Sunday, November 22, 2009

Clearwater: 70.3 World Champs

My last post recounted the many obstacles I faced this tri season and coming into this race in particular. I don't want to dwell on all the stuff that kept me away from training this year. Looking back, despite all the challenges, I still managed to win a couple small races. I raced very well in Decatur and then again when it mattered at Steelhead.

As a high school runner, I probably fell into the category of a great workout runner, but so-so on race day. I've learned a lot in the intervening years and now I am on the opposite end of the spectrum. In short, my wife says that I have extra race-day gears. I've gotten to the point where I can peak for a couple "A" events each year with or without solid training. Of course, if I can log the training miles, the race-day performance is that much better. Still, (to put it bluntly) I've mastered the fine art of pulling a good race out of my ass.

That pretty much sums up my day at Clearwater. I had lots of things going against me come race day. Having this as my "A" event for the year was really the only trick up my sleeve.

I flew out of Bloomington on Thursday for the race on Sat. I fly once or twice a year and always seem to have wretched luck with flights. I was on an AirTran flight connecting to Atlanta. About 30 minutes into the flight there was a really loud clunk which kind of sounded like landing gear to me. Pretty soon the pilot comes on and informs us that one of our engines was dead, but not to worry because the plane could still fly on one. Just to be safe, though we were re-routing to St. Louis where emergency crews would be waiting for us. Just to be safe.

After all the fun and games of re-routing my flights I finally made it to Tampa where my chauffeur for the weekend, Andrew Staryckowicz, picked me up and took me back to our sweet suite. Besides being a great chauffer Andrew is also a pro triathlete who happened to turn in the fastest bike split at Clearwater. Actually, not just the fastest bike split at Clearwater, but the fastest 1/2 IM bike split ever (28.mph!). Andrew's blog is HERE. Slowtwitch did a recent interview with Andrew HERE.

The only notable pre-race happening was that they moved the swim from a more open part of the Gulf to a calm, shallow bay. The remnants of Hurricane Ida had kicked up some pretty good swells leading up to race day. The waves were deemed unsafe -even for a world championship- so we were moved into the bay. Along with the change in swim start was an announcement that the age group race was going to be a time trial start rather than just big age group waves. I thought this would be an ideal way to help string out some of the big packs on the bike. It would have helped if they had kept enough spacing between athletes, but as it turned out the time trial start actually compressed everyone more than usual.

My swim was quite uneventful. The water was nice and cold, which I prefer. There were some very shallow spots on the swim where people were standing up and doing dolphin dives. I swam directly into the sun for a 1/4 mile or so and literally could not see a thing. I just hoped those ahead of me could see the buoys. There was a narrow set of stairs leading out of the swim where I encountered my first bottleneck of the day. I hit the stairs in about 29 minutes, but it took me about 45 seconds before I actually made it out of the water and on to transition. Clock time was 30 minutes-something, an average swim for me these days.

The couple of days leading up to the race were relatively cool and overcast, but on race day it was crystal clear with temps on the rise. I didn't get much in the way of really long rides in this fall, but the cycling had still been going pretty well. I knew this is where I could really make up some time.

Let's address the drafting issues at Clearwater quickly since this is discussed ad naseum in various forums every year. First off, they just let too many people into these races. If there were less people on the course, there would be less drafting. The downside is that you probably couldn't afford to put a race like this on in a big city like Clearwater if the numbers were significantly fewer. Next, a time trial start with good spacing would really help spread things out. Everyone has to qualify for this race, which means that the majority of people in a given wave will finish in a narrow time frame. Next up, when people talk about drafting in Clearwater, they usually neglect to mention that much of the course is held on 2 or 3 lane highways with one lane blocked off for bikes. Everyone gets a "legal" draft from these cars (this happens at the Chicago Tri as well). Next, if you sit the legal distance of 7 meters off the back of a big pack like I did for some of the race, you still get some draft benefits. Not as much as riding illegaly in the pack, of course! Last, this course is just plain fast without drafting. The roads are in excellent condition, there are no hills to speak of, and there are very long straight stretches. By the end of the weekend I was almost as frustrated with the people complaining about the drafting as the people that were doing it. Almost. When it is all said and done, it is like anything else in life: you have to take responsibility for your own actions. I got dinged for taking too long to pass in Kona. I have to own that. I rode as cleanly as possible in Clearwater. I'll own that too.

The first 10 miles of my ride was very crowded. There were definitely times where I was either drafting, or blocking because there were huge lines of bikes with no gaps in between. After 10 miles though, things started to thin out and it was possible to ride legally most of the time. For much of my race I was sitting off the back of a big ole peloton of about 20-25 people. Every now and then I would get sufficiently ticked to spike my power up to 350 watts for about a minute to get around the pack. It was funny because you could tell that some people in the pack just thought someone else was going to take a turn at the front. Instead, when I got to the front, I stood up and hammered for about 10 seconds to open a good gap. Inevitably the pack would go around me again in a mile or two though.

The best part of the bike ride is when I got to see dolphins off of one of the long bridge sections. Of course, I had to mentally counterbalance this with the jackass in the peloton that chucked a water bottle over the side of the bridge. I'm usually not one to judge, but if you are drafting and you throw a bottle into the ocean then you are pretty much the spawn of satan.

