Sunday, November 3, 2013

Pro Debut: Beach 2 Battleship Ironman

9:22:10
4th Overall



Validation.  More than anything this race was about validating my decision to go pro.  Validating according to my own personal standards and validating to the larger triathlon community.  Those that have trained with me and traveled to events with me know that I am very low-key, particularly before a big event.  I've done this sport a long time and I don't waste any energy getting nervous or stressed before a race. Pre-race stress and race-day adrenaline are the enemies of the long course triathlete. Over the the course of my competitive career I've set ambitious goals, but have managed to mostly avoid pressure to perform.  I like it this way. I put in the work and just let race day play out as it will.  By taking the pro card I did put some pressure on myself. When race organizers believe in me enough to extend complimentary entries I take that seriously.  When families are willing to host me for a weekend because they believe in my abilities and want to see me race I take that as positive pressure to perform my best.  I don't really want or need pressure to perform well, but in this case it worked out in my favor!

Let me give you the nickle tour through the last two seasons to bring everyone up to speed on how I ended up at the start line of B2B as a professional.  In 2012 I had two goals.  #1 Race well at the ITU Off-Road World Champs in the spring (I took 21st overall) and #2 win an ironman.  I fell a bit short when I took 2nd overall at the inaugural Michigan Titanium ironman. For 2013 I wanted to give my best effort at the Best of the U.S. Amateur race in the spring and then try to get my pro card at Rev3 Dells.  Goal #1 went fine, although it established that I'm never going to a great short course racer.  Goal #2 encountered a road bump when I broke my chain during Rev3 Dells.  I reassessed and switched over to 1/2 IM training for Rev3 Branson one month after Dells.  My short course training transferred well to the 1/2 distance. I finished 2nd overall amateur at Rev3 Branson. I immediately took my pro card and decided that since I was racing well I should do one more race in 2013.  Why not an ironman?!  This decision may have been a bit rash since I only had about one more month of training to get somewhat ready for an IM.  I buckled down and put in a few good long rides and long runs.  Still my count for the whole year was only 5 rides over 3 hours and 3 runs over 1.5 hours.  I intentionally almost never run longer than 2 hours in training, so I was pretty confident in my run, but I knew I was really light on bike volume.

I've really enjoyed racing non-WTC events in the last few years.  To the best of my knowledge B2B is the largest independent iron distance race in the U.S.  It's also the only independent race that I know of which fills to capacity.  B2B is held in and around Wilmington, NC.  It boasts one of the fastest iron distance race courses in North America.  It also features cool temperatures which was a huge draw for me, since more often than not, I have been roasted in my other ironman races.

I flew out on Thursday and met up with my Hub Endurance-coordinated homestay family in Wilmington.  The Hayse family were great hosts for the weekend.  They have two kids who are roughly the same ages as mine but with the genders reversed.  So fun to see the different dynamics with an older girl and younger boy.



Race day weather was colder than usual for Wilmington.  Race start temps were around 37 degrees and highs were mid-60s.  The swim is point to point, so I had to pick up some Dollar Store throw-away clothes to take to the swim start.  Even then athletes were huddled around 2 heaters until right before the start.  Rather than getting chilled by warming up I just skipped it.  I started right near the front and got out fast to avoid the big crowds (there was not a separate professional wave).  I always shortchange my swim training, so I just had to be content with a decent pace that I knew I could hold.  I did a better job than usual of always being on someone's feet.  The lead pack got away from me, but that was probably to be expected.  Depending on the tides sometimes the B2B swim is incredibly fast (low 40s for top swimmers). This year was supposed to be slack tide for most of the race.  Prior to the event, I had secured a new wetsuit sponsorship with Xterra Wetsuits.  Xterra hooked me up with their top-of-the-line Vendetta full sleeve and sleeveless suits.  I am huge fan of sleeveless, but because of the cold morning temps I had the full sleeve on.  Water temp was around 70 so I would have preferred the sleeveless in the water, but was happy to have the sleeves beforehand. The Vendetta is the most buoyant and flexible wetsuit I have been in.  The wetsuit plus saltwater plus some incoming tide led me to my best-ever IM swim of 55:52.  I would guess I got about a 3-4 minute push from the incoming tide during the second half of the swim.

Thanks for the extra swim speed, Xterra!


It was a long, cold quarter mile run to the T2 changing tent.  I had spent a lot of time considering how to dress for a bike ride that would start out around 40 degrees and finish around 60.  To try and keep my feet relatively warm I had used thin neoprene swim socks.  To help my T1 time I just kept those on since they would also help keep my toes warm.  I had toe booties on my shoes and I put those chemical heaters underneath those.  I put a single tight-fitting long sleeve on which was difficult when wet and cold.  I had put more heaters in the back pockets of that base layer which was quite nice on my lower back for the bike ride.  I also put on a headband and throwaway gloves.  Because of the long run and extra gear T2 took 4:35.  One of the few other pros in the race was my good friend and former Augustana XC and Track teammate, Jeff Paul.  Traditionally, the swim is the only leg where I had any hope of putting time into JP.  When I reached my bike, I saw that he was already out of T1.  He put in the swim training, so it was all earned through hard work.


40 degree bike start!

The B2B bike course is quite fast on paper.  They call it "totally flat" but that is a bit of a misnomer.  My Powertap Joule had around 2000 ft of climbing.  There certainly aren't any climbs, but lots of false flats.  My selection of gear seemed about right.  Early on I passed some racers who didn't have any warm gear on and they looked miserable. Even with the neoprene socks, toe booties and warmers, my toes were pretty cold for the first 1.5 hours.  My goal was to be around 5 hours for this ride, which would be a personal PR.  My last long training ride went quite well.  I was targeting 210-220 watts which was ambitious, but doable.  For the first 2 hours I was above my goal power range.  RPE should always trump gadget feedback, but I am wondering the cold temps were making me ride harder than I should have just to avoid freezing.  In any case, the winds were relatively low and I knew I should be able to turn in a decent ride.  I picked up a bunch of places in the first 15 miles and then I saw no one until around mile 85.  The meant lots of solo hours where I just kept an eye on the power meter and kept the calories coming in.  I've got my IM nutrition strategy pretty dialed in.  I put one bottle of Infinit in my between the arms bottle and then have concentrate for 4 more behind my seat along with a spare bottle of water that I swap out.  This is about 1300 calories.  I supplement this with 5 gels in a flask (about another 500 calories).  Since it was the week of Halloween I threw a couple snack size Snickers in my bento box and run special needs.  Stellar idea!  I was happy to let my power drop down into goal range after two hours. After 3.5 hours though I was averaging below goal range.  Fortunately for me there was a headwind and a net uphill in the first half of the bike.  My power was dropping off, but my speed was still quite good.  Average power is important, but how that power is distributed is also very important.  Had I started out too hard and then had a headwind the second half, this pacing strategy would have been disastrous.  I finally made a pass around mile 85 and soon after we merged with the 1/2 distance athletes.  At this point, I was content to not fight the power drop because I felt that I could turn in a great run. I hit T2 in 4:59:22 which was another PR for me. My brother was quick to remind me that I still fell 44 seconds short of his best-ever IM ride!  My time was the 5th best for the day, and no one passed me on the bike.  My average power dropped all the way down to 204, which is almost the same as my Kona power in '08.  I had done 212 in training, but probably need more volume to hold that power during a race.  The cool thing is that I could see myself splitting 4:45 on this course with just a little more fitness.

