Monday, December 28, 2009

A year in the life of a triathlon idiot

Time for a somewhat self-indulgent look back at the year... how it started, how it unfolded, and a chance to think about what it all meant. If you are reading this and that sounds really painful, just read the next couple of paragraphs and then you can skip the rest of it starting where it is labeled "Race Review" :)

Before digging into the recap, I first want to mention that I will be starting a new blog for this new year. The title and theme of this current blog were explicitly tailored to the 500 Miles of Hope idea, and that has now been completed (although I will continue to highlight HFK). I'll post info soon on the new blog in case anyone is interested in following that one. I think this time it will be a little more eclectic - not as triathlon focused. I'd love to cover more on Haiti and Mexico, random things that interest or amuse me, etc. Along the triathlon lines, though, I do want to include items related to the coaching part of triathlon; as I'm starting to get more involved in that aspect (and truly enjoy it!).

So, on to a look back at my year in triathlon and endurance sports... A year that was quite aggressive by my standards (for a mid-40's guy with a full-time job and no real athletic background), but something I wanted to to in order to test my limits and get some things out of my system. Training and racing at this volume can be considered anything from disciplined to dedicated to obsessive to perhaps a bit dumb, depending on one's perspective. I'm going to go with something that mixes a bit of obsessive with self-discipline, that I did in order to push myself and achieve things I once did not think were possible. I believe it is the same thing that drives people to do other "excessive" endeavors, such as climbing the world's tallest mountains or swimming the English channel. We all have something inside us that feels alive when we accomplish what initially seemed impossible.

This all started with a goofy idea I had as I started thinking about the race mileage that I would be accumulating during the year. If I did everything I wanted to do, it would be close to 500 miles, and so that milestone kind of stuck in my head. I had done the Janus Charity Challenge when I had competed in my first Ironman in 2007, and really enjoyed that fundraising/awareness aspect. So, I decided to go ahead and do this crazy amount of racing this year (at least for me); and dedicate it to something that I believed in. The final result was 500 Miles of Hope, dedicated to a program called Hope For Kidz that provides education for children in Haiti.

This post was my introduction to that concept:

I had already done the first couple of events (a 20 mile run and a small duathlon) when I made that original post and started the blog. Next up was the Austin Marathon ; where I ran a nice steady race, keeping in mind that it was going to be a long year. I managed to finish in the top 24% of my Age Group (AG) and top 15% overall, so things were off to a good start.

Shortly after the marathon, I took a little detour and went to Clermont, FL to do the classroom work for my USAT Level 1 Triathlon Coach certification. I finished the rest of the paperwork and exam in April, and received my official certification on May 1st. I've started coaching a couple of people since then, and really enjoy that side of the sport. I'll be looking to delve into that a little deeper in 2010... perhaps hooking up with a more experienced coaching mentor.

The next event on the schedule was the Lonestar Triathlon in Galveston, TX. Moody Gardens in Galveston provides a fun venue for a race, and the race director (Keith Jordan) always puts on top-notch events. I had a great race and finished 3rd in my AG and top 8% overall, which I was pretty excited about - it seemed like all that hard work was starting to pay off! :)

Just two weeks after Lonestar, I fulfilled a goal that just 4-5 years ago seemed impossible for me, and went to Boston to run in the Boston Marathon! I had qualified at the Austin Marathon in 2008, leveraging the fitness gains I had achieved to get ready for Ironman Florida, and was really pumped up to actually be there. And it was every bit as fun as I had heard... tremendous crowd support, scenic and challenging course, and a great place to visit. I'm running the Austin Marathon again this coming February, and hoping to qualify once more so my wife and I can go back to Boston in 2011! Speaking of my wife, good time for me to point out how terrific she is with supporting me. Thanks Susie!!!

May and June were pretty quiet from a racing perspective. Lots of training, though, including a couple of long organized bike rides. One of those resulted in a pretty good bike crash, which luckily caused only minor bike damage and an elbow that took a couple of months to feel normal :) It was also really really really hot (really)! We had over 60 days where the temps hit 100 degrees or higher this year. Yikes...

The one race I did participate in during that time period was not as an athlete - I joined the race committee for the Lake Pflugerville Triathlon and served as the swim course director. It was a lot of fun, and very interesting to see things from the "other side". I highly encourage folks to volunteer and/or serve on a race committee whenever you have the chance. Besides being necessary for these events to continue, it is also very fun and rewarding :) Thank you to the race director (Glenn Beck) for letting me take that role (and doing it again this coming year).

Got back to racing in July with the Marble Falls triathlon. This is a unique and interesting race, kind of a hybrid between the sprint and olympic distances; with a challenging/hilly 23 mile bike course. The bike course had always left me pretty worn out for the run, so it felt great this time when I got off the bike and was still able to have a nice fast run. I ended up with 3rd place in my AG, and top 10% overall. It was weird for me this year to be placing in the top end of my AG, since I started at a place where I thought that type of result was just not in the cards for me.

