The Push

Well, I finished up the last really tough week last week (hence no blog) of my build for Vegas. I had workouts that pushed me to my limits both mentally and physically. Flanny/CVE Endurance (who just crushed it at IM Whistler) really taught me a lot of things over these past several weeks which really have been the toughest for me from what I can remember. A few things stick out:

1. Consistency
2. Learning how to go hard on tired legs mentally and physically.
3. My outlook on "what it takes" took a big leap.

I broke a lot over the past several weeks. One run comes to mind where I had an 1:40 min run at the tail end of three hard days in a row. 30 min warm-up, 40 mins z3, 10 mins z4, cool down. Sounds easy enough eh? Well this wasn't the first time I've done this workout. Usually I nail it, but the fatigue had build up both in my legs and my head. Zone 3 is usually 5:40's for me with fresh legs - this day it was 7:15's. I felt like I was going all out but going no where! I even stopped, tried to gather myself before going into the last 10 minutes of zone 4. I was hurting, cursing aloud and overall in a pretty rough place. It was hot, I was in the middle of nowhere of some trail and just trying to rally for only 10 more minutes! I took off and after only two minutes I quit and just laid on the ground. I completely broke. Nothing left. Walked/shuffled the rest of the way with my tail between my legs. I was pretty bummed/pissed off that I couldn't do it but after Flanny talked me off the cliff and I realized he had me right where he wanted me. Now it's time to taper...

Pain tolerance is up, heat tolerance is up.
Starving to toe the line.
Legs starting to shake with energy, rejuvenation, power, speed and will.
Mind is ready to outlast those legs, to dig deeper into the well - into waters never found.
Shooting for the stars.
Ready to see stars in the midnight black of the Las Vegas sun.

This isn't just a race. Some may think I'm dramatic or take this too seriously. This sport tests your character and what better way to test that character then at a World Championship? What better way to test all those sacrifices you made at 4am, 4pm, weekends? This isn't a sport or a hobby. It's a way to test your will. How to overcome. How to prepare. Attention to detail. Discipline. Even your integrity. You see, when my time with triathlon is over I will take these principles with me for the rest of my life. Apply them to my career and teach them to my kids. The better I grow now, the better me and my family are off.

Maybe we should all take it a little more serious? 

Chula Vista Challenge Race Report

So this race ended up being the perfect way to end a really tough week of training - right smack in the middle of my Vegas build. The week leading up included the toughest masters swim sessions to date, 5x1 mile repeats, 1:40 run with 40 min HIM pace, 10 mins z4 pace. Bike was filled with some tempo work, long rides..etc. So by the time I toed the line for the race I was pretty beat down but still very enthusiastic to race. This was to be my first Olympic distance race of the year and I was hoping for a PR even with the tired legs. This is how it went down:

Pre-race: Of course we had to check in the day before all the way down in Chula Vista (which is close to the Mexico border (off the 805) for you non Californians. A problem arised when I forgot my custom Blueseventy Helix suit (click the link for a sweet review on this suit from fellow Wattie Caldwell Clarke) so after checking in and meeting another fellow Wattie teammate Chuck Feerick, I had to drive all the way back home and just ended up staying at home that night instead of with my in-laws down in San Diego. Morning came before I knew it with an early 4am wake up call and I slammed three scrambled eggs, a sweet potato and a little bit of sausage and then sipped on some Powerbar Perform on the drive down.

The race logistics were pretty tough. There was a shuttle to the start which took a good 30 minutes. From there it was a point to point race. Then once you finished you had to get shuttled back to your car. A little more headache then usual but it ended up working out fine. Once I got to the start line there were only like 5 porta-potties with a huge line. So my warm up consisted of standing in line and stretching. By the time I got out I had about a five minute warm up swim and before I knew it the horn sounded and our wave took off in a beach running start format.