I had my best ride ever at this distance: 2:12, which is about 25 mph. I knew I would need this cushion if I wanted to PR. About 3 weeks out from the race I did a little duathlon as a training race. I won the race, but had a minor calf strain that got progressively worse. I was doing massage, ultrasound and no running in the 10 days leading up to the race. My calf was fine on the bike and started out ok on the run. About 1.5 miles into the run you hit a pretty steep bridge crossing which I knew would put some strain on the calf. Sure enough, my right calf pulled again about 1/2 way up the bridge. I hobbled a bit and started thinking about how much an 11 mile walk was going to suck. I didn't want to tear the muscle which would require surgery to fix. I started trying to just run on it to see how it would hold up. The pain was tolerable and didn't seem to be getting worse. Only thing was I couldn't really toe-off and stride out. I switched to a really quick and compact turnover. I actually had on double compression socks to give the leg a fighting chance (2XU compression sleeves that I wore under my wetsuit and then 2XU compression socks over that for the bike and run). I know the socks helped somewhat. In any case, it was frustating getting passed by so many people in what is usually my strong event, but my leg held out. I even got to pass last year's champion (Terrenzo Bozzone) on my first lap. He was on his second lap, but having a pretty rough go of it at that point! I finished in 4:17 which is about a 6 minute PR for me. My run was almost 1:28. Prior to the calf injury I had some great workouts with the Illinois Wesleyan Cross Country Team, so a run split around 1:20 was not out of the question. Still a PR is a PR. Very happy with my season all in all.

I didn't take a camera on the trip, so I have almost no pictures.
Here is a shot of me and Starky after my finish (he had been done awhile!)

Here is the link to the official race photos which I won't be buying because it is a racket.

Inside Tri had a nice set of photos from the race.

Thanks again to Andrew and his mom for letting me stay with them over the weekend!

Friday, November 6, 2009

Nut Up!

Not many people in blogland know that outside of the three triathlon disciplines, my favorite outdoor activity is rock climbing. Again, like Xterra this is an odd hobby for someone who lives in Central Illinois. For years, I did quite a bit of outdoor climbing (Southern Illinois actually has some worldclass sport climbing).

For the time being triathlon has supplanted most of my rock climbing. A few years back though, I was in decent climbing shape and was visiting the inlaws in Las Vegas for X-mas. My brother tagged along with the intention of doing some sport climbing in Red Rock Canyon. I was having a good trip having just sent the classic 5.12a Fear and Loathing route. The story I am trying to get to though, involves another pair of young kids on an even tougher route. With sport climbing you often take 20+ ft falls onto your rope. Well these kids were working a particularly difficult section that had a lot of rope run-out which made for some good falls. Each time one of them would hit this crux section, they would start yelling at each other to "Nut Up!".

I have loved this phrase ever since. It's simplicity -particularly in this context- speaks volumes. Sometimes you just have to nut up and take those big risks. At some point your own excuses start to sound hollow. Sometimes the difference between a P.R. and a ho-hum race is just a matter of attitude. Nut up!

I've had a rollercoaster season triathlon-wise. An extended off-season took awhile to shake. I eventually got in reasonably good shape, won a few races and then qualified for the 70.3 World Championships at Steelhead in August. This fall I have been contending with a new job that is much more time-intensive as well as a move to a new house. I took all of September off from training. The rest of my training has been irregular and haphazard. For awhile I was just going to skip Clearwater and put it off for another season. That was dumb. My whiny, primadonna reasoning was that if I didn't have a shot at a P.R. it wasn't worth racing. You know what a lot of people would love to be at this race. Nut up. 1 long run in the last two months? Nut up! Strained calf? NUT UP!

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Father's Day Extravaganza!

We had some elaborate plans for Father's Day weekend and things turned out even better than expected!

The main idea was to take Jonah on his first camping trip and pair it with a half Ironman on Father's Day. Travelling to races with all of Jonah's accessories -not to mention camping gear- has been a challenge. I recently picked up a big Thule cargo topper for my Subaru and the thing is awesome. I can put 11 cu. ft of gear in the topper and free up tons of car space-love it!

For Jonah's first camping trip we also had to get a larger 3 person tent. We stuck with Sierra Designs which is the same brand as my old backpacking tent that has served me well for many years. As a bonus, we figured out that for car camping our guest air mattress just fits in the new tent: so we were camping in style for Jonah's first trip!

Our destination was Effingham, Illinois which is a little over 2 hours south of Bloomington. The race was the Cutting Edge Half Classic. This was the perfect combination because the race offered free tent camping at a campground directly across from the race start/finish.

Jonah had fun eating dirt, playing in the tent and staying up late. A pretty good storm rolled in about bedtime, but Jonah has never seemed to mind thunderstorms. The tent held up beautifully and we stayed dry and relatively comfy during the storm.

Of course if you are anywhere in the vicinity of the midwest you know what the weather has been like the last week. I knew all the moisture from the rain coupled with high race day temps was going to make for challenging racing conditions.

Race morning did not disappoint. We woke up to a morning that was hot and incredibly humid even at 6am. The only real positive to all the heat was that the swim was not wetsuit legal. I despise swimming in a wetsuit when the water temp is anywhere near the 78 degree cutoff. I overheat even in my sleeveless.

This race is not huge- somewhere around 200 people. My training and racing has been rocky this spring, so I just wanted to do a long race to get in a solid training day. I actually had two weeks of relatively solid training leading up to this race, so I was pretty tired and not rested at all going in.

Swimming without a wetsuit felt great. I am much more suited to a long swim where I can start slowly and build into it than a short sprint. Within the first few minutes the race had strung out and I was in the first 4 or 5 swimmers. I just focused on good form and enjoyed swimming in open water without a wetsuit. It was a two-lap swim that required a short beach run between laps. I hit the second lap and picked up the pace just a little. I came out of the water in about 5th and around 31 minutes which is an ok wetsuit-less swim time.