My fit and set-up on the QR CD.01 is now super clean and aero.


During T2 I had a moment of panic when the volunteers could not find my T2 bag.  I had hung it on the rack the day before, but somehow it had gotten moved.  I just started changing in place while the volunteers looked around for my bag and eventually found it.  The bag fiasco plus changing out of the warm gear yielded another slow transition, but hey, it's an IM, I have time to make it up.


This guy crawled across the run course at some point!  Sorry I missed it!


Despite my apparent lack of run volume, I was confident that I could run a quick marathon in cool temps. The long bikes take care of my cardio, so I like to focus on faster running.  The 90 minute "long" run with hard intervals built in is my long course bread and butter training run.  I didn't know exactly where I was place-wise, but I knew I was doing well overall. My marathon goal was 3:10-3:15.  I always just start an IM marathon based off of feel.  I ran about 4 miles at what I felt was a very conservative pace before I even started checking my splits.  The next couple of miles were all around a low 7 minute pace, which was a bit under goal pace.  It's damn hard to even split an IM marathon, so I was fine with building a bit of a cushion early on.  The run was two loops and it was harder than I expected.  The temps were great, but the run definitely has some elevation gain going out each loop along with one steep (but short) hill.  On the first out and back turnaround I got a sense of how I was doing.  Buddy Jeff Paul was in the lead and having a great race!  He was around 20 minutes up on me and there were a few guys between us.  It was hard to get an accurate count because the course was crowded with 1/2 IM runners.  The return trip into town was quite nice because of the net downhill.  In the first half I think I picked up one place and lost one place to a speedy runner.  I was still feeling good and pretty certain I wouldn't have too much of a drop-off.  JP had a solid cushion at the turnaround and he looked like a lock to win it.  Not long after the second turnaround I noted two guys running pretty well about 4-5 minutes back from me.  This gave me some good motivation for the last 6 miles.  I knew they would have to make up about 45 seconds per mile to pass me and I wasn't about to let that happen.  I'm very happy with the way I ran my last six miles.  I actually picked it up some compared to my middle miles. I finished the run in 3:18:37 (9th best run).  The course was a little harder than I anticipated, so I am pretty content with that split.

I might be suffering, but at least I look good?
First and Fourth!  One of us has obviously been done longer than the other in this pic!
 
On the other hand, I was thrilled with my overall finish.  9:22:10 and 4th overall.  This was a 30 minute PR and probably my best finish in a big race.  There was prize money for the top 5 finishers, so that made the finish place all the better.  JP clinched his first IM win with a 9:04:49.  Congrats again, buddy! So in the end I was less than 20 minutes from the professional winner of a large race.  This new step-up in performance shows me that a sub-9 hour IM on a course like B2B or IM Florida is now within my ability.  Most of the time drop will come from a better bike performance. Next year I will be completely focused on long course racing.  Which races remains to be seen.  B2B was a great experience and I'd love to come back sometime and race for the win.



 

2013 B2B Recap Video

Friday, September 27, 2013

Pro.





Our local Tri-Tremont Triathlon this past July marked my 20th year of racing triathlons. I've come far enough in my triathlon career that I was able to return to Tremont this year and take the overall win to celebrate my anniversary.  When I signed up for my first triathlon I knew not a soul in the world who had ever done one before. I swam and ran competitively as a kid and my mom had a boat anchor of a steel 10 speed Ross (that's 10 gears total for all you newbies) which I borrowed for the race.  The sport has grown like crazy during these past 20 years. It's become trendy and ultra-competitive, but year after year my passion and excitement for the sport has not diminished. Some strange brew consisting of equal parts stubbornness, discipline and smart training has allowed me to have success as an amateur triathlete. I've now won races at every distance except Ironman (2nd last year was a close as I've been able to get).  I've achieved my personal goals of racing at Kona, the 70.3 World Champs and the ITU Off-Road World Champs.

It was following the ITU Off-Road World Champs two springs ago that I needed to do some soul-searching regarding what came next for me as a triathlete.  Just going through the motions and maybe winning some more small events and competing well at larger ones wasn't really doing it for me. I've always needed big, scary, audacious goals to force me to do the work necessary to improve.  If I were independently wealthy I would love to keep going back to Kona to see how much I could improve there.  Qualifying, registering for, and traveling to Kona are just too damn expensive- particularly when I would only go with my whole family in tow. Kona is not one of those venues where you just ask your wife to stay home and take care of the kids while you go play triathlon on a tropical island!

For the first time I sat down and took a real look at USAT's Elite Qualifying Criteria.  I was actually pretty surprised how lenient (in relative terms) some of the criteria were. Without specifically training and peaking for certain events I almost had 2 out of 3 races I needed to meet one set of criteria. At one of those races I ended up sharing a podium with pros Daniel Bretscher and Bryan Rhodes.  The gap between me and Rhodesy was substantial, but still it was a podium finish alongside two established pros.  My second big goal of 2012 was to try and win an Iron distance race.  I fell a little short at the inaugural Michigan Titanium.  I took my winnings from that race and entered the Rev3 Cedar Point full two weeks later.  This painful little gamble ended up with me falling about 15 minutes short of 3rd place which would have gotten me my pro card.  For any U.S. race that offers more than $20,000 in professional prize money any amateur who finishes in the top 3 is automatically eligible for a pro card.  This method seems far easier than some of the other criteria and my guess is that USAT will tighten this criteria up sooner rather than later.

2012 Decatur Tri Podium


I hunkered down with a new strategy for 2013.  It was a pretty simple strategy: quit dicking around doing every kind of racing under the sun and just focus on re-building speed at the olympic distance.  I would have a spring peak for the Best of the US Amateur race and then a second peak in August for Rev3 Dells.  I was hoping for bigger speed gains (long course is definitely my strength), but things were on-track for a top-3 finish at Dells.  The Dell's race was yet another in a string of miserable weather races that I thrive in.  I had a good swim and by about 10 miles into the bike I had ridden myself into top five.  It was raining hard and I downshifted and felt my chain wrap up.  Not only had it wrapped up, it had snapped and I don't carry my chain tool for short races.  Game over, thanks for playing.

My wife and I met on the swim team at Augustana College. She knows better than anyone when I am skimping by on light training or when I am primed for a good race. She has always said that I can find a higher race "gear" and perform beyond the level of my training. Put me as an anchor on a relay that's behind during a critical race and I'll chase those other guys down like a fucking madman. I wouldn't have said it out loud, but pretty much within 15 seconds of realizing my chain was broken I knew I was going pro one way or another.  The broken chain at my "A" race gave me a lazer-like focus and resolve to finish in the top-3 at my fall-back race plan: Rev 3 Branson.