Swim - 1500 meters: 24:55 (1:31 pace) - 4th in AG out of the water

The "beach" entry which was in the bay consisted of a 100 meter run through knee deep water before you could actually start swimming. I lined up in the very front closest to the first buoy. I wanted to invite the contact so I could get a good beating before I do in Vegas next month. The horn sounded and I sprinted out with three other guys to my left. I'm not much a dolphin diver so I ran as far as I could and then put in a good 200 meter effort, looked up and realized that I was in 3rd place with two guys ahead of me working together. This was new for me. Usually I'm struggling for position mid pack with my heart rate racing out of control. I was in third with controlled breathing, relaxed swimming and a smile on my face. Great way to start! After the first buoy we started making our way through traffic. We were the 2nd to last wave to go off so there was a lot of people to weave in and out of. About 800 meters into the race my shoulders started burning. It has everything to do with swimming in a wetsuit. I never get the same muscle aches/fatigue in the pool or OW when I swim sans wetsuit. I probably should be swimming in one more often - regardless it doesn't matter because Vegas is a non-wetsuit swim so my shoulders will finally be set free!!

There's no doubt that I was slowing down throughout the swim but I just kept passing others, sighting every 10 strokes and trying to keep my pace up. One of the biggest improvements I've made with my OWS this year is my ability to swim straight. Previous years had me swimming all over the place. All of those OWS out in Vail lake the past two years have really helped me learn to swim in heavy chop and sight efficiently. After making a final turn and heading to shore we made our way out of the water all the way up to T1. A lot of people had the course long, especially with the time stopping after the trek up to T1 - so my swimming time was a lot faster which made me happy because last month I swam 24:2x for 1500 at a swim meet. Progress.

T1: 1:08
Quick run to the bike. Like Ironman Oceanside we had to put our wetsuit/goggles into a bag before we headed out so added just a little bit of time there.

Bike - 40k (1,650 ft of climbing): 1:09:21 (21.5 mph AVG) 3rd fastest in AG

Getting on the bike right away I knew it was going to be a struggle to get through it. My legs just didn't have any life in them (as expected from the tough few weeks leading up). Right off the bat I had a guy blow by me but I just stuck to my game plan which was to try and stay as aero as possible through this deceivingly hilly course. With the life-less legs I tried to keep my cadence up as the bigger gears would just wear on me a lot quicker than normal. It felt like the entire ride just consisted of long slow gradual climbs with the occasional kicker, a short steep downhill from time to time but for the most part just relentless climbing.

Flanny and I have been really working on my riding style. In the past I have been guilty of getting out of the aero position too often. Not only getting out of it but also hammering out of the saddle too often and burning matches before I can even get to the run where I can do the most damage. So for this race I was in the aero position 90% of the time. On the really steep climbs I would get out of the saddle but it was with easy gears and gave me a chance to give my over-used muscles a break and stretch out a bit. I eventually passed and caught the one guy that passed me during the race, I just kept picking people off and tried to stay as focused as possible. I blew up with about three miles to go. It seriously felt like I was going 13 mph up these false flat hills. I couldn't tell if it was hilly or if my legs were giving out. Probably both. I was happy to see the T2, slipped out of my shoes and was happy to start the run.

T2: :43
They had a different set up - almost Ironman style. I handed my bike to a volunteer, they yelled out my number and I was given my run shoe bag where the volunteer helped me get my shoes out, took my helmet and then I was out of there.

Run - 10k (425ft of climbing): 37:08 (5:59 pace)

The run was advertised as a 6.5 mile trail run (I had 6.7) so the times were pretty slow overall. We ran through the community horse trails that had killer views and some really steep climbs and even stairs! This is definitely not the ideal course for me as I'm more of a "rhythm runner." Whenever I break my rhythm it's hard for me to get back on pace which is what this course did over and over again! I got off the bike after passing only one guy in my AG so I figured I was in third place. Time to do some work! I made my way through the previous waves. I knocked off the first two miles in 5:59, 5:49. I've been training over the past several months on tired legs to run 5:45-6 minute pace - it has become almost second nature and even with the tired legs this seemed semi-comfortable. After clocking mile three in 6:03 and battling some hills I finally saw a guy from my AG and I was coming up on him pretty fast. Whenever I make a pass in my AG I want to do it with authority to mentally defeat them so they don't try and stick with me and it worked with this guy. He just kinda snickered as I passed him because I think he already was in cruise control. At this point I figured I was in 2nd place with only one more kill to go. Mile four in 6:06 and I was hurting pretty bad. These steep kickers where a lot of people were power walking up started to wear on me. Then I saw a guy in the distance that was going about my same pace making a ton of passes like I was. I knew this was my guy. For the next mile I slowly crept up on him and this is the big turning point in the race was for me.