Transitioning to the bike I noticed it was already really hot with clear skies. I've never raced well in the heat, but after Kona then New Orleans I am getting better at it. When you know it is going to be a hot day you have to be extra careful with pacing and hydration early on. By my count, I went through about 4 bottles of Infinit, 1 bottle of gatorade and 3 bottles of water in the course of a two and a half hour ride (that's about 1 bottle every 20 min!). The ride had quite a few rolling hills, but no real climbs. I kept a close eye on the Powertap on the uphills to keep my effort under control. By about 5 miles into the ride I was in 3rd place and would stay there for the whole ride. I was able to look ahead and see #1 & #2 duking it out for the lead. I just sat back and rode a steady pace while hoping they would wear each other out. After about mile 40 I lost sight of 1&2, so I wasn't sure how far down I was coming into T2. I rode just under 2:30 at about 22.5mph. Not great, but ok given the course and conditions.

Turns out that I was only around 2 minutes down on the leader leaving T2, but the run is where the brutal conditions really came into play. It was still crystal-clear out. The sun was beating down and the temps were in the mid-eighties. With the humidity though, the heat index was pushing triple digits. I used some of Jonah's spray-on sunscreen as I ran out of T2 and that seemed to work really well and helped save me from a roasting like Kona. Rather than treat the run like a race, I just switched into maintenance/survival running mode. For me this is an easier run pace that I know I can maintain for a long time as long as I stay hydrated and take in some calories. As part of my heat strategy I stopped and walked every single aid station and took in at least a cup of gatorade and a cup of water at each one. One of the leaders was walking and I caught him in the first mile. The guy in first was running well, but I could tell I was gaining ground. I moved into the lead between miles 3 and 4. I was really hoping not to have to push the run hard, because it could have gotten ugly out there. Fortunately the run was an out and back and I didn't spot anyone moving up fast enough to be a real threat. I just held the same conservative pace and kept taking in fluids. At the half-way point, I was pretty sure I had the win wrapped up if I didn't do anything stupid. I think the run ended up being my slowest out of all the 1/2 IMs that I've done (1:37), but it was good enough for a 10-minute margin of victory under the worst run conditions I've ever been in. If I were to compare the race to '08 Kona, the bike was much easier with better conditions, but the run was unquestionably worse.

A rare bit of shade on the run!

Speaking of Kona, the WTC has recently implemented new rules that do not allow competitors to cross the line with any of their family members. I actually agree with this rule for these big races because I have seen athletes crossing with their whole family, blocking other finishers and ruining other's finish photos. Still, it was a bummer not to take Jonah across the finish in Kona. I was determined to carry him across the line on father's day. You can tell how terrible the conditions were in this finishing photo because there are no specatators in the finish line area. They were all in the shade 100 meters or so up from the finish! In any case, Cara handed Jonah off to me about 100 meters from the finish and I shuffled in with him.

In the end, it was not one of my better times, but put in context of the day a pretty good showing. Stepping back and considering the bigger picture, I think this will go down as one of my most memorable races. Realistically you don't have that big of a window for your endurance racing prime. I've had a few overall wins and hope to have a few more, but it has never been my intention to try and race at a high level for my entire career. At some point, I will back off and pursue other interests. To be at my best on Father's Day and to be able to carry my son across the finish line in first is a pretty rare thing- and something I am grateful for.

Monday, June 15, 2009

To Everything There is a Season

Boy, I don't even know where to start with this one! I've had another rather long hiatus from blogland that was not precisely intentional.

This is going to be the quick and dirty Cliffsnotes version of the last month and a half or so.

Things got interesting around the Sweet household at the end of April when Jonah was playing wtih his mom on the bed and managed to roll off the side. He fell onto padded carpet and didn't hit anything, but still managed to break his leg. It doesn't take much of an imagination to realize this is a bad situation for a year and a half old to be in. Jonah was put into a hip spica cast that immobilized both legs for about 6.5 weeks. Since he needed round the clock attention (entertaining essentially) he couldn't go to daycare. That meant we called on the grandparents for reinforcement and burned through our sick days at work. Good news is that as of last Tuesday Jonah is out of his cast and is all healed up. If there is a silver lining to the whole ordeal, it seems to be that he got to spend a lot of time with family and his language skills went through the roof. A few weeks back Cara started tallying the words he knew and he was at 100+. I'm sure he knows 200 by now. I think his favorite is "bike". He loves to point out bikes, but mainly he loves to go for a ride in the bike seat or bike trailer. This past Saturday he went on three seperate bike rides!

Coaching has been going so well that we've been turning away potential clients in the last few months. To create truly custom training programs is very time intensive so we are topping out at 8 athletes. As racing season has picked up I have also been doing a lot more bike fits. I like doing fits because it is instant gratification of sorts. It takes months to see improvements from training, but in a two hour fit session I can make someone with a poor position both faster and more comfortable. I've done a couple swim analysis sessions and am really wanting to figure out the best way to do underwater taping. I know I can get an underwater camera attachment form my camcorder, or get a waterproof case. Something to think about....

The other big news on the coaching front is that I attended the USAT Level I Certification Course in Chicago. This course greatly exceeded my expectations and we were able to hear from some of the best minds in exercise physiology, sports nutrition, sports psychology, etc. I have posted a list of things that I made notes about during the course below. I'm not sure if I will pursue my Level II or another cert. I would like to get F.I.S.T. (Fit Institute Slowtwitch) certified for bike fitting and possibly USA Cycling Coach certified.