In the few weeks between Dells and Branson I upped my bike volume, but kept everything else pretty much the same.  On the Tuesday before the race I had my season best time and best-ever average power on our local 20K TT that I've done for year. Things were clicking.  On paper, Branson was a very good course for me.  1/2 IM is probably my strongest distance right now.  I like hills and this sucker has 3000 ft of vertical gain over 56 miles.  Here's my condensed Branson race report:

Rev3 Branson "Green Screen" pic with teammate Simply Stu!

Swim:
Branson is a point-to-point ride, so you have two transitions. The amateur field was actually quite small (around 400 for both the 1/2 and Oly combined).  This ticks me off because it is one of the best venues I've raced at and because 1300 people signed up when it was a WTC event the year before.  I hope Rev3 doesn't pull the plug, but racers have to come out and support!  Race morning was cold, so there was a lot of fog coming off the lake. The fog was the only real challenge of the swim.  I got out fast and was somewhere around 5th, but it was impossible to keep tabs on everyone because of the fog.  At multiple points I was forced to stop, tread water and try to spot the next buoy in the fog.  I swam a mediocre 31 minutes (hopefully that included the run to T1).

This gives you some sense of the hills on the closed highway section of the course!


Bike:
I was confident in my cycling and my ability to ride well in the mountains.  I knew my swim had kept me in contention for top 3.  The climbing on this course starts almost immediately out of transition.  My Powertap was a huge help in keeping it under control early on.  It actually conked out on me after about 30 minutes, but I had a pretty good feel for the right effort by that time.  The Branson course has a section of rollers before you get hit a gorgeous section of highway that they close down completely for the race. Racers do 2.5 laps on this sucker.  The descents are wide-open and screaming fast (mid-40's mph).  The ascents are long, and slow, but the grades are not very steep. I was riding pretty conservatively because I knew I was still around the top five and I had great confidence in my run as long as I didn't go crazy on the ride.  Only one amateur went around me and I kept him in sight the whole ride.  I caught a few age groupers as well as a bunch of female pros and one or two male pros that had started 8 and 10 minutes ahead, respectively.  This was a good sign. I didn't know it at the time, but I came off the bike in 4th.  I rode just under 20.5mph which would be a terrible pace on most courses, but at Branson it was good for 4th fastest in the amateur field.



Run:
I neglected to count bikes in T2, which was a bit of a rookie mistake.  There were a bunch of Olympic distance bikes already there though, so it was a bit tricky.  My running had really been coming along and I hadn't trashed my legs on the ride. I came into T2 just behind pro Lesley Smith.  She took off at a good clip and I jumped on behind her.  We quickly caught the 1 guy who went around me on the bike.  Splits through mile 2 show us running at about 6:10 pace.  The run course was a little convoluted and congested.  For the 1/2 it was 3 loops, but there were also olympic athletes out there which made it really hard to know where you were at.  Somewhere after mile 2 I took over pace-making duties for awhile.  Near one of the turnarounds around mile 4 I saw a pair of guys who looked like they might have been in my race who were running well. This reminded me that I did not have things wrapped up yet and made me dig for awhile. Somewhere along the line I must have passed the guy in third.  He did not try to go with us.  I thought Lesley had fallen off, but as I started lagging just a bit around mile 11, she came around.  This definitely helped me pick it up again the last few miles, but I couldn't stay on her shoulder.  As I peeled off towards the finish shute I saw another runner just ahead of me do the same thing.  Ah hell, I hoped that was one of the male pros.  No such luck.  It was a 19 year old kid who had smoked the swim!  I had no idea he was on the same lap of the run as me.  I ended up in second overall by a mere 12 seconds.  My run was a 1:25:26.


Of course I didn't know my placing at the time.  I thought I had it, but there was a wave that started behind mine that could have had some fast, older racers.  I wasn't totally confident in the second place finish until about 1 hour later.


Branson Podium!


Pro.

My buddy Andrew Starykowicz has been one of the top U.S. triathletes for awhile now.  I remembered that a few years back he wrote a really well-reasoned blog post about when to go pro.  I went back and found it. Starky has a background in engineering and like much of what he writes his list of considerations for going pro is analytical and doesn't contain any b.s.  Truth be told, I've accomplished the things that I really cared about as an amateur.  I am 34, so just hitting my long course prime, but certainly not getting any faster at the short stuff.  For me the decision to go pro came down to two simple considerations: #1 I can continue to race without straining the family budget as much as I have in the past and #2 if I am honest, without this new kick in the ass, I was probably done improving in this sport. I'm not ready to say my best races are behind me.

I am well aware of where I fall within the current spectrum of U.S. professional athletes and it ain't purdy. I will say that I have beaten at least a few pros in every large race that I have done in the last few years. I will also say that there is no real line between the best amateurs and the backside of the pro field. Amateur Colin Riley has been winning everything under the sun in the Midwest this year and is still an amateur (probably not much longer). Likewise, Adam Zucco and Mark Harms both could be pro, but have other racing goals that they are pursuing.

I've realized that there is a lot of confusion as to what "professional" means within the sport of triathlon. I had to reassure some of my colleagues at Illinois Wesleyan University that I was not leaving my day job any time soon. In triathlon there is precisely zero dollars associated with going pro.  In fact, I had to pay $45 for the little card you see at the top of this post (which you will note expires in December and will require me to renew again!).  Nor are there any automatic sponsorships for pros.  My plan is to continue to build on the solid sponsorship relations that I already had through my Evotri team. The only real immediate benefits are being able to sign up for races that are closed at any time and not having to pay entry fees for most non-WTC events.  Well, those benefits and the abovementioned kick-in-the-ass to get faster! This xtranormal video actually pretty much nails it:



As I take this next step in my triathlon career, I am mostly filled with gratitude for the years of support that allowed me to get here.

First and foremost I must always thank my family for all their support and sacrifices.  I certainly was not driving myself to all those road races and triathlons 20 years ago!  My parents supported my brother and I through years and years of swimming, track and xc practices and races.

I do my best to train at times that don't impact my family, but inevitably with long rides and such my wife has to pick up some of my slack at home.  She has been a huge supporter in helping me get my workouts in and letting travel all over the midwest for races.

My Evotri team is made up of some incredibly fun and passionate triathletes. I love getting together with my teammates whenever we can.  We all are juggling complex family and work responsibilities, but keep plugging away year after year.

Evotri has enjoyed some of the best sponsor support of any age group team (and as good as some pro teams).  Many of our sponsors have been with us for 6 years now.

Quintana Roo has supplied our team with top-notch Cd.01 tri bikes.  I love this bike.  I can go out to any race and know that nothing about my bike is holding me back.  If I don't have the fastest bike split, that's all on me!

