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.