Wednesday, June 18, 2014

The Patriot Half...the experiment...the failed experiment


Well the morning started a little earlier than normal. Since the race was only an hour from my house it didn't make sense to waste money on a hotel for 2 days. That meant a 3am makeup on race day, drive down to the race venue, get set up in transition and prepare for the race.Getting there in under an hour (duh, nobody is on the road at 4am) meant I was one of the first vehicles there and I had plenty of time to setup. I actually ended up parking about 500ft from where I set up my bike (score! I had no idea how great a parking spot that was until later in the day). Race packet was picked up that morning, bike set up and laying out my gear for the day went as usual. Nothing to do now but relax (ya, right), hydrate and get ready to race. Yes, I was anxious. I hadn't done a 70.3 since Timberman last year and although I felt good I was hoping for a 5 hour day (you can read about my race plan in the prior post) and wanted to get started. A quick swim in the water before the start settled my nerves and reinforced the decision to go sleeveless was a good one. The temp was in the mid 60's and the water temp was the same so the water felt great and I was excited to get in the water to race.

Racked and ready...of course I was the first one there
Now the Patriot Half has adopted a "time trial start" over a "wave start" by age group. This meant that we'd start in groups of 3 swimmers every 10 seconds through each of the age group waves. I was willing to give it a try but soon learned how much I hate it. I seeded myself in the 1st third of the wave which put me in the 10th "group" of the wave. Countdown timer goes off and we enter the water. I felt really good. That first 300-400 yards went off without a hitch. I was actually having a good swim with a smooth swim stroke and breath count. As I got settled in, I tried to sight the first buoy. Not only was it further than I thought but I had drifted to the left a good bit and had to correct my line ASAP. Without the "herd" of swimmers in the wave (normally I would get in the middle of the group trying to draft of feet) I didn't have a group to follow to the buoys. Twice during the swim I had people on kayaks telling me to swim to the right because I was drifting so far to the left. I also know I was expending a lot more effort because I was having to correct my line so often. I had no idea what my time was or where I was in the race until I saw race caps from waves behind me passing me. I told myself "ok, no need to get worried, other waves have fast swimmers so maybe I'm not doing that bad". The swim seemed to take forever no matter how hard I swam. As I got out of the water I glanced down at my watch to see almost 48 minutes. 48 minutes?! Are you kidding me?! My watch can't be right I thought. Two things that struck me as I left the water: I cut my right foot on the rocks as I got out (not fun but it happens) and I couldn't seem to get my wetsuit off to save my life. Normally, by the time I cross the timing mat I have my wetsuit unzipped and down around my butt with my cap and goggles in my hand. Today, while I got my cap and goggles off, when I ended up at my bike I was still struggling to get my wetsuit open much less off. As I continued to try and get my wetsuit off, a volunteer ran over and stripped it off. Then I fumbled getting into my cycling kit, almost dropping my bike as I unracked it (I should've realized there was something wrong then but thought all I needed to do was get on the bike, get settled and start fueling and I'll be fine) and off I went on the bike.

I'd reconned this course and knew that the first 2 miles would be twisty but then settled down into flat, low rollers that I could get into a good rhythm and get to racing. I mean I had all those swimmers in my wave I had to rundown after all! I quickly got off to a 21mph pace, got salt tabs/gel/water in and focused on the road ahead. The first 5 or 6 miles went okay but I started having trouble with water/fuel. Every sip was becoming a struggle. It felt like every swallow landed a concrete ball in my gut that wanted to come back up. Then I had the weirdest sensation, one I've never felt before, of needing to either go to the bathroom or vomit. I dealt with it for about 18 miles but had to pull off the road and run into the woods quickly. Luckily I only had to pee (quick check of it being clear so I knew I wasn't dehydrated and could press on) then quickly hopped back on the bike and got back to racing. When I say racing...I really just mean pedaling. I saw my speed gradually coming down while feeling like I was outputting as much or more effort up to this point. I also didn't feel good. Yes, it's a 70.3 and feeling "good" may not be an apt description for racing...but I felt bad. Nausea, headache and body fatigue seemed to be building rapidly. The only thing I could thing to do was to keep trying to take on salt, liquid and fuel. That was what I needed and all this would go away right? Well, didn't seem to be. I was having difficulty keeping anything down and started either bringing up water/fuel or dry heaving. Then the wheels start turning. What's wrong with me? Do I need more or less fuel? Am I pushing too hard? Am I not pushing hard enough? Am I sick? Is all of this in my head and I need to quit being a wimp and just fight through it? The one thing all of those thoughts did tell me was at least my brain was working! 