In August there was more training in the blistering heat, and a much-needed family vacation to Hot Springs, Arkansas. We had a great time, and just enjoyed life for a few days...

Then in September I started the gauntlet that I had been anxiously awaiting from the start of the year. An Olympic triathlon to kick things off, and then 2 full Ironman triathlons in a 10 week period, with a half-ironman stuck in the middle for good measure. What was I thinking? Not sure...

So, first up at the beginning of September was the Austin Triathlon, an Olympic distance triathlon. My good fortune continued, and I was able to place 2nd in my AG; top 9% overall. The swimming was really starting to improve, and my bike fitness was allowing me to be slightly faster on the bike and still have my fastest runs since I started triathlon (6:43 pace on the 10K portion of the race). This was great for my confidence, but there was no time for letting up, as the biggest tests were yet to come...

The first of those big tests came less than two weeks later, the Redman iron distance triathlon. On a day that came close to being a disaster (morning downpour nearly resulted in a race cancellation, and made the bike very challenging); I ended up doing really well and completed the race in 11:23, almost a full hour faster than my first IM in FL. I was extremely pleased with that time, and even more pleased when I found out the final results. Redman is a fairly small race (less than 200 IM competitors), and only one person in my AG had a better time. Not only that, but he won the entire race, which left me as First Place in my AG!!! Wow, the first time I ever won first place in a triathlon!

At this point, I honestly felt like I had achieved everything I wanted to for the year; but still had a couple big events to go. I think it was about then that I started really looking at the amount of time and effort I was investing, and what I was sacrificing in other areas of my life. While I was having a blast and doing great, I knew that I needed to soak it all in and enjoy it fully - because I just wasn't going to sustain this level of training and racing in the years to come. I decided that the future for me was going to hold more balance. I love triathlon, and the training I do will still get my best effort; but the coming years were going to have a more sane schedule - and if the results drop off a bit I am perfectly happy with that!

My next race was the Longhorn 70.3 in Austin, and I was really hoping to have a great day. It had been 5 weeks since Redman, and I felt like I was recovered and re-trained, ready to do well at the half-Ironman distance. And I did have a very good day, finishing 14th in my Age Group out of 142 people and top 13% overall. While I was happy with the results, it was a little short of what I had hoped for. The swim wasn't great, and I could never really get going on the bike; so it took a pretty fast run to make up some time. Tough day against some tough competition. Looking back at my training/racing logs, I can also see now that I was just plain and simply starting to wear down (no surprise). Still, if you had told me 5 years ago I could have that type of result, I'd have had a good laugh :)

After Redman, there was some time for rest & recovery; a quick ramp up on training; and 5 weeks later it was time for the coup de grace - Ironman Cozumel. This was the race I had signed up for in Nov of 2008 which set this whole chain of events into motion. Here is the full race report, but the short version is that it was a great and beautiful swim, a really tough and windy day on the bike, and then a marathon that wasn't my finest hour :) I ended up at 12:29, somewhat slower than what I had anticipated going in. In retrospect, though - it turns out to have been a good result for that day; as it put me in the top 21% of my AG and top 24% overall.

With IM Cozumel in the books; I had completed the entire 581.4 miles of racing!!! Considering all that can happen in a given race, let alone an entire year, I was truly blessed to have been able to have participated in and finished every single race on my schedule! :) And what a great location to finish it all off - my wife and daughter and I had a GREAT time in Cozumel the week after the race... The weather was fantastic, the beaches and ocean were beautiful, the people were very friendly and excited to have us there... we didn't want to come back home! And I also met some great fellow triathletes and their families from all over the world (England, Canada, Hawaii...). A terrific way to cap off the year!

Since Cozumel, things have been pretty laid back. Trying to catch up on a million things that need to get done around here. Went back to Mexico for a mission trip just before Christmas, and I'm starting to ramp up the running for the Austin Marathon. Biggest event of all, though, is the upcoming trip to Haiti! I get to go and visit the kids that this year has been dedicated to... and they are truly wonderful kids that are the hope of Haiti's future.

That's it for now... I'll post a couple more items here; but will soon switch over to a new blog (as mentioned above). In closing, one final plea to check out the Hope for Kidz website and perhaps make at least one small one-time donation to help those children get some education. Ciao for now...

RMI Hope For Kidz Website Link

2009 Race History:

January 11: RunTex 20 Miler (20 mile run) -> COMPLETED

January 25: Frost Yer Fanny Duathlon (27.2 miles run/bike/run) -> COMPLETED

February 15: Austin Marathon (26.2 mile run)-> COMPLETED

April 5: Lonestar 1/2 Ironman Triathlon (70.3 miles swim/bike/run) -> COMPLETED

April 20: Boston Marathon (26.2 mile run) -> COMPLETED

July 19: Marble Falls Triathlon (28 miles s/b/r) -> COMPLETED

Sep 07: Austin Triathlon (32 miles s/b/r) -> COMPLETED

September 19: Redman ironman distance Triathlon (140.6 miles s/b/r)-> COMPLETED

October 25: Longhorn 1/2 Ironman Triathlon (70.3 miles s/b/r)-> COMPLETED

November 29: Ironman Cozumel Triathlon (140.6 miles s/b/r) -> COMPLETED

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Play time almost over...