Somewhere directly before Jonah's cast adventure started, I also got a new job. My day job is a librarian at Heartland Community College. Early this year I had a phone interview then a 2-day on-campus interview at Illinois Wesleyan University. IWU is a small, private, liberal arts institution here in Bloomington. I had a great series of interviews and met all of their requirements. Still this is a big move up for me from the community college and I was thrilled when I got the job offer. Their library is relatively new and absolutely gorgeous. This is a similar environment to where I went for undergrad (Augustana College). My brother actually graduated from IWU. I am really looking forward to this new position where I will be tenure-track faculty (I do not have faculty status in my current position). This means more writing and publishing, but that is something I look forward to. From the triathlon side of things, IWU has an awesome indoor pool and track, so I am hoping to be able to do some swimming over my lunch hour and maybe some evening workouts with the cross country and swim teams! I will be starting at IWU the first week of August.

I had to miss the Xterra Midwest Regional race while Jonah was hurt. This caused a serious re-consideration of racing goals for this year. There were no other Xterra regional qualifiers nearby, so I made the hard decision to put pursuing the Xterra World Championships on hold for another season. Instead, I have decided to try and get in qualifying condition for Steelhead 70.3 in August and try to get a slot for the 70.3 World Champs in Clearwater. This race isn't as appealing to me as Kona or Maui (Xterra Worlds) but it is much cheaper to travel to.

I recently did my first race this season since New Orleans and had a pretty lackluster performance. The race was our local Tri-Shark sprint, which to be fair, does bring in some pretty good competition. I was 9th in the elite wave after a terrible swim/run and ok bike. Mostly this just reflects my inability to get in any consistent training, but I also tried to hang with the lead pack in the swim and ended up hyperventilating myself (turns out this is detrimental to your overall time!). Mostly the race was a good kick in the butt to remind me that I cannot coast through even a sprint without more regular training. Good news is that I am healthy and motivated. Jonah is out of his cast and Cara has the summer off. Training is starting to come around. I should be able to get into decent shape by August and then if everything goes right top condition by November.

My most recent fun side project is restoring a vintage Huffy Daisy Tandem. I have had a saved ebay search set up for one of these for literally years. They are too expensive to ship, so I had to wait to find something within driving distance. Finally a couple weeks back I found a PAIR of these tandems about 1.5 hours south of here. This is far and away the coolest tandem frame I have ever seen. It is very swoopy and curvy and when restored will have lots of chrome bling. A friend of ours is going to help me with the paint job on the frame since it has been about 15 years since I have painted a car! Below is a picture of the tandem with Jonah in the bike trailer behind. Getting a single speed tandem up a hill pulling a trailer is an interesting endeavor! Coordinating a coaster brake is fun too!

A few nuggets of wisdom from the USAT Coaching Certification Course

A few weeks back I went up to Chicago for the 3-day USAT Coaching Certification Course.

All in all the class greatly exceeded my expectations. When I had a chance to review the manual ahead of time it seem pretty rudimentary. We actually did not use the manual at all- it was more for reference. Instead, we just had a succession of presentations from some of the absolute biggest names in endurance sport. About 1/2 of the presenters were from the Olympic Training Center in Colorado. These guys work with the best olympic athletes day in and day out. Very cool.

As we went along, there were a few pointers that I thought I should share with everyone.

#1 If you are not taking a fish oil supplement for Omega 3's you should be. I started doing this two seasons ago. You just can't get enough in your diet. It is a great anti-inflammatory- possibly as good as ibuprofen. Besides a daily supplement, also look for eggs with high Omega-3s and Barilla Plus Pasta which has both Omega 3s and lots of protein.

#2 Periodize your nutrition. As workload increases your caloric requirements also increase. During recovery weeks and taper, you should eat slightly less. Also type of food intake should vary bet. off season, base and peak periods. More lean protein during off-season and base, more carbs as training volume ramps up.

#3 Seriously consider taking short walk breaks during long training runs and long races. One of the presenters is a complete running guru and really advocates for this. For long races I've always recommended walking the aid stations, so that fits with this philosophy. Incorporating into long runs might be a good idea as well. One of the important distinctions was to do something like a power walk / race walk. Do not go to an almost complete stop shuffle walk. Keep moving briskly.

#4 Keeping as much time bet. long ride and long run was strongly recommended (we already do this at Revolution Multisport). Also length of long runs was discussed and there were good arguments for no longer than 2 hours. If you absolutely have to go longer the suggestion was to do two runs on the same day- something I will consider implementing.

#5 If you want to know if you are running at your potential during a triathlon take your best open time and subtract 7-10%. That is an optimal range when everything goes right.

#6 Ironman pacing: If you collect data from a 1/2 IM leading up to a full that ave. would be your max for an IM. Ave. HR for an IM should be 10-20bpm less than your Half. Your run pace should be 40-80 sec per mile slower than 1/2 IM.

#7 Consider buying and reading "Magical Running" by Bobby McGee. This guy is an absolute running guru and was far and away my favorite presenter. I haven't read the book yet, but will get to it:

#8 Let's be really aware of our hydration practices as things start to warm up. Just a little dehydration will stop you from getting the most out of every workout. In a race situation a little dehydration will negate that fancy bike, aero wheels, racing flats, etc. Keep a bottle near you during the day and at night. Practice drinking consistently on the bike.

#9 Single-leg drills on the bike are the best drill you can do........but you all knew that already!

#10 During heavy training loads you need to consistently get 8+ hours of sleep. You will not recover from the kind of training we are moving towards if you don't regularly get 8+ hours of sleep. I would rather see people not doing double workouts if they are cutting too much into sleep.


What do I do different?

As a triathlon coach I have been reviewing nearly 100 athlete workouts week in and week out. Recently I sent a note out to our athletes with the subject of: "What do I do different?" Throughout my various athletic careers I've seen a few recurring traits in successful endurance athletes. Here is my attempt to highlight a few of the most important.