Zipp Speed Weaponry has provided the team with the fastest wheels on the planet and various other go-fast components.  I've been racing a Zipp 808 Firecrest / Super-9 combo for a few years  now, and would be loathe to switch to anything else.  Once these wheels get up to speed, it is easier to stay there with the aerodynamic beasts.

Powertap / Cycleops has made sure that each of us has the ability to quantify our training and racing using their hubs and trainers.  They have recently announced big price drops on all of their Powertap hubs and wheelsets, making them one of the cheapest and most reliable power measuring options out there.

Sram-  Back when Sram Red was relatively new to the market, Sram shipped me a whole component group to race in Kona.  These components are still going strong (although they have been relegated to my road bike as I've upgraded my tri bike with new Sram components).  Sram continues to push the edge in terms of both form and function.  I recently switched over to their new Red Yaw front derailleur and Exogram crankset.  This is the best front shifting I have ever experienced on a road or tri bike.

Hub Endurance just so happens to be owned by my brother Andy.  Hub Endurance has provided Evotri members with professional coaching plans.  Andy has also been super-helpful with drop-shipping me all sorts of components at shop cost that I always seem to need at last-minute (like a new SRAM crank following the broken chain incident at Dells).  Thanks brother!

Infinit Nutrtion has been a long-time personal sponsor.  Infinit allows you to customize your own sports drink formula.  Once I got my personal formula figured out it has greatly simplified my long-course nutrition plan.

Bloomington Cycle and Fitness is my awesome LBS.  They are transforming the cycling scene in Bloomington-Normal through a variety of grassroots-style efforts. Riding with the BCF team has been one of the key components to the cycling improvements that I have made the past few seasons.

Super-stoked to cross one more item off my personal lifetime bucket list by going pro! Still, I'm not quite ready to call it a season and move on to cyclocross racing.  I'm racing well, so I wanted to get at least one race in as a professional in 2013.  With that in mind, I'm headed to North Carolina to race the Beach to Battleship Iron Distance Triathlon!  The race is on Oct. 26 which gives me enough time to recover from Branson, do a small, high volume block and then hopefully rip off a big P.R. in my first pro race!  Stay tuned...

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Spring Racing Re-Cap

The 2013 tri season has been good to me thus far.  When other tri geeks ask me how my training has been going I've been replying that I've had really good consistency getting workouts in since January, but my overall volume has stayed lower than I would like (generally 6-10 hours per week).  My spring focus has been all about trying to regain some short course speed that I never really had in the first place. In the gene pool lottery I definitely got the go-long DNA.  Both my spring and summer "A" races are/were olympic distance so I've tried to do a better job of hitting some shorter, hard intervals on the bike and the track. It sorta worked.  I've been racing a bunch both to build speed and reacquaint myself with short course suffering.  None of these races really needs a full-blown race report, so here's the Readers Digest version.

March 8
Cactus Classic 1/2 Trail Marathon
Forest City, IL

I know, I claimed to be working on speed and still start my season with a trail 1/2 marathon!  This race has quickly become one of my must-do favs.  The race is about 1.5 hours from me, but the terrain is unlike anything else in Illinois.  It is held in Sand Ridge State Park and it lives up to its name.  There are both lots of sand and lots of little cacti.  Not only is there sand, but it is deep and loose.  It also has hills. What's not to like?  This year there was snow on top of the sand in places (which was actually easier) and it also was very rainy and just over freezing.  I pulled off an overall win at this small-ish race with a 1:35.  I have lots of half Ironman run splits around 1:25 and regular half marathons around 1:20 so that might give you a sense of the course difficulty!

April 28
Sullivan Triathlon
Sullivan, IL

Sullivan is one of the earliest Illinois triathlons.  It is a sprint with a pool swim, then the remainder of the race is outside.  It's always a good early-season benchmark and in past years has had a few pros show up. Race conditions were cool and rainy (start keeping track of that!). No pros this year helped give me the overall win with almost a 5 minute margin.  That was my 3rd overall win at Sullivan.

400 meter pool swim 5:53
13 mile bike: 33:31, 24.3mph, 264 watts
5K run 18:26
58:38

May 5
Rev3 Knoxville Olympic
Knoxville, TN

I added Rev3 Knoxville to my schedule for two reasons. #1 I was able to combine the race travel with a library conference in Nashville, so most of my travel costs were covered. #2 My Evotri teammate, Simply Stu is a fixture at the Rev3 events and I knew we'd get to catch up a bit following our spring team training camp in Chattanooga.  All race week was rainy and cold and race day was the same.  Some of the pros raced in their swim skins to try and stay warm, some age groupers kept their wetsuits on for the bike!  The river water temperature was in the upper 50s so I spent the first 1/3 of the swim trying not to hyperventilate.  This race has a super-long run to T1 which really slowed times down. I didn't get a chance to preview the bike course and with a hard rain coming down I road really conservatively and it showed in the time (1:06).  I was pretty happy with my 37:51 run split all things considered.

1500 swim 21:17
40K bike: 1:06, 23.3mph, 243 watts
10K run: 37:51
2:10:57 blarghhh



June 2
Best of the U.S. Championship / Leon's Triathlon (Olympic)
Hammond, IN

The Best of the U.S. Championship is an interesting amateur race series.  Each state has one race per year designated as the qualifier for the championship race the following year.  The top 3 male and female racers qualify to represent their state.  I had qualified once or twice in the past, but the championship race was always either too expensive to travel to, or conflicted with something else.  I qualified last year at our local Evergreen Triathlon and the championship this year was held in conjunction with Leon's Triathlon in Hammond, IN which is only about 2 hours away. This was my "A" race for the spring and I hoped to finally get under the elusive 2 hour mark.  I went 2:00 and a few seconds at Memphis in May in 2008, but that bike course was short. After a very rainy week, race day looked good in the forecast.  Race morning I was overdressed and had to go looking for a t-shirt.  About 45 minutes before race start a cold front blew in and temps dropped into the 50s and guess what- the rain started again (but not as bad as Knoxville).  The water temp was reasonable and I knew I was going to have a good swim with lots of fast feet to draft. 21:21, check.  Onto the bike the wind was blowing, but not terribly.  I still thought I had a shot at the sub-2.  This race markets itself as "Worlds Fastest" but that seems really overblown.  The race consists of two loops and each loop had 3, 180 degree turnarounds.  That plus some fairly rough roads and a few small hills already put "Worlds Fastest" into doubt.  Turns out the bike course was also about .7 of a mile long.  I rode pretty well but finished with a 1:03 for 25.5 miles.  Of course, I didn't know the details at the time, I just got after the run since there were already a bunch of good athletes up the road.  I clicked off a superb 36:05 10K on a legitimately flat and fast run course.  If the run was accurate it was definitely my fastest ever.  I finished in 2:03:02 which probably would have been a touch over 2 flat with an accurate 40K bike. I finished 16th in the Best of the U.S. field and 26th overall. Normally I'd be disappointed with that kind of placing, but this was a seriously stacked field of racers.