As I continued to pedal, it seemed as if I was looking at the world through binoculars and it was getting dark around the edges. Well, that's new! Around mile 26 there was a guy that double flatted and was asking everyone/anyone for CO2 cartridges. Mine were right on top of my rear bag and I was pretty practiced at pulling them out and fixing a flat from a rolling stop (yes, I do practice that. What? Doesn't everybody?) but I almost crashed my bike slowing to hand off the cartridges. Ok, THAT got my attention. I have proven bike handling skills and the fact that I was having trouble concerned me. I did however notice that when I stopped to hand off the cartridges the world brightened right up. All the "dark around the edges" disappeared. Ok, that's a good thing, NOW I can get back on track. Problem was, as I got to the end of the first loop the dry heaving and dark edges came back. Now I got concerned. I didn't experience this during Syracuse 70.3 (where I suffered heat exhaustion/borderline heat stroke) or Timberman 70.3 (where I crashed on the bike and had cracked and bruised ribs). "Let's get through the first loop and see how the second one goes. You can always bail out at the run" I told myself. Who am I kidding?! If I got to the run I would drag myself and walk if need to be to finish. As I went past the first loop I was dry heaving...ok...and that was at mile 28 with another 55.1 miles to do. I can't even begin to explain the battle I was having in my head but almost ditching the bike in a turn at mile 33 sealed the deal. I turned around and pedaled against the flow of cyclists headed back to transition. I'll be completely honest and say that was one of the hardest decisions I've had to make in quite some time (there were a lot harder ones recently I didn't bat an eyelash over). But that slow pedaling back to transition was sheer agony. I felt like I'd let everyone down...starting with myself but including my friends who had been so supportive and the companies who's gear I was rep'ing. Add insult to injury that when I came to the dismount area, helmet in hand and what I was told was looking pretty rough...it was as the race leaders were coming in to go out for the run. I didn't even have the energy to tell them I wasn't one of the race leaders...I'm a medical.

I never got to put this on...
As if I didn't feel awkward enough, the medics and volunteer staff descended on me when everyone realized how out of it I was. I couldn't thank them enough for their concern but I couldn't have been more embarrassed at the attention. After a few questions about my status, some ice, water and a coke all I wanted to do was get out of the area. I did not want to be confused with the real triathletes that were steaming into transition. I consider myself very lucky that I had a close friend that grabbed me in transition and helped me the short distance back to my truck. The look on her face told me all about the look that must have been on my face. I was devastated. Mister "cross the finish or get taken off on a stretcher" just quit his first race. The "beast" that dragged himself through 70.3s with heat exhaustion/stroke and broken/bruised ribs and terrible road rash was now sitting on the tailgate of his truck watching other athletes race. I just kept reminding myself how long it took to recover from those injuries and stopping was smarter than dragging myself through. But Jen was there to give me a hug, kiss on the cheek and said "you did the right and smart thing, there will be plenty of other races but there's only one you". Love her face! Ok, time to change clothes and become a spectator.

The day wasn't a complete wash. I got to watch so many people realize their goal of racing and finishing a 70.3. Their happiness was palpable. I also got to yell and cheer for J as she crossed the finish line of her SIXTH 70.3 and broke 6 hours in the process. I couldn't be more proud of her after seeing all the hard work she's done over these months.

Sadly, there's more to this story. As I write this I've been having trouble bouncing back from the race (which is really weird considering I was back to training only a couple of days after each of the aforementioned 70.3s) and have doctors appointments to try and find out what's wrong. Hopefully it's an easy fix and I'll be back smashing my bags in training in no time

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Patriot 70.3...its coming

Ok, so a fresh recon of the Patriot 70.3 course this past weekend has me thinking forward a couple weeks to race day. 

Those course pics look great…I hope the water is as calm and the roads windless for the race. That was not the case during the course recon, the wind was ridiculous, but it’s all about planning for optimum conditions. The weather should be nice that day so that shouldn’t play a factor. It’ll be warm but the hope is I’ll be done way before the day gets hot. For the 1.2 mi swim, I’m looking at a 37. Not fast, totally doable and should set me up for a good bike. With a good rolling to flat course (and no crash) 21-22mph is totally doable. The key will be to focus on hydration and fueling maintain speed and rpms. It’s a double lap course so I can see how I feel about pushing the speed higher for the second lap to set myself up for the run. That half marathon course is flat and shaded so a conservative estimate off the bike would be around a 7:55 but I’d like to be able to drop down to a 7:30 after the 10k mark to push for the finish. All that and a good couple of transitions should put me in the 5:00 to 5:10 ballpark for the first 70.3 of the season. Well…the mark is on the wall and the “experiment” of Patriot will give me a better feel for a sub-5 at Timberman. Then…