#1 Tuning into your body. All high-level athletes are tuned into their bodies to an incredible degree. I have learned to gauge my overall fatigue, tiredness, soreness, etc and modify or skip workouts based on this feedback. When you race long races like IMs it is absolutely essential to listen to what your body is telling you about pacing and nutrition.

In practice what this means is that I probably skipped workouts more frequently than some of you. This is probably not the advice you expect from your coach, but there are definitely times when you will progress more fitness-wise by skipping or cutting back a scheduled workout. Consistency is still essential, but as long as it doesn't become routine, don't feel it is 100% necessary to do absolutely every workout as written. Just give us good feedback as to why you might have to miss a workout because if you are getting run down it will change how we write workouts as opposed to: the kids were sick and I just didn't have the time to do a workout. The flip side to this is if I am feeling great during a workout I may tack on a few extra intervals or go a couple more miles.

#2 Going really hard and really easy. Quick story here. My freshman year at Augustana we had an Ethiopian runner named Ambo Bati who won multiple national championships. After one big invitational the two of us went on a cooldown toghether. I had a poor race in my mind and took off a bit hard on the cooldown. Within a few minutes Ambo said the pace was too hard and could we slow down?! On the other hand, when we ran intervals he would absolutely destroy me.

Lesson here is that most athletes spend too much time in that middle no-man's land of not really hard, but definitely not easy. As coaches, we counteract this in-part by specifying heart rate and power zones to insure you are at the right intensity. Almost everyone's focus in the last few weeks and coming weeks is hard bike intervals. The new LT intervals are slightly easier than the VO2, but both if they are done right are gut-wrenchingly difficult (LT not so much at first, but by the end of the interval for sure). The flip side is that when you have easy days or easy recoveries bet. sets to make sure they are very easy.

#3 Relentless focus on your weak event. Almost no one comes into this sport an equally good swimmer, biker and runner. For me I had swam and ran competitively for years. In order to meet my goals as a triathlete I had to focus on improvig my riding year after year. I scaled my swimming and running way back as I made tiny incremental gains in my cycling. Bringing my cycling up to the level of my running and swimming was a 5 year process.

#4 The last major difference that I can see is that ever since I can remember I have consistently sought out people who are faster than myself to train with. This has been invaluable to me. I can write the best workouts in the world, but you will never be able to push yourself as hard as doing a group workout. I just got dropped hardcore in last night's roadie group ride and that motivates, rather than discourages me. Your ego/self-image may take a hit, but it is worth it in the long run.

My challenge to you on this front is to identify some different group workouts that you can incorporate into your training. Right now I see too many of you doing the majority -or all- of your workouts alone. Here in B-N we have great group options: Tues night time trials or track workouts. Wed. when the weather gets nice we'll have open water swims. The masters swim team workouts are Mon/Wed. There are various other group rides to choose from.

Adding workouts with people who are faster than you is one of the quickest ways to improve.


Monday, April 20, 2009

That's just dirty and wrong...

(I'm going to get all kinds of creative titles out of this off-road endeavor.)
This weekend I wanted to test out the new Xterra racing rig (Titus Racer-X) and start to sharpen my skills before the impending Xterra regional race in May.

I made the trip up to the Quad Cities where my Alma Mater (Augustana College) was having a ceremony dedicating the new track to my former XC and track coach. As it happened the first race in our Central Illinois I-74 mtb series was the next morning on a little island in the Mississippi.

As you can tell it was a mudfest. I raced in the sport (midle) category which was supposed to be 16 mostly techinical miles (4X4 loops). Thunderstorms and continual rain led to the dropping of a lap to 3 loops. The perimeter of this island is only a little over a mile, so as you can imagine, they used all the real estate available for this race. There were very few fast open sections. It was almost all technical singletrack- which proved to be a good tune-up for me.

The longest open stretch came at the start and was probably 1/4 mile long. Someone snapped a chain (or more likely tried to shift under a heavy load) and created a big pile-up that briefly took down my buddy Sean (above) and sent a few people to the hospital. I got caught behind the pile-up and entered the singletrack down quite a few spots. The single track was chock full of tight muddy turns, logs, roots, cement and all manner of things designed to reacquaint you with gravity.

Long story short, I mostly stayed upright and moved up through the field. The new bike handled beautifully with no major problems- I think I burned up an entire set of brake pads though! I finished 5th overall with Sean literally on my wheel. I'm pretty happy with that result as my first pure MTB race in more than 10 years.

This will be the only mtb race I will get in before the Xterra regional in May, so hopefully it was enough to dust off the handling skillz.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

New Orleans 70.3

This past winter represented my longest break from consistent training since I don't know when. I always take a month or two completely off after an Ironman to recover and recharge. Kona was the culmination of a quite a few years of training, so a longer break was in order. Post-Kona I spent much more time with my family, caught up on a number of home rennovation projects and launched a coaching company. These endeavors extended my off season through the winter (aside from a few cyclocross races). Between spending time with Jonah, Cara's grad classes and keeping up with coaching, training time has been hard to come by.

I really didn't know what to expect from New Orleans other than it would tell me where I was at fitness-wise. Due to time constraints I pretty much have cut out swimming since October. I did a couple trainer workouts over the winter, but nothing rigorous. I managed only a single outside ride on my tri bike before the race! Running has been easier to work in and I had a solid base going into NOLA.

As evidenced by my earlier post, New Orleans was more about experiencing the city with my team than it was about the race. Mission accomplished! After enjoying the food and the sights for a few days the fact that I had a half-IM to race kinda creeped up on me! I was banking on years of race experience and some of the training that I did for Kona last season to get me through the day in a reasonable early season time.

On race morning we woke up at about 5am to find that it was already 72 degrees and humid. This would be the first indicator that the day wasn't going to treat us northerners kindly!