1500 swim 21:21
40K bike 1:03:05, 246 watts
10K run 36:05
2:03:02

June 15
Rockford Triathlon (Olympic)
Rockford, IL

This was also a new race for me and not on my schedule originally.  It was Father's day weekend and the race was held at Rock Cut State Park in Rockford.  It seemed like an ideal way to combine a family camping trip with some racing.  That concept worked pretty well except that it rained on me again.  Pretty hard, but slightly warmer than Knoxville and Leons! This race was not that large 200+ but was part of a college series, so had a bunch of college teams racing.  I have to say this was one of the least-well organized events I've been to in awhile. They weren't ready for packet pickup, then they weren't ready for the race start which had to be pushed back.  Swim cap colors were messed up. The bike was quite dangerous since it was an out and back on a fairly busy road.  Lastly almost none of the run course was marked causing me (and many others including the eventual winner Thomas Gerlach) to go off course.  In the end I finished in 2:10:31 which included another long T1, another long bike course and a detour on the run.  I finished 5th overall, but missed prize money by 20 seconds which was a bit frustrating considering my run detour was at least 45 seconds.

1500 swim 24:26
40K bike 1:04:46, 23.3mph, 237 watts
10K run 39:06
2:10:31

Friday, June 7, 2013

Flow.

For the next series of Team Evotri posts we are to reflect on what we think about while we train.  This is somewhat of a tall order since some of my training rides when I am prepping for an ironman can take 6 or more hours!  I will say that ability to stay focused on the moment at hand can become hugely important when racing long course. It's only those rare times where I am maintaining goal pace with seemingly little effort that I allow myself to zone out and just flow.  These periods of flow never last all that long before you need to turn your attention back to your form, or nutrition or position.  When you are in that state of flow, though, it can be magical. Flow has this magic in part because it seems to occur without thinking, without the lazer-like focus that hard training sessions and racing usually require. Examining flow seems far more interesting to me than cataloging my training thoughts, so let's follow this divergence.

Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (say that three times fast) is one of the foremost experts on flow.  His book Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience defines flow as: "the state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter; the experience itself is so enjoyable that people will do it at great cost, for the sheer sake of doing it" (4).  This is a good starting point for trying to define flow -athletes often call it being in the zone- but this definition seems to suggest that simple focus and enjoyment of an activity can lead to flow. Runners will talk about getting their second wind late into a race or about the elusive runners high.  Here's the thing though, if flow happens, if you manage tap into that runners high, it generally only comes after intense effort. Sure you can go out for an easy run or ride that is well below your all-out pace for that distance and you can do it almost without thinking.  It's certainly a type of flow, but not what I'm interested in. Csikszentmihalyi studied many athletes as part of his research and readily acknowledges the extremes in effort required to reach a state of flow: "...the best moments in our lives, are not the passive, receptive, relaxing times...the best moments usually occur when a person's body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile" (3).

Flow then, is directly linked to happiness. What an odd thing. To find flow, to find this sort of happiness, we must regularly push ourselves to mental and physical extremes.  Triathlon is an excellent vehicle to do both! For a long time my e-mail signature was this simple insight from ultrarunner Dean Karnazes: "Somewhere along the line we seem to have confused comfort with happiness." There is a lot of truth wrapped up in that simple statement and flow is part of the wrapping.

Zoning out, but not flowing at Leon's Tri last weekend.


The extraordinary physical and mental demands of ironman racing seem to make it easier to find flow. I've experienced some flow states in every ironman race I've done. In thinking about my experiences with flow, it is actually a track race that stands out. Towards the end of my junior year at Augustana College I was racing a big late-night invitational track meet at North Central College. I had built up good fitness throughout the season and I was in the race with a couple teammates of similar abilities.  Running really late at night under the lights made the whole experience somewhat surreal to start with. As I recall it now, it seems like the first two miles were just perfect flow.  Dead-on pacing, just sticking on my teammates Ryan Chapman and Matt Fisher's shoulders and clicking off quarter after quarter. Of course, you can't really flow through a whole race and  when reality sets in that last mile its back to guts racing. Still, those first two miles were far easier than they should have been.

Unfortunately there is no sure-fire way to achieve flow in endurance sports. In my experience you are more likely to bonk and wallow in second-by-second agony than you are to find flow. Knowing that it is out there makes the pursuit worthwhile. Remember we are only entitled to the pursuit of happiness, not happiness itself!

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

C + C Triathlete Factory 2013!


So my good buddy Chris Daniels and I have partnered together a number of times to put on this triathlon camp near Peoria, IL.  Our target audience for the first two earlier iterations was beginners looking to improve at the sprint and olympic distance.  This year we switched things up a bit and are targeting beginner and intermediate athletes looking to either race their first half or full Ironman or to improve at those distances.

Triathlete Factory Camp information can be found here

Basic camp need to know:

· When: June 28-30
· Where: Camp Wokonda (Near Peoria)
· Who: Organized by USAT Certified Coach Chris Sweet and long-time elite age group triathlete Chris Daniels
· This weekend camp is for novice and intermediate triathletes who want to either finish their first 1/2 Ironman or Ironman or to improve at those distances.
· Cost $300 (includes camp, all meals and lodging!)

 

Favorite workouts


My favorite sets (as opposed to more general workouts) are always done in groups. I have always thrived athletically when part of a strong team. For years my primary training strategy has been to seek out the strongest athletes in each discipline and train with them as often as possible. Although I am not actively coaching triathletes now, I dug into my workout sets for a few of my favorites.

Swim
For a main set I really like this classic sprinters set from my high school days. Attribution goes to Jim Runkle who coached the Peoria Woodruff High School team and the C.I.A. club team I swam on.

The basic block for this main set is:
75yd rest 10 sec
50yd rest 5 sec
25yd rest 45 sec

This doesn’t look too bad on paper, but it is meant to be done all-out. Each block totals 150 yards. If you can string 10 of these together without yakking, you’ll come out the other side a better triathlete!

Bike
OK, switching gears to long course training for this one. Over time this workout has become a key benchmark during my Ironman training. This is not a base-phase workout. In fact, the only time you are likely to successfully complete it is during your build or peak phases. Again, I think this looks quite manageable on paper. It is the last hour (and specifically the last 30 minutes of that hour) at 80-85% of Functional Threshold Power (FTP) that always gets me. I’ve probably done this workout 10 times and successfully completed the whole thing twice. A word to the wise is to stay within the ranges early on! Credit for the basic structure of this workout goes to coach Mike Ricci from D3 Multisport.
20 minute easy warm up
1 hour at 65%
1 hour at 70-75%
10 min easy at 50%
1 hour at 75-80%
5 min easy at 50%
1 hour at 80-85%
15 min at 90%

Cool down.