Friday, May 30, 2014

The 9th Annual Holliston Road Race for Boston Children's Hospital...I got better

I figure the best way to get back to where I want to be...is to race myself into shape. Luckily there was a 5k close to the house that I've done before so it was a perfect way to spend a Sunday. I know the course pretty well. The route is challenging...a series of rolling hills with a good hill climb after the second mile that tops out just in time for a kicker hill into the end.

Was I nervous? Of course! I always am. Even when I'm off my game I still have the expectation to do well and end up high in the overall an/or age group rankings. I did try to seed myself in the front third of the pack at the start to hopefully keep me in check for the start.

Mile 1: 6:41
The first mile is flat to downhill so I was all about working on an even pace and utilizing the flat before the hills came.I hopped on the shoulder of a guy that "looked" like a speed demon, hoping to drag some speed off him, but I realized I was running faster than him! Well, looks can be deceiving. A quick glance at the watch shows me running on a 6:40ish pace...not bad...ok, deep breath and lets keep moving.

Mile 2: 6:39
The rolling hills and turns gave me a chance to get into a good rythm and start runing people down. All I could do was tell myself "execute the pass" and keep moving. I picked the pace up a bit to get some steam heading into the upcoming hill.

Mile 3: 6:47
On the other side of the 2 mile marker was the "hill". You know, the kind you can't see the top from the bottom. Man, I hate those kinds of hills! Nothing to do but lean into it, get those arms pumping and and get over it. I kept looking at that telephone pole on the other side of the hill's crest to give myself a place to push to. I know that would be the place to catch my breath for the final push to the finish.I wasn't close to run anyone down in front of me so I focused on turnover and trying to chew up time to the finish. The kicker to the finish put lead in my legs but I just kept pushing to the right hand turn where I could finally see the finish and gave whatever I had left to cross the line in 20:54.

While that was not a great time for me, nor was it a PR for that course (almost 50secs slower than my last time on the course), I was happy to have a race where I "felt good", didn't blow up and had a good rhythm from beginning to end.  It was good enough to give me 7th overall (the winner only ran a 19 plus, that course was indeed challenging) and 1st in my age group. While I'm still off my level of fitness at this time of year, that wasn't a bad performance. Not to mention, I take GREAT PRIDE that the 6 people in front of me...were 10 years or more...younger than me. Ya, the old, fluffy, broken guy getting it done. LOL. Now to build on this and move forward.   

Friday, May 16, 2014

The Race of Rams Duathlon...every race is supposed to be a learning experience right?

Duathlon transitions are so easy
Fair warning, this is gonna be a long post. I have to admit that I went into this Duathlon with LOADS of anxiety. The 5k debacle a couple weeks ago, the “forced” rest, the trying to focus on not being stressed out, the trying to sleep…etcetera etcetera…and I didn’t feel prepared or ready to race the event at all. However, I had a great race last year and the MRA Multisport folks peer pressured me (I was willing of course) into signing up for it 2 months ago at the Multi-Sport Expo so there was no way I was going to be a DNS.

Normally this would be my first real “A” race on the season (last year at this race I finished top ten, won my age group and qualified for Duathlon national championships) and be the 'kick off" of my killer 2014 multisport season...but because of all the aforementioned, I resigned myself to a “let’s see how this goes” approach. Just writing that killed a part of my soul.

Of course I got there early (actually earlier than normal because I read the start time wrong) to get set up in transition. The transition area was on grass this year which I’m not a fan of. I prefer asphalt because there’s never a concern with sinking in the ground or mud in cycling shoes or on the bike…and it’s a whole lot easier to run on…but I digress. I forgot how simple duathlon transitions areas are to set up. My area looked almost naked! With all this time on my hands, there was nothing to do but re-look course maps and talk to people. Yes, I actually talked to people. Opposed to my normal “zone out the world and focus on race day” mentality. I just tried to be focused on relaxing...yes, TOTALLY alien for me. Rather than get the the start line cold and wound up, I went out for an easy warm up run. Imagine my surprise when someone else out running to warm up asks me "are you Dutch?" Um, yes? "Nice to meet you, I read your blog all the time". Holy crap! People actually read this thing?! Talk about taking me out of my own head. All I could think now was "don't pooch this race Dutch"!
At least I finished strong


1.5 mile run - 9:35 (6:20 pace)
Getting to the start I just focused on trying to go out easy and see what I had for the rest of the race. Imagine my surprise as we get into the first half mile and I glance down to see a sub-6min pace. Whoa! Ok...ok, maybe I'm not that far off my fitness after all. Let's just try to keep a good pace and see how the rest of the race goes.  I literally ran into T1 not believing my pace and that I was in the 6th or 7th place. I totally blanked on what I needed to do and stumbled through getting my gear on and get out on the bike.

