy” sections of the course. I started catching some of the pro women early on which was a good sign since they started 5 minutes ahead. Nutrition seemed to go well. I’ve been racing with a custom formula from Infinit Nutrition the last few seasons. I went through around 3, 300 calorie bottles plus a little gel. Bike time: 2:46 (20.1 mph). This would be my most disappointing split of the day. I’ve been training a lot on the bike this spring and had hoped to see bigger payoffs on race day. The bike ended up being my worst placing relative to the rest of the field. The thing that is both cool and simultaneously frustrating about triathlon is that it is nearly impossible to put definite divisions between each leg in a tri. I ended up having a great run so who’s to say whether or not pushing it more on the bike would have yielded a better time in the end or not?

I took off on the run feeling stronger than almost any other race that I can recall. Talking to some other athletes, I think this is partially a function of the long downhill right before the bike finish. For a couple minutes right before T2 you do no pedaling at all. For most of the run I stuck with the same conservative plan that I used on the bike. I tried to keep my heartrate in the 150s for the whole race. Some of the monster hills put me into the 160s but not for too long. Much more of the course was trails than I had anticipated. I love trail running so this was great for me! The trails were much harder and smoother than what we have around here, but they also have steeper and longer hills. The downhills were really giving my quads a good thrashing. I got passed only once early on in the run by a guy from TriSports. I went with him for awhile but that was around mile 3-4 and if I had stuck with him I probably would have blown up. I kept a consistent pace and took mostly just water at aid stations. Almost always during 1/2s I have problems taking in anything other than water on the run. One of the big attractions –for half the population anyway- is the famed Wildflower topless aid station. Apparently the volunteers from Cal Poly are slow starters. When I went through the topless aid station it consisted of 1 girl and 2 guys- not a good ratio, still I greatly appreciated the momentary distraction nonetheless. I finally ended the conservative race plan at mile 10. This was at the bottom of a long hill and at that point I knew I was safe to push it. I continued to make up places back up the hill. The last mile back to the finish is down a very steep hill. It is nice to have gravity on your side, but my legs really took a beating as I flew down the hill at well under 6 minute mile pace. I was going to be content to keep a nice solid pace to the finish until Kim Loeffler (female pro) went around me. I remembered there was still some racing to do and went with her. I actually picked off two or three people in the last quarter mile- one of which was in my age group. Through the blogger network, I was told that this was Nick from Durapulse. His race report can actually be found here. I had a very solid run given the course difficulty. Run time: 1:30:22.
I ended up 9th in my age group and 31st overall. I had hoped for a much higher age group placing, but am pretty happy with the overall finish. I take some solace in the fact that someone from my age group was the first amateur and the top 25-29 year olds beat many of the professionals.

Immediately after the race Iron Wil found me wandering around in a daze looking for food and water. She hooked me up with a frozen Snickers ice cream bar which was frickin UNBELIEVABLE! Thanks Tracy! I went back to the stands and got to watch the rest of the RaceAthlete Team finish up their races. I’m pretty sure that to a person each of the team members had good or at least decent races. That is really impressive for any given group of eight triathletes on a tough course. You have to credit the training plans devised by tri-coach-guru Mike Ricci of D3 Multisport. I think we are all on track for a good day at IM Wisconsin! I know a couple team members have extra motivation after losing (or winning for that matter) one of the three RaceAthlete grudge matches! This round went to Tyler over Brett, Stu over Greg and Michelle over Roman.

We finished an awesome weekend with a few brews around the campfire and a couple of singalongs which Simply Stu captured in his latest podcast from the Wildflower Weekend.

There was something else that I wanted to express about this weekend, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. It wasn’t until I read the Kahuna’s blog that I figured out what it was. I’m still a newbie in the blogosphere and I’m not sure I really “got it” until this weekend. I witnessed first-hand the very real community formed by bloggers and readers. I was amazed at the number of people that knew about our blogs- and our lives. Kahuna hit this one on the head: “I was wrong about our significance. We matter. We change lives, for the better. This was on display all weekend at Wildflower. And when you think about it, is there a better legacy?” Well said! Right on!

A huge thank you to Stu for helping to make this weekend (and this team) a reality. I met so many great people. I made a lot of new friends and feel like the RaceAthlete crew is truly a team after this weekend.


One final thought. Many people expressed the desire to turn this gathering into an annual event at different races around the country. After thinking about it, I think the DeSoto Triple-T weekend would be an awesome follow-up to the Wildflower weekend. This is another remote location (foothills of the Appalachians in Southern Ohio). There are cabins to take the place of our beloved RVs. There are lots of race options over the course of the weekend: Olympic, Half Ironman or the true Triple-T experience which is 4 tris in 3 days. It is also a gorgeous location and has the same laid back feel of Wildflower. It is a great tune-up for those considering Lake Placid or IM Coeur d’Alene in ’08.
ANY TAKERS?

Friday, April 27, 2007

"So What?"