Run
With run workouts I am a big believer in teaching your body to run fast when you are tired. Much of what I do is designed to be faster at the end than the beginning. I try to negative split all of my long runs and tempo runs. I also incorporate some harder efforts into all of my long runs. The track workout below uses decreasing distances to help teach your legs to turnover when fatigued.

15 minute easy warm-up
1600m @5K pace
400 very easy jog
1200m @3K pace
400 very easy jog
2X800 @2 mile pace
200m jog between the 800s
4X400m @ mile pace

1 minute recovery between quarters10 minute cool-down

Thursday, March 14, 2013

What's your motivation?

It's sometimes disheartening to me that most people don't "get" great literature and poetry. I don't mean "get" in the cold, analytical, academic-sense. We academics have done more harm than good in terms of helping society as a whole gain a better appreciation for a poem or a play or a novel.  Many academics that study literature -as opposed to those who create it- focus on ever-narrower ways of interpreting and dissecting poetry and prose. Yes, knowing how to do a post-modern, feminist analysis of a piece of literature can increase appreciation among a certain literati-geek subset of people, but that sort of thing is only further off-putting for the average Joe.

The real, deep, value of literature and poetry lies in its unique ability to help us to make sense of ourselves and our interactions with others. Being human is a singular experience- we can never really know what is like to be someone else, but a poem, song, or novel can help bridge that gap to the "other".

I often turn to literature and poetry to help me understand the big questions in life.  Understanding what motivates me to participate in endurance sports month after month and year after year and now decade after decade is certainly one of those big questions.  Anyone that has followed my blog for a few years will have noticed a pattern that my more philosophical posts that try to get at the concept of "The Goal is the Journey" usually lead with (or contain) a quote from outside the sporting world.  That is the sense-making ability of literature in action. The question at hand: "What motivates you?" is fundamental to both success and longevity in sport.  I have many thoughtful answers to this question, but for today I will turn first to a poem I recently discovered and then share one of my own.

Advice to Myself

Leave the dishes.
Let the celery rot in the bottom drawer of the refrigerator
and an earthen scum harden on the kitchen floor.
Leave the black crumbs in the bottom of the toaster.
Throw the cracked bowl out and don't patch the cup.
Don't patch anything. Don't mend. Buy safety pins.
Don't even sew on a button.
Let the wind have its way, then the earth
that invades as dust and then the dead
foaming up in gray rolls underneath the couch.
Talk to them. Tell them they are welcome.
Don't keep all the pieces of the puzzles
or the doll's tiny shoes in pairs, don't worry
who uses whose toothbrush or if anything
matches, at all.
Except one word to another. Or a thought.
Pursue the authentic-decide first
what is authentic,
then go after it with all your heart.
Your heart, that place
you don't even think of cleaning out.
That closet stuffed with savage mementos.
Don't sort the paper clips from screws from saved baby teeth
or worry if we're all eating cereal for dinner
again. Don't answer the telephone, ever,
or weep over anything at all that breaks.
Pink molds will grow within those sealed cartons
in the refrigerator. Accept new forms of life
and talk to the dead
who drift in though the screened windows, who collect
patiently on the tops of food jars and books.
Recycle the mail, don't read it, don't read anything
except what destroys
the insulation between yourself and your experience
or what pulls down or what strikes at or what shatters
this ruse you call necessity.

-Louise Erdrich

When a friend (Thanks Erica Charis!) first shared this poem, I left it open as a tab on my browser for a about two weeks. I would re-read it every day or so and it is quickly becoming one of my favorites.  This is an outstanding example of a poem that is accessible to anyone.  Erdrich is writing about a fundamental human problem: cutting through the clutter of daily life to find the authentic.  She writes:

Pursue the authentic-decide first
what is authentic,
then go after it with all your heart.

This is the first part of the poem that made me stop and reflect on sport and the question of "What motivates you?"  There is something about sport -and endurance sport in particular- that can strip away all the problems, distractions, and excuses that fill up our days like nothing else can.  This sentiment is echoed later in the poem:

Recycle the mail, don't read it, don't read anything
except what destroys
the insulation between yourself and your experience
or what pulls down or what strikes at or what shatters
this ruse you call necessity.

If you replace the word "read" with "do" (academics, reader-response theory says I'm entitled to make this mental substitution!) then this could darn-well be a simple recipe for prioritizing your life, or discovering your real motivations. Endurance-based exercise, and in particular, really long and really hard endurance exercise strips away the insulation (read: crap) of daily life and returns me to the most basic of human needs: eating, drinking, breathing.  I've never appreciated a drink of water more than when I've been 8+ hours into an Ironman race on a hot day.  Sitting down after 9 or 10 hours of continual movement is a singular, exquisite, experience.

So that's a big part of what motivates me. A desire, a need, for truly authentic experiences.

I will leave off with a poem of my own that I wrote in college and dedicated to my XC/Track Coach, Paul Olsen.  It pales in comparison to Erdrich's but does say a little bit more about what motivates me.



A Runner

I kill myself
Everyday
Really though, I am only trying to live
Holding my body to the turning grindstone
I search
for the edge
for something greater
for me

Sometimes
I wish it would stop
I can’t. It won’t
The body craves the pain
Sparks shower from the stone
and I know
the edge

will never be sharp enough

-for Ols’

 



A week in the life

Recently my EvoTri team put together a series of posts about what an average day or week in the life of an age group triathlete trying to manage training, work and family looks like.  This was my contribution.

I hate, loathe and detest short workouts. Over the course of 20+ years of competitive endurance activities this notion has become ingrained in my being.  High school swim workouts often ran 2.5 hours including a short weight session. College track and xc workouts were usually at least 1.5 hours (not all of it running, though). As I began competing in Ironman distance events, this resistance to short workouts only got worse. When you start thinking about long rides as only those over 5 hours you can be assured that your exercise worldview has become terribly skewed!

Finding these large blocks of time for long workouts is just not a part of my reality anymore.  I have two kids that I want to spend as much time as possible with when they are awake, a wife that it is in my best interests to keep sane, and a really demanding tenure-track  university job.  In the past if I couldn't devote at least an hour to a workout I just ended up skipping it. In recent years this would lead to many days back-to-back without any workouts.  Thus it was, that this year I've decided to try and cast aside my silly notions of only doing long workouts and better utilize the 30 and 45 minute holes in my weekly schedule. In addition to the above-mentioned reasons for being resistant to short workouts is the issue of efficiency.  I am incredibly efficient in everything I do to make the most out of my very limited time. Even a 30 minute workout requires at least 10 minutes each for prep and clean-up so the real time cost is 50 minutes. That is why in general, I'd much rather do a single 1.5 hour workout than 2 x 30 minutes.