The swim was point-to-point in Lake Ponchatrain (yes that is the lake that flooded during Katrina!). During our first practice swim we were in 3 foot rollers that were the worst I ever swam in. By race morning the wind was still there, but the direction had shifted giving us mostly calm waters. Water temp was low 70s so I was in my sleeveless 2XU wetsuit. I vastly prefer the sleeveless unless the water is under 65. I overheat and feel too constricted in long sleeves.

I knew I couldn't really push the swim without any traing to back it up. Therefore I focused on good form and drafting when possible. I hate hot water so the temps were actual decent for a wetsuit legal swim. I did start getting more shoulder fatigue than usual about 2/3 of the way through. I started getting antsy and was feeling like I had been swimming for too long when I rounded a corner and saw the swim exit. The swim timing mat was quite a ways up the beach which added a bit more to the times. I saw 31 something on my watch exiting the swim, and my chip time was almost 33. So about 3-4 minutes off my normal swim times. Looking at all the times the course may have been a touch long, but not more than a minute or so. Little disappointing, but I didn't really expect much faster.


I saw teammate Robby B. in transition, meaning that he had smoked me in the swim by about 4 minutes! Since it was during the swim he totally missed his opportunity for a team spank! Heading out on the bike I noticed that the winds were picking up some more. My last tri was on a hot, windy island and this wouldn't be the only time during the day that I would think about trying to find some cooler races to do!

Going into NOLA I hadn't even done a Functional Threshold Power Test to determine my race zones. This was mostly on purpose, because I knew if I was going to be at all competitive I would probably have to ride above my recommended ranges. In other words, I was knowingly setting myself up for the possibility of blowing up big time. I'm pretty sure that I was passed by more cyclists in NOLA than I was at Kona. Those Southerners are in good bike shape in April! I was actually surprised at the power numbers I was holding on to. Nothing spectacular, but better than I thought. On paper the whole NOLA course should be one of the fastest anywhere. The only hills are a couple big bridges on the bike. Unfortunately, the winds and the heat both increased throughout the day. The bike course leaves the urban areas of New Orleans fairly quickly and heads out into some pretty classic bayou country. I distracted myself from the winds by scanning the swamps for gators, but never spotted any (as consolation teammate Charlie invited me to come back down sometime and go gator-hunting!).

First year races are always a risky proposition that I usually avoid. This one was directed by Bill Burke who has put on tons of high-profile races including Hyvee which was the last olympic qualifier last year. The swim and transition were ok, but the bike course needed more aid stations. Later in the day some of the aid stations ran out of fluids which is unacceptable with the kind of race fees they were charging. There were also problems with shuttle buses to the swim start and then back from the finish to the transition area. Given Bill's reputation, I would expect these to be corrected next year, but still some glaring problems.

Back to the bike my lack of fitness started to show around mile 40. My power numbers started falling off and my cadence started dropping- bad signs. I had slight cramping in my glute which never happens to me- another sign that I was lacking in bike miles. On the positive side I knew I could gut out 15 miles and get to the run. I lost some speed during the last hour of the bike, but didn't get passed much which indicates that everyone else was suffering in the wind and heat as well.

Final bike time was 2:35 (about 21.5 mph). The silver lining here was that I somehow eked out 228 watts ave. In peak form I am usually around 250, so 20 watts off peak is actually quite good for this time of year.


I was best trained for the run, but had pushed the bike harder than I was trained for. The cramping glute worried me a bit, but it got straightened out in the first few miles. For the first 3 miles or so, I thought I might be in for a very long day. I was running ok, but it was taking more effort than it should have. Also during the first part of the run the sky was crystal clear and the sun was really beating down. I had gone through about 4 bottles of Infinit plus another 3-4 bottles of water on the bike, so my hydration was good. I kept that up by taking 2-3 cups of water at every aid station. Around mile 4 something clicked and I hit my normal running stride. I started reeling back in all the cyclists that had overexerted themselves in the wind. About 1/2 way through the run I started catching up to the back end of the female pro racers (they started a wave ahead of me). I'm pretty sure that no more than 1 or 2 people passed me on the run that I didn't eventually catch. Miles 4-10 went really well. My feet were blistering, but I was clicking off what felt like high six minute miles. Lack of mileage caught up with me around mile 10 and I suffered quite a bit the last 3 miles, but only dropped a bit off pace.

I spotted Tracy very near the finish and flashed my trademark "grimacesmile". I was definitely ready for this one to be over! Run time was 1:31 so right at 7 minute miles. I had planned on running under 1:30, but given the heat I'll take it.

I was 16th in my age group. Last time I raced a 70.3 (Steelhead) I won my age group, so this tells us 2 things: #1 NOLA is a really big and competitive field and #2 Chris still has some work to do to bring back the "A" game.

Heather Gollnick is sort of my yardstick for racing. Last time we raced the same half I was within 1 minute of her. So the cool thing is that wherever Heather races I can look at her time and get a general idea how I would have fared. Right now there is a big discrepancy in virtual Chris's time based on Heather's finish (4:32) and real Chris time (4:44). Gotta nip that one in the bud....

After the race I had the privilege of having a massage table right next to Natasha Badmann. I talked to her a bit about the race and only found out later that she had a huge comeback victory at NOLA. Natasha is one of Cara and my favorite triathletes and it was great chatting with her about the race. I also caught up a bit with some of the pros from the Zippcast interview. Linsey Corbin had a decent day with a top-10 finish and Desiree had a tougher day, but just came off a big 10K win. The winds weren't kind to big racers and Chris McDonald gutted out a top-15 finish.