T1: 58 secs

14 mi bike - 47:18 mins (17.8mph pace)
Getting out on the bike was a brave new world. Because of the terrible winter we've had in MA all my bike time has been spent indoors. While its great training, it does not replicate real roads and I felt it. The first hill literally took my breath away. The course had to be modified from last year's because of road conditions, so it was  two laps of 7 miles. Of course the loops would have to be of the hilliest part of the course!!! I was bearing down on the first set of hills, giving max effort...and I got passed. I was crushed. I was burying the needle on the bike and I got passed. Then it dawned on me that I was giving it my all but I had no more power to give because of the last few months. My "max effort" now was not the max effort of me last season. Ok, well the best thing to do is regroup...and prepare to do those hills again as part of the second loop. I hit the hills the second time around much better but they still kicked my butt. I finally caught my breath as I headed into transition to go out on the run.

T2: 58 secs

2 mi run - 14:20 (7:10 pace)
My joy quickly disappeared...when I remembered it was uphill for a mile to the turn and then back down to the finish. Honestly, can I just move back to Savannah where everything is flat?! Damn! I just tried to push as hard as I could to the turn knowing I'd get the downhill on the return trip. I thought maybe I would be able to catch one or two people on the road but no luck. Running hard I never made up ground on anyone in front of me. I didnt know where I was in the standings but I figured I should push as hard as I could to at least try to make up time. 

As I crossed the finish, I saw the race clock was at 1:12, not bad. Of course the first thing I did was figure out how I did (so much for no expectations and "seeing what happens"). As the results went up I saw that I was 13th overall and 2nd in my age group. Not a bad day at all! I know every race is supposed to be a learning lesson and this one surely was. I may not be at the level of fitness I want, but I'm not that far off and I still have the ability to empty the tank. Now to build on that for the rest of the season. Fingers crossed...

Monday, April 28, 2014

The Jay Lyons 5k...don't look at the watch, just run.

The Jay Lyons 5k is a local race I enjoy doing every year and is normally a good azimuth check on my fitness and how I'm progressing. My fitness level...is well...off track given the last few months. Considering the 5k I ran last month was a sub-21 (not what I wanted either but acceptable) I thought for sure this one would be better. I mean right? Right?! Ugh. I know this course really well too. I've raced it 4 times and I drive/run part of the course often. Granted the weather was sub-optimal at best (it was raining...and cold...and in the low 40's. Really, it's almost May for crying out loud!) I thought I'd have a good day.

At the start, I seeded myself back in first third (there were around 550 runners) in order to keep me from my usual of taking off at the gun and I told myself to not look at my shiny new Polar v800 heart rate monitor during the race. Instead, I should just focus on running strong and chasing down people. 

I looked decent...
After the gun went off, I quickly found myself within sight of the pace car. Oh crap, I'm going too fast! I tried to settle in and focus on what "felt" like a good pace. Even though I wasn't looking at my watch and the course mileage wasn't marked (which I could've sworn it was in years past) my v800 vibrated at each mile. So I didn't know what's pace was but I did know where I was in the course. 

The first half mile is a slight uphill to a right hand turn. I wanted to establish a good rhythm. Then flat to sloping down road to catch my breath and recover before another right hand turn. Flat road to another right hand turn and I kept telling myself "run strong...and catch people". Then....the steady uphill climb to mile 2. By the way, I HATE this hill! I tried to focus on good turnover, driving myself trough the hill...and passing more people. The right hand turn at the top of the hill allowed me to catch my breath and then try to pick up some speed (and pass more people)...then the sun popped out and it got humid and hot (really?!) as I got to the final right hand turn. There's a slight rise to push through...then it's downhill to the finish. Once I saw the finish, I was surprised that I had enough gas to "kick" and pull away from the runners around me to head for home.  I crossed the finish line, stopped my watch and was handed a commemorative glass (which is handed out to the first 50 finishers). I knew I hadn't run fast but figured I'd ran in the high 20's or maybe a 21 flat at worst. 
That smile came before I looked at my watch