You know that point of the race (almost always towards the end of the run in a triathlon) where you could care less if someone from your AG passes you? Where all of the competitiveness is thrown to the waist side because you are hurting so much? That's where I was when I came up on this guy. I was hoping so much that he was in a different AG and that the guy I was chasing was waay far ahead so I wouldn't have to battle with one mile to go! However, I really wanted to see what I could do to win this race. As we approached mile 5 which was at the top of a pretty steep climb I just stuck on his heels up the climb and tried to conserve as much energy as I could so I could make another pass with authority at the top of the climb. I heard him laboring and I knew it was time. I passed him at the top and put in a really hard 400 meter effort (Garmin showed 4:40 pace) and I refused to look back. I just pretended he was right on my heels all the way to the finish. Finally once we got closer to the long finishers shoot I looked back and he was long gone. I put in a 5:47 mile which included a stair climb haha and almost put a minute on him. I had no idea what my finishing time was as my Garmin was all jacked up. When the guy I passed arrived we chatted it up and he thought we were #1,2 but not totally sure. After talking for a bit I headed up to the results and saw that I was 2nd place. Bummed. Never even saw the winner because he put 1:30 on me in the swim and another minute on the bike. Just not enough real estate to catch him. I had the fastest run split in my AG and 3rd split overall.

Final Results: 2nd AG, 7th overall - 2:13:17

Even though I missed my PR by like 20 seconds, I've really learned to not care about what time you get in triathlon. Somehow age groupers are so obsessed with times/splits with a sport that isn't measured by exact distances! Unless you run on the track or do swim meets, times really don't belong in triathlon. It's all about PLACING (please tell your friends). Courses are short, long, accurate - who cares? Placing is what qualifies you for WC's, placing is what gets you on the podium and placing sends you home with hardware. In this case I was sent home with a 2nd place beer stein. The beer garden was all you can drink and they even gave you a commemorative pint to drink out of. I really enjoyed the whole Chula Vista triathlon/bike shop vibe. Pulse endurance is who ran the race - their bike shop had a kegerator and all of the employees where totally cool. After chilling with Chuck waiting for awards, we got a really good free massage and then called it a day. Overall I was very pleased with the results that I had given the beat up legs.

Next stop? What I've been waiting for since I started this sport. To toe the line with the best at the Ironman 70.3 World Championships in Las Vegas. Bring it!

The Dark Place

With all of the weird International distances becoming more popular these days - I realized I haven't even toed the line on an actual Olympic distance triathlon (1500m swim, 40k bike, 10k run) this year. I had thought about traveling out to Flagstaff, AZ for "Mountainman 70.3" but with it being only a month out from the World Championships - my coach and I decided to stay close by and just train through The Chula Vista ChallengeFlanny wasn't kidding about "training through" this race. With it being the critical build phase leading up to Vegas, this week has been one of the more difficult weeks I can remember. As I write this on Friday it hurts to walk haha. I have another 3.5 hours of workouts today and then one day of rest and hopefully I'll have some decent legs for the race come Sunday. I imagine I'll do alright and PR even with the tired legs. I'm not much of a "taper" kind of athlete anyway. I don't do well when I back off of volume and intensity and just stay sharp like most athletes do leading up to their A race. I do well when not much changes from the standard routine.