Post-race we scored one more excellent meal and made the obligatory trip to Bourbon Street. Mr. Stenzel made his debut as a bull rider, Stu spotted a gorgeous lugged steel bike and I determined that Bourbon Street Hurricanes have about as much alcohol as a K-Mart Slushee.

All in all this was an awesome roadtrip with my team and an acceptable season opener.

A big thanks to Steve Stenzel for serving as team photographer for the trip!


In one of those weird coincidences as I was finishing up editing this post the song "King of New Orleans" by Better than Ezra came up on the random shuffle on my I-Tunes. There are about 6,000 songs on my I-tunes so a particular song doesn't come around all that often. Excellent song.

Anyway you look, anyway you talk it over.
It's easier to let it slip out of your mind.
But it rips your heart out.
Then it kicks your head in.

Just give him one more chance,
try to see the beauty in his world.
All the way in on my hands,
in on my feet,and shoulders.
Going to make twenty dollars before the weekends over.

So set him up,
Then let him fall.
Turn him over in your hands.
God save the King of New Orleans.
God save the King of New Orleans.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Laissez le Bon Temps Roleur!

Ironman New Orleans 70.3

Prelude in C (Cajun) Major

Mardis Gras. Fat Tuesday. Blues. Jazz. Beads. Beignets. Jambalaya. Gumbo. Bourbon Street. Katrina. Crawfish. Bayous. Absinthe. Lucky Dogs. Levees. Creoles. Walker Percy. Café Du Monde. The Big Easy.

Even if you’ve never been there, playing word association with New Orleans is a simple task. It is one of those iconic American cities that is part of our national psyche.

One of the things I love about triathlon is that it has taken me to some beautiful areas of the country that I probably would have missed otherwise. I had never been to New Orleans before and probably wouldn’t ever schedule a family vacation there! So when it came up as a possible Evotri team race I was all for the idea as long as it was a roadtrip! The race is very early for us Northerners who are still trying to fit outside rides in between snowstorms, but the opportunity to visit NOLA outweighed these “minor” details. As a bonus, our teammate Charlie (TriCajun) would be our resident “local” and tour guide.

It has been a good number of years since I have been part of a proper roadtrip. With airline bike fees that amount to highway robbery, I see more of these in my future. Our plan was to rent a cargo van and hightail it south. The roadtrip crew consisted of myself and my 3 Wisconsinite teammates: Stu, Robby B. and Michelle. This epic adventure began on the Wednesday before the race. To maximize our New Orleans time, our most excellent itinerary (courtesy of Robby) called for driving all night Wednesday and arriving early Thursday morning.

The road trip did not disappoint. Much silliness and smack talk (mostly at Stu’s cost) ensued. The highlight of the trip down was definitely dinner. For me personally, the trip South was just as much of a culinary excursion as a triathlon destination. I have more than a passing fondness for Cajun food and couldn’t wait to try as much of the real thing as I could cram down before and after race day. This created the necessity for Rule #1 of Evotri roadtrip: “Thou shalt not eat the forbidden and nasty food served by chain restaurants.” Dinner time on the drive down put us in Southern Missouri for dinner. Still too far north for Cajun food, but right smack in the middle of barbecue country! A beacon from the great god of pit barbecue led us from the interstate to the shrine of this holy land: Chubby’s BBQ. I knew before we hit the gravel parking lot that BBQ nirvana awaited within. The all-particle board interior reinforced the notion that this establishment cared about their product over pompous décor. Robby B. and I split the Chubby’s Sampler which should have rightly been reserved for 4+ human beings. From the pit barbecue Cubby’s procured ribs (of course), pulled pork, ham, chicken, bbq beef and a plethora of sides. Chubby’s did not disappoint with some of the best ribs and pulled pork I’ve ever had. I predicted that my salt levels would be topped off for the next month, and I’ll stand by that.

We arrived in New Orleans at about 3am and since I couldn’t convince anyone to go straight to Bourbon Street we checked into our awesome accommodations for the weekend. Thanks to a Stu connection, the team was staying in a huge old New Orleans home. This was so much better than a hotel for both team atmosphere and for getting a true sense of the city.

Thursday morning we got up and headed to Lake Ponchatrain (yes we swam in that lake!) to do a swim. Winds were out of the north and kicking up huge 3ft swells. Not to be deterred the fearless members of Team Evotri got in and swam in the chop for 15 or 20 minutes. Getting out of the lake proved to be a dangerous endeavor as barnacles and/or sharp cement claimed a little chunk of my foot and contributed to Michelle’s epic “swim crash”.

The rest of Thursday was a relax and see the sites day. More great food with Beignets and café au lait for breakfast and an authentic Cajun dinner with Charlie and his wife Lisa. The rest of the night was a completely uneventful trip to Bourbon Street. Corollary to this, I can neither confirm nor deny any video of any Evotri team member riding a mechanical bull that may or may not appear on YouTube.

Friday saw more members of the Evotri posse roll into the Big Easy. You might even say they were fresh on the scene….;) The big event of the day was a round table discussion with some of the Zipp sponsored pro athletes conducted by Stu. The all-star lineup included: Linsey Corbin, Heather Gollnick, Desiree Ficker and Chris Macdonald. Stu is pretty much a slave-driver and makes us do all kinds of work for him. I was forced to go over to Desiree Ficker’s hotel and walk her over to the loft where we were doing the discussion. I tell you the sacrifices I make for this team are deserving of saint hood! In any case, keep your eyes on the Zipp site for a really terrific discussion with these athletes.

Team EvoTri with some top Zipp Pros

By Saturday the whole Evotri team plus friends Steve and Sarah had congregated at the IM NOLA House. Another practice swim with south winds was much less eventful. We made the required trip to Café du Monde for more coffee and Beignets (awesome)! Getting all the bikes to transition and finally getting some good team photos were the priorities of the day. Unloading a van full of matching BMCs with Zipp wheels really made us look like a serious team. Steve shot some great shots of the entire team in uniform.