As I walked and tried to catch my breath, I glanced down to my watch to see a 22:16. Twenty two minutes?! Are you kidding me?!?! Ya, my fitness level is off and yes there was that killer hill...BUT I haven't run over a sub-21 minute 5k in four years! I was crestfallen. I went to the overall results and saw the winner only ran an 18 which is slow by 5k standards...but still! I didn't feel like I was running slow. I had a good training week and other than being nervous at the start, my body felt good. And, and, and, I had handily ran a sub-21 just a few weeks ago. Shouldn't I have been faster?! Shouldn't the training between then and now ensured I at least ran a sub-21?! All questions I don't have an answer or explanation for. All I can do is pour over the data and try to figure out what went wrong. I have a solid training week coming up and then my first Duathlon of the season next Sunday (one in which last year I had a top 10 finish, won my age group AND qualified for Nationals). Let's hope I can pull it together by then. 

Friday, April 18, 2014

Why I train like I do...

I'm often asked about why I train the way I do and why I smash my bags when I train. As a young soldier I had this weathered old platoon sergeant that use to scream "the more you bleed in training the less you blows in war". Well, my life the last few years hasn't been that great (host of reasons not worth getting into here) and I see training as a way to suffer more than what life can throw at me. 

Problem is, when you slack off from training the life sucking pile gets too big to overcome. The last couple weeks has had me focusing on the problems and not a solution. So, I decided to throw on a BAA shirt and go out and run hills to inflict some pain on myself. Trust me, it makes total sense in MY head. That 5 plus miles was not fun at all...felt like a had the weight of the world on my shoulders (or around my waist) but it was just the kind of bag smashing, snap-out-of-it I needed. Today...turned out to be a pretty good one. Now to stretch a few of these together and get back on track...

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

The Worcester Celtic 5k...well, at least the first race of the season is done

This local 5k is normally a race I look forward to every year as an early season fitness test and potential PR. The course is a flat to slight downhill out and back (slight uphill to the finish) that takes place on a completely shut down 6 lane road in the heart of Worcester, MA. There's a parade immediately following the 5k too so there's tons of people lining the course cheering and offering words of encouragement. I was actually nervous to run this race. Why? Well, I haven't raced since the Thanksgiving-day-gut-debacle last year, I lost 6 weeks of real training because of the loss of my dad and its aftermath and I've been dealing with my own mental and physical health trying to "get back on track" to training for this year's racing. Not to mention its a 5k road race...there's no way to bounce back from a poor start...its just a grip it and rip it for speed kind of race.

I mean that's kind of a grin...right?
Was there a race plan? Ya...don't embarrass myself. I decided to seed myself in the first third of the runners (bad idea since there were over 3000) in order to force a slow start and give me something to focus on (getting around people instead of my lack of fitness) as the miles unfolded. The gun goes off and I'm quickly surprised by the amount of walkers, people with strollers and/or dogs...in the middle of the road that I have to get around. Really? Its a 5k folks...either get to the sides or the back...or else you just become speed bumps. I was also kind of surprised how quickly I was moving toward the front of the pack as we hit the first mile.

Now I told myself I wouldn't look at my watch...I'd just see how I did after the race was over...(ya, like that was gonna actually happen). A quick glance down and I see I hit the first mile on a 6:40 pace. Granted I didn't feel like I was running wide open but...ooph! I normally hit the first mile of this race on a 5:35 or 5:45. A minute off pace...a minute! Quick calculation in my head...if I can hold this pace I could maybe salvage a sub-20min race. Nothing to do now but keep pushing.

As we got to the turn I could see I'd made up ground and was nearing the front of the group (the 15min-5k group was long gone) and I thought if I could bear down the second half of the race maybe this wouldn't be so bad. Then came the slight incline...and then the 2 mile marker...a quick glance saw that I was in the high 13's...and it was like I could feel all the energy just bleed out of me. I had that realization that the rest of the race is going to be a "just get through it" kind of thing. That last 1.1 miles was not enjoyable in the least. I mean the end of a race never is but when compounded with the realization of just how badly the race was going, it was sheer agony. A rarity for race, they actually had a 3 mile marker and I was afraid to look down to see my time at this point...and I have to admit that last ".1" miles seemed like forever away.

I crossed the line in 21:37, 67th overall and 10th in my age group. Not a result that I'm happy about but one that given the last few month, I have to be happy with. I crossed the line gasping for air so it wasn't the lack of desire for the race, it was the lack of fitness. Lesson learned. Now to go find another race this weekend...