Over time I have become completely and utterly reliant on my Google calendars.  If something is not on my Google calendar it simply doesn't exist. Meetings, sure there are gobs of them.  But birthdays and anniversaries too.  My system consists of multiple, overlapping calendars.  I'll start by showing you my "workout calendar":




This looks pretty awesome- enviable- even, right?  Well it is not actually a traditional workout calendar in any sense.  What this represents is all my possible training blocks in some sort of ideal week that never happens.  As my life has gotten more hectic I've found it better not to schedule workouts ahead of time because I just get depressed when I can't fit them in.  Even so, this looks pretty good.  There are around 20 hours per week of workout possiblities.  Keep in mind that these blocks generally include prep and clean-up.  So, if I do manage to get a lunch hour workout in, I usually spend around 20 minutes total getting ready and cleaning up (I told you I am efficient).  I fear I need to remove all the 8-9pm workout blocks from this calendar as well.  I have never been able to work them in regularly because I am falling asleep around this time whenever I put the kids to bed.  There go 4 potential hours per week.....

Here's where things get interesting.  My calendar has multiple layers.  The layer that interferes with workouts the most is the work calendar layer shown in blue below.  Any of those boxes that overlap with the brown boxes usually mean that workout is a no-go (the exception is some of my lunch workouts where I've inserted  place holders in my work calendar).  The work week pictured below is fairly typical. 



But, that's not all folks!  My third calendar layer is our family calendar.  The family calendar doesn't have all the routine, daily things on it, but rather things like kid's swimming lessons, potential weekend races or other events.  Oh, and a note for me to take the garbage out on Wednesday night, because if its not on  the calendar, it doesn't get done!



So at this point all my nice little brown workout blocks have been shot to hell. So what does an actual, average, pre-season workout week look like for me?  Something along these lines:

Mon morn: Bike at home 45 minutes with some quality VO2 intervals
Mon noon: 45 minutes of swimming.  About 2000 yds, lots of quality, short intervals.

Tues morn: 45 min swim.  Some quality here, but I find it harder to really get after it early in the morning, by myself in a cold pool!
Tues noon: 1:00 bike.  Spin class with other IWU faculty and staff members.  These lunch spin sessions usually involve some quality intervals.
Tues night: Jonah wakes up with bad dream about Midnight.  Go to lay with him in his bed and promptly fall asleep.  Cara doesn't wake me up at 5:45am which I need to do if there is any hope of having an hour's worth of morning workout time.

Weds morning: Due to above, I opt for a quick 30 mins core work
Weds afternoon: This was my first track workout with the Illinois Wesleyan track team. In-season I try hard to make it once a week to their hard interval sessions.  This workout was a long warm-up followed by 20 minutes of tempo for the team, probably 5K race pace for me (5:30 ish).  I finished in the middle of my group for the tempo and then we hit 4X400M hard hill repeats.  My legs were toast after my first hard intervals of the season.

Thurs morn: 45 minute morning swim about 2000yds
Thurs afternoon: Meeting interferes with first 15 minutes of spin class.  45 mins mostly easy spin to start clearing yesterday's track workout from my legs.
Additional meetings push lunch back to 3PM!
Thurs night: Lorien wakes up at about 1AM.  To quiet her down we bring her into our bed then she squirms and keeps us up until about 4am. For you non-parents out there that think it might be nice to sleep with a sweet, cuddly baby girl, DON'T BELIEVE IT!  The diagrams below are incredibly accurate.  Lorien has a particular fondness for "H is for Hell."

After restless night, skip morning workout and "sleep in" until 6:30am

Fri: cannot fit in a either a  morning or afternoon workout.  Leave work early to get a 1.5 hour, very cold outside ride in.

Sat: 1:20 long run then head into town to see teammate Simply Stu doing bodpod and threshold testing at the ISU Exercise Physiology Lab with Laura Wheatley

Sun: 1.5 hour trainer ride with quite a bit of quality work.

So without a day off, all of my here and there workouts actually add up to around 11 hours of workouts!  That is a  really big week for me.  This is where consistency in working out easily triumphs overall volume.  You'll notice a lot of quality in my workout schedule. As I gain fitness almost every one of my workouts will have some sort of quality/intensity involved.  I no longer have the luxury of easy days or so-called "recovery workouts."  Rather than doing a recovery workout, I simply take that time completely off to play with my kids or sleep an extra 30 or 45 minutes.

I'm coming into my 20th year of triathlons with a really high level of motivation.  My bike power is currently quite good due to my cyclocross training and racing.  Bike endurance will come back over time (particularly when there is enough daylight to get back to bike commuting). If I can continue to utilize all these small blocks of time in my schedule then my 2013 racing outlook should be quite good!

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Adventures in Race Directing and Cyclocross Nationals

Adventures in Race Directing

Well, this weekend I'm packing up the family Griswald-style into the family truckster (aka Subaru Forester) and heading down to Louisville to spectheckle (spectate and heckle) at Cyclocross Worlds. Having a cyclocross World Championship in the U.S. is a huge deal! Cross has deep European roots.  For the entire history of the sport the World Championship race has never left Europe.  U.S. cyclocross racing has been absolutely exploding in the last 10 years.  It is far and away the fastest growing form of bike racing.  The fact that a World Championship race will be held on U.S. soil is a huge testament to the growth and popularity of the sport here.  5+ years ago when I started racing in some actual sanctioned events I could probably count on my hands the number of people in Bloomington-Normal (combined population of about 130,000) who had ever done a cross race.  This year the Bloomington Cycle and Fitness team often had more than 10 people racing in a given weekend.



Cyclocross in Illinois has been almost completely defined by the highly successful Chicago Cross Cup (CCC).  The CCC series extends from September through December with one or more races almost every weekend.  These races bring in huge (for cross) fields.  There are frequently two Cat 4 races with nearly 100 riders in each.  Cat 1, 2, 3 races usually see 50 or more riders. If you are in the Chicago area these races are super-convenient with a decent amount of variety across courses.  I love getting up there to race, but driving 4-6 hours round trip for a 45 minute race gets to be challenging both in terms of time away from the family and in terms of travel costs.


I've wanted to see more downstate races for a long time, but in recent years there have only been 1 or 2 races outside of the Chicago area. You can't just plop down a new cross course anywhere.  Great cross courses usually have all the following elements: hills, sand pit, some pavement, a run-up where you have to carry your bike, and lots of corners.  Outside of assisting with putting on some of our local triathlons I didn't have any race directing experience. What I did know was that if I was going to commit all the time it takes to put on a race that I wanted it to be in a venue that I loved and believed in.  That venue is Miller and Forest Parks in Bloomington.  The two parks combined create what I think is just a classic cyclocross course.  We've got the hills, the long beach section and best of all an old-world style stone bridge with a flyover (that means stairs up, ramp down for you non-crossers!).  After slashing through more city red tape than I ever imagined I got the new Miller Chill CX race approved for last December.

Great logo courtesy of Ryan Bertrand!

Race week and race day were drizzly and rainy, so we ended up with the sort of iconic muddy cross conditions that make for lots of good pictures and videos.  By all accounts the race was a success.  50 riders would have been around the break-even point and a good turnout would have been 75.  We ended up with about 120 which is certainly the largest-ever downstate cross race.  Even more important to me is that we had around 30 first-time cross racers!  I love that we introduced so many people to the sport during a single race!