Up next, New Orleans race report. Stay tuned....

Monday, February 23, 2009

Gettin' Dirty!

First off, let me apologize that the blogging has been so sporadic as of late. I always need some serious downtime after a big race and Kona was sort of the culmination of about 6 years of Ironman racing, so some time away from training has probably been good for me in the long run. In the meantime, I have put tons of time and energy into our new coaching company: Revolution Multisport. Coaching is going well, but it will definitely cut into training time. Providing true custom coaching takes way more attention than just modifying a pre-set plan to fit an athlete. Good news is that we are already nearing capacity for this season. In May I will be attending the 3-day USAT Level I coaching certification which should be interesting.

Since Kona I don't know how many times I have been asked, "So, what's next?" I am 100% convinced that living your life focused on each day's journey is the best way to give one the proper gratitude for this crazy ride. Still that doesn't mean that there aren't really nice "scenic overlooks" along the way! Kona was definitely one of these. I spent so much time and effort (and $) getting to Kona that "What Happens Next" only rarely crossed my mind.

This fall post-Kona I did very little training, but I did indulge in one of my more recent passions, which is cyclocross. The biggest event that I went to was the 2-day Jingle Cross Rock in Iowa. The first day was muddy and cold and the second day added a nice layer of snow on top of the mud- in other words, perfect cross conditions. I have to admit that I had as much fun in this crazy laid-back atmosphere as I did at the World Championships! There are quite a few great Jingle Cross Rock videos on YouTube:

Two weekends ago, I headed down near Springfield, IL for the Tour de Groundhog, which is a late-season cross race. I raced here last year and both years have been an absolute mud fest. My bike weighed twice as much at the finish as it did when I started, but somewhere amidst the suffering that cross is all about, I was definitely having fun!

So what's next is embracing my dirty nature (you can read that however you would like!) I started mountain biking about the same time I started tris (early '90s) and I have always liked it better. Problem is my geographic location is much better suited to road riding. Nevertheless, in 2009 I will be making a serious foray into the world of Xterra and to a lesser extent mountain bike racing. I've already done 4 off-road tris in the past and had some success, so I am not brand-new to the dirty side of triathlon. To embrace the "No day, but today" philosophy, I am going to try and take Xterra racing to the same high levels that I did with regular triathlon. That means aiming for either Xterra nationals or even the World Championships in '09. The midwest qualifier for Worlds is in Michigain in May. No that, is not a typo. An off-road triathlon in Michigan in May. As a general rule of thumb you don't even want to get in most of the Illinois lakes in May! This is part of what draws me to Xterra- they generally do everything possible to make the courses difficult. At this point in my career, given the proper training, I know I can finish any Ironman in around 10 hours. With Xterra though, finishing is never guaranteed. Crashes and mechanical problems routinely cause the best Xterra pros to have a DNF next to their names.

I have a rough season schedule up on the right hand side of my blog. I sent it to my wife first with the important disclaimer that this is everything I'd like to race. I'm afraid many of these will be on the cutting block when it comes down to it. In any case this season represents a big move towards Xterra and sharpening the mountain biking skills.

In commemoration of my new-found purpose I am thinking I need to find one of these stickers for Cara:

Monday, February 16, 2009

Registration Open for C+C Triathlete Factory Camp II

Well, last year was the trial run for this camp. During my college xc days we always did a week-long pre-season camp and I sort of modeled this camp off that awesome experience. Feedback from last year's participants was overwhelmingly positive, so we have decided to bring it back again. This year's camp is a little later (May 1-3) but still great timing for a pre-season camp.

The camp is 2.5 days of workouts and seminars geared towards beginner and intermediate triathletes. Through a variety of cost-cutting measures we are able to offer this camp at about 1/2 the cost of other camps. Camp, all meals and lodging for $250. We don't make a killing on this, but we did have fun meeting new triathletes last year! Camp is capped at 20 people and we anticipate it filling up.

All the details can be found here:

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Introducing Revolution Multisport Coaching!

For many years I had a blast participating in the Polar Bear Plunge on New Years Day. This event raised money for charity and basically involved people jumping into the icy waters of the Illinois River.

This New Year my wife and I have taken a plunge of another sort! Allow me to introduce Revolution Multisport Coaching!

This project has been a long time coming. For many years in high school, then college, then in triathlon I've been fortunate enough to work with some amazing, inspirational coaches. Over the course of my various athletic careers, I've gathered and organized massive amounts of training and racing information (hey, my day job is still a librarian!). My wife has a similar long athletic background with more emphasis on the swimming side of things. Last summer she was looking for a work-from-home job she could do over the summers, (she teaches high school Spanish) but we never came up with anything. Coaching seems to fit the bill since our busiest time will be over the summers during tri season.

I put an inordinate amount of time into qualifying for, and then racing in Kona, so now the time is right to try my hand at coaching. I've had people approach me before about coaching, but it was always something I wanted to do properly. Revolution Multisport will offer triathletes (or runners) completely customized training/racing plans delivered through Training Peaks. I'm no web designer, so the new website is nothing fancy, but we did put a lot of time into the content of the site. We want to keep the quality of our services high, so we will be taking a maximum of 10 athletes until we get a sense of whether we can handle more.

I am also formalizing a number of services that I have done on the side for people the last few years. I am offering swim stroke analysis sessions, bike fitting, and a variety of bike maintenance services.

I'm still racing with EvoTri, but will be stepping back from Iron distance racing for at least a season.

Looking forward to an exciting year of coaching and racing in 2009!