I feel like tapering is the hardest thing to figure out. I'm a big believer that everyone is different when it comes to hitting a race with the perfect amount of rest, sharpness and mental readiness. What I mean by the mental readiness is being prepared to hurt and go way beyond that dark place. Some call it "digging from the well" - something I believe you can only really do a few times a year. It's when you are at your best, pushing past all of the pain and physical/mental fatigue - performing better than training results may indicate. The goal obviously is to make this happen on race day with all of the variables at play. This is what most athletes seek - some may call it "the perfect race." You see it with the pros from time to time. I think of Crowie at the Ironman World Championships in 2011 - he had his perfect race. With just a few miles to go he was cramping and hurting. You could tell he was in a very dark place. This is when the magic happens. Professionals or Age Groupers alike, we all seek that moment where everything is clicking, we can dig deep and have our best race ever.

I'm preparing for that dark place at Vegas. I want it to be midnight, no light, blurry vision and a relentless desire to bury myself.

Twitter updates via Amy on Sunday, wish me luck!!!

Catching up

First of all, thank you to everyone that gave me such nice/encouraging words/comments from last weeks post - means a lot!

Wife had me crack a rare smile on the trainer!
The past month or so has kind of gone by like a blur. I hurt the back of my knee a few days before SDIT so it took awhile to recover from that, but as of now I feel like I'm about 90% healed and back to the grind. Even with the little hiccup, right now - I'm no doubt the best triathlon shape that I've ever been. I know there's still big gains to be made in the upcoming build weeks and there's no doubt that Flanny has been bringing it with some serious workouts. Not since college have been I been a little intimidated by workouts. When I look at them on paper the week before, they seem very do-able. But then in his never-ending quest to make me fast with tired legs, the workouts become almost impossible by the time I get to them. I've learned to push through them, nail them (for the most part) and then the confidence skyrockets.

I had a huge epiphany this past month. It's pretty sad that it came this late in the ballgame - but I'm glad I finally realized it. As a 800/miler in college - the whole mindset was to practice extremely hard and then recover the next day or two then do it again over and over. Breakdown the muscles, rebuild, do it again. So we would always go into the hard workouts with pretty fresh legs. We would rarely do two hard days or even more so - three hard days in a row. And there really wasn't a need to - to much risk for injury. 

Powerbar letting me train as hard as I do!
For triathlon - I've learned it's a whole different story. Since we are working three sports, there isn't that huge risk of injury like running has- so working out with tired legs is not only do-able but very important when you're talking about IM or 70.3's. I've still kind of clung onto that same mindset of hitting the hard workouts fresh (and fast), recovering and then doing it again. The problem with that is - it doesn't mimic what you get when you race. You're going to be hitting that bike leg with a lot of swim fatigue and even more so - when you hit that run, you're legs are going to be screaming. Not only training your body to preform at it's best in that state but also training your mind to be able to handle the pain that comes with it. I'm a big believer that pain tolerance differs from athlete to athlete. However, it can and should be trained just like anything else and you'll see improvement.

So Flanny has really taught me in the short time we've worked together on how to be fast when both your body and mind are completely fried. It is freaking brutal. Almost every single day there is some sort of intensity. There have been a few times where I reach out and let him know I'm freaking smoked but for the most part I've just been putting my head down and charging it. The best part? I've been seeing major gains. The numbers don't lie each week and I'm really excited to toe the line at Vegas.

Next week I'll be racing a local Olympic race - The Chula Vista Challenge. Typical 1500 meter bay swim, hilly 40k bike and a longer 6.5 mile trail run which should play to my strengths. Since this is such a critical time in my Vegas build, I'll just be training through it but still expect to see a PR even on the longer/harder course. It's only in it's second year as a race so it won't be as competitive as most San Diego triathlons but I'm pumped to race and get my feet a little wet before Vegas is here next month.

Here's a bunch of pics over the past month:

Took the fam to Disneyland for 3 days #familyfirst
Amy left me for Jack Sparrow
Caught the kids playing dress up as triathletes!
I may have played dress up too. Serious about Racquetball beer lineups:
Grillin at home with one of my favorite IPA's
So glad breweries are making good lagers again.
Perfect for a summer/session beer!
Societe Brewing Happy Hour
Crush Brew, one of my new fav local spots
Grilled peaches paired with Dogfish Head Pestina Peche

Big boy, Tall boy from one of the first good craft breweries to can