Teammates Bill Perry and Nick Ramirez playing in the mud

Huge props to Bloomington Cycle and Fitness for believing in and sponsoring the race and the BCF team for all the volunteer hours before, during and after the event!  Special shout-out to my buddy Chris Daniels who designed, built and then disassembled a huge flyover ramp.  It was a ton of work making the race happen and I have even higher levels of respect for all the race directors out there. Fortunately the event has been reapproved by the Park District for 2013 and I'm anticipating an easier go of it from a directing standpoint the second time around!





Cyclocross Nationals- Verona, WI 1/12/2013



This past fall I did not swim a single lap after finishing the Rev3 Cedar Point Ironman in September.   I also cut my running back to just one or two easy maintenance-style runs per week.  The idea was to take my triathlon bike fitness and build on it to have a big cross season.  This sorta worked.  Fall and early winter is still my off-season.  It's just unrealistic for me to try and maintain my highest levels of fitness year-round.  Fall is also my busiest time at the university.  I can say that I managed to put together a solid cross season, but the actual training was usually 2 or 3 rides per week.  I really struggled early on as I started converting my steady-state sub-threshold triathlon fitness into the super intense threshold and VO2 efforts required by cross.  By late November my legs were finally starting to come around.  I had a pair of top-20 finishes in the Cat 3 races at the very competitive Jingle Cross Rock races.  I followed that up with another good showing at the Illinois State Cyclocross race placing 18th out of about 80 riders.

One of my goals for this season was to race in my first cyclocross masters nationals.  To outsiders this may sound a little more prestigious than it is.  In triathlon and other sports you have to meet certain qualification standards to race.  For the masters events you just need to have your category 3 license (Cat 1 is the highest, 4 the lowest).  In any case, the race was just outside of Madison, WI so a pretty short drive and a chance to get in a mid-winter visit with Evotri teammates, Stu and Rob.  Given the location and time of year I was hoping for some snowy conditions that would limit the ability of the top riders to use all their power.  My #1 goal for nationals was not to get lapped and pulled from the course.  For an event like this if it looks like you might get lapped and interfere with the leaders, then the officials will pull you off the course (this is a good rule for big events).

This video gives you a good sense of the course conditions during the week!



The same course is raced on for almost a full week at nationals. The week started out with a bunch of snow on the ground, but then a warm snap hit.  The course deteriorated (read became a mud pit) from day-to-day.  My 30-34 race was the last one on Saturday.  When I arrived the windchills were already below freezing, but the course was still mucky.  There are no provisions for pre-riding the course unless you were there super-early.  I scouted most of the course on foot with my buddy and IWU colleague Rick Lindquist.  The course was not technical (in order to accommodate big fields).  The muddy and icy conditions made it much more technical than it would have been dry or completely frozen.  As my race got closer the temps just kept plummeting.  I put on all my warmest cycling gear and stuffed those chemical handwarmers every place I could.  Watching recaps of the races earlier in the week I knew that I would need a pit bike for this race.  In cross you can swap out your bike or twice per lap due to mechanical problems, or in this case mud.  I couldn't find anyone to loan me another medium-sized cross bike, so I did what I could to make Cara's extra-small frame make due.  This bike actually deserves a few words.  Her black bike has pink decals that say "Punisher."  The frame is actually a hand-me-down from my sister-in-law Heather.  To make the story even better, my mom raced this bike at Miller Chill (her first-ever cross race)!  To put this in perspective for you, riders were bringing matching high-zoot team issue carbon cross bikes with carbon wheels into the pit and I was bringing an extra-small pink Punisher...bring it on!

THE PUNISHER!

I was happy that my ranking points did not have me staged all the way in the back row.  Close to it, but not the back row!  When the race started, temps had dropped under freezing.  The first quarter mile as all pavement and insane speeds.  We hadn't strung out much when we moved into the mud and first corners.  The course was super-muddy, but actually beginning to freeze as we raced.  Frozen ruts are one of the trickiest conditions to handle.  They suck your wheel in and then out from under you if you're not careful.  The Madison course had one smallish hill that was rideable earlier in the week and then again for the elite races when the ground froze solid on Sunday. Not for our race.  I don't think anyone was riding the hill- which is good for me since it meant more running!  There was a second longer forced run-up with railroad ties midway through the course.  My plan was to go pretty close to all-out early on in order to accomplish my goal of not getting pulled.  I picked some good lines and stayed upright as people wiped out around me.  I went down hard once in a frozen corner and had a few spots where I had to unclip and save myself from going down.  The pace was pretty intense and the field started to string out pretty quickly.  Since the Punisher didn't fit me and also uses Shimano instead of SRAM shifting my plan was to wait until the second lap to switch bikes.  Ideally,  I think I would have swapped every lap and kept Rick, my pitman, hopping back and forth to the power washers to clean off all the mud.  Heckling is a big part of cross culture and wow did the crowd pick up on the Punisher.  I got way more heckles -and some cheers- on the lap where I rode the Punisher.  The super-small frame really wasn't all that bad, but SRAM and Shimano shift in opposite directions so I kept screwing that up.  I don't know if it was from adrenaline or from learning the better lines on the course, but my Punisher lap was my second fastest of the day.  On my last lap I could sense there weren't many people behind me, which confused me because I was pretty sure that I was ahead of a decent amount of riders.  Only later when oxygen returned to my brain did I realize that most of the riders behind me had been pulled- so I succeeded in riding all my laps and not getting yanked!  I ended up finishing 23rd.  I was also the highest-placed category 3 rider which I was pretty happy about.

Looks like mud on my bike, but it was frozen solid by this point!


Race conditions were just plain brutal.  Windchills were down near the single digits.  During and after the race there was this weird phenomenon that I have not encountered very frequently during all my winter riding.  The mud on the ground was still warm enough to get picked up and lodge on our forks, frames and brakes.  After it left the ground though, it started to freeze solid on the bikes.  The water coming out of the pressure washers was probably near freezing itself so you actually had to forcibly chip iced mud off the bikes.  The race was a good experience all around.  Huge props to my Augustana Cross Country teammate Lauren "Shorty" Habenicht for braving the elements and cheering me on!  Glad I went and I made some mental notes about course design that I can apply back to my Miller Chill race.

CX magazine covered my race here.  I actually made it into their photo gallery:

A great example of my mad "riding" skillz!

If you look back at my post from the beginning of last year I had hoped to race both Nationals and the Masters World event.  I really hoped to make this work, but the logistics just sucked.  In order to race in the official Masters World race for my age category I would have had to go down to Louisville on Wednesday for a qualifying heat.  If I managed to place in the top 80 then I would get to race again, but not until Friday.  Seeing no good way to take 1/2 a week off work and away from the family I decided I would be happy enough to just go down, meet up with my brother and his family, drink some beers and cheer on the USA!