The above words may be the greatest thing ever written by prominent film critic Roger Ebert.

To understand why requires a bit of context. In 2002 Ebert was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. Follow-up surgery last fall required a tracheostomy and removal of part of his jaw. These procedures have left him unable to speak and have disfigured his face. Ebert recently made his first public appearance since the surgery at the Overlooked Film Festival in Champaign, Illinois. Before the festival, Ebert wrote that he was told that making an appearance in this condition would attract the gossip papers and invite unflattering photos.

His response?

"So What?"


Ebert's response should teach all of us something about worrying too much about what other people think. This really speaks to me as triathlon season begins to ramp up. Endurance athletes are notorious for their long list of excuses both before and after races. In the field of psychology this is known as self-handicapping. It is a basic defense mechanism designed to protect our ego, or self-image. It works like this. If I tell my friends/family/training partners about how I've been dealing with a nagging injury and missed two whole workouts last week, then in my mind I have an excuse for not doing well. On the other hand, (the thinking goes) if I do better than people's expectations AND I overcame all these "obstacles" I look so much the better. People do this all the time without realizing it. Problem is, once it is spoken -or even thought- then you are setting yourself up to fail. When the race/training/life/whatever starts to get hard then you've already given yourself an excuse- an easy way out.

Across the board most athletes are not primarily limited by genetics, time to train, equipment, etc. They are limited by lack of faith in themselves.

The best expression of this that I have ever came across is from a book (I haven't read it) by Marianne Williamson:

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of god. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.” -A Return To Love: Reflections on the Principles of A Course in Miracles

So this then is my charge to you. Let go of the excuses. You don't need them. They do nothing but hold you back.

People may laugh. They may doubt and criticize. They might call you crazy. If they do, just remember Roger Ebert and his battle with cancer: "Who Cares?"

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Just in Time Machine!

One week out from my season opener triathlon and I finally got to go to Fedex and pick up my Team Race Athlete BMC Time Machine! I was fortunate enough to be picked for the last slot on the team and was therefore last in line to actually get the bike. As far as gear goes, the Team is set! Now all we have to do is live up to these bikes! Actually getting the bike to me was at times almost a farce of miscommunications and delays. I won’t go into more detail because the absolute last thing I want to do here is seem ungrateful. It would be downright insulting to all the other deserving age groupers out there who are making do on the equipment that they have and would love to have a chance like this.

Let me say that the concept behind Team Race Athlete is to put together a team of ordinary age groupers and give them the opportunity to train and race like pros. I don’t think most of us really give that much thought. We see the pros with the tricked out new bikes and gear. The reality is there are only a few top-tier pros that have enough clout (and marketing potential) to get the newest stuff right away. I know for a fact that there are other BMC sponsored athletes that are still waiting on bikes while our team is now good to go. If you are not one of those top-tier pros it is a somewhat common thing to get your new bike, wetsuit, etc the week before (or after) a race. Suffice it to say that the life of a pro triathlete is far less glamourous than most people think. Now an age grouper being treated like a pro? That is just as glamorous as you think!

On to the bike! Team Race Athlete has been outfitted with tricked-out BMC TT02 time trial bikes. These bikes are similar to the uber-expensive all-carbon TT-01 that Floyd and the rest of the Phonak team used in the Tour last year. The measurements and aerodynamic profiles are the same as the TT01, this model uses an aluminum front end mated to a carbon fiber rear end. Zipp provided us with lots of go-fast parts. I opted for a set of tubular 606s (more on this in a later post). Also from Zipp is an ultra-lightweight crankset and the very sleek Vuka aerobars. Cyclops provided us with their newest wireless Power Taps which are built into the rear Zipp 808. The rest of the parts spec is Dura Ace. Each of us used our own saddles and pedals. I love my Selle San Marco Aspide Tri Gel for long course racing. I am also a long-time devotee of Speedplay pedals.

My lovely wife was patient enough to document the unpacking and re-building process:


So what do you do when you get a brand new bike? Well you ride the hell out of it! There is definitely an element of “living up” to an awesome bike like this. With that in mind I headed out for my longest ride of the year. It just so happened that it was also my first ride on the BMC. This could be a risky move, but I was confident in the fit I did back in January with Tim Troha of Colorado Multisport. So on Saturday I did 95 miles on my new bike. Initial impressions?It rides very nicely- BMC may have nailed that tricky balancing point of stiffeness vs. ability to absorb road shock. Tim's fit was spot-on. I was able to ride 95 miles in relative comfort right out of the box! I will wait until I have closer to 1K miles on the bike and a few races before reporting back with a more detailed review.
A big thanks to BMC, Saris, Zipp and Colorado Multisports for making this team bike happen. Thanks to Ryan at Colorado Multisports for building, packing and shipping the BMC. Finally, a big thanks to Stu who seriously lost sleep over me not having the bike and went above and beyond to get this bike to me! You guys are great!

1 week until local season opener, 2 weeks until Wildflower!