Starting to plan my races for next year, and the first thing on the plate is going to be the Austin Marathon (mid-February); which means I need to get back into the running. Was gone for a long weekend to Mexico to help start building a local church there, but did an 8 mile run before I left and a 10 mile run today. By next week, I'll start a full running schedule. I'm going to Haiti in the 3rd week of January, and can't do much running there; so I have to fit in most of the training before then. My goal will be to get a Boston Marathon qualifying time again, as I'd like to go to Boston in 2011. We'll see how it goes...

Speaking of the Mexico trip I mentioned above, here's a couple of pics from that trip that might be interesting:

Starting point on Saturday

Progress as of Monday afternoon

The "Tracks" neighborhood where the church is located

Hoping to get to that end of year wrap-up post later this week. In the meantime, I hope everyone is having a great Christmas, and best wishes for the New Year!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

IM Cozumel 2009 race report

What a fun way to finish the year! It was a tough day (details below), but I was able to finish the race and wrap up a year that included two full iron distance triathlons, two half-iron triathlons, and two full marathons... and then have a fantastic week of fun, rest, and relaxation on the beautiful island of Cozumel! :)

Getting through this year with no major mishaps, injuries, or issues was a huge victory; and I am very thankful and appreciative that I've been blessed with a life that includes such great memories. I'm very well aware that the majority of people in the world do not have these kinds of opportunities... and along those lines - don't forget about the Hope for Kidz link that is listed below ;)

This triathlon was a great example of expectations vs. reality; as well as the danger of comparing one race to another based purely on time. Just about all of the athletes that I talked to, including a couple of the pros, were at least cautiously optimistic that this would be a fast course; especially due to a very flat bike course. There were some concerns about the wind, heat, and humidity; which turned out to be well-founded... That combination (the wind in particular), ended up taking its toll on just about everyone, including myself. I had a very fast swim (1:02) and a good start to the bike, then hit the winds and quickly reset my expectations for finishing time. Finished the bike in just over 6:17, which was slower than I had hoped but not terrible; and then really hit the wall on the run, ending up with a finishing time of 12:29:03. Not quite what I hoped for, but nothing I'm complaining about either. At an Ironman, finishing is always the main goal, and never a guarantee.

Once the dust had settled, I learned the lesson (once again) that you can't really compare races purely by the finishing time. After an 11:23 at Redman just 10 weeks before, I have to be honest and say I was disappointed to be an hour slower for this race. This was even just a little slower than my first Ironman in 2007 (IM Florida). However, when I saw the final overall results, I noticed that even though my time was a few minutes slower than IM Florida, my placement was actually much, much better! At IM FL, a time of 12:20 put me right in the middle of the pack (finished around 48% both overall and within age group). At IM Cozumel, a time of 12:29 placed me in the top 25% overall and at 21% in my age group. That definitely improved my feeling about the race, since I knew going in that I was in better shape and better trained than I was back in 2007 for IM FL. This was just a tougher day on a tougher course (and maybe my old body had reached its limit this year). Anyway, enough rationalization and on to the full race report...

I arrived in Cozumel on Thursday afternoon (Thanksgiving day) and got unpacked and settled into the hotel. My wife Susie and daughter Kayli were flying in on Saturday, wisely choosing to stay clear of a stressed-out and no-fun JD for the two days before the event :) I met a fellow triathlete who was also there alone, his family arriving on Saturday as well, so we got together on Friday to check out the swim conditions, drive the bike course, register for the race, athlete meeting, etc. The Friday swim practice was actually canceled due to rough water, but we did get in for a short informal swim just to convince ourselves that we could handle the swim even if the water conditions did not improve. Saturday I got all packed up and checked in my bike and transition bags (see pre-race bike transition pic below). When I got back to the hotel, my wife and daughter had arrived; so I was able to spend Saturday evening relaxing and enjoying time with them.

Woke up and got to the race site without incident. The host hotels provided buses to shuttle us to the race start, and that worked out nicely. The first thing I noticed was that the water was much, much calmer, which helped my mental state of mind quite a bit. I then went about setting up my bike to make sure everything was ready, trying to keep myself busy and calm until it was time to head down to the water for the race start.

I took this picture of the swim start location on Friday , which shows the side of the dock that we all loaded up onto for the swim start. It took quite a while to get everybody into the water - I think some people were still getting on the dock when the race began. I jumped into the water and waited for the start closer to the beach myself, since that would give me a fairly straight line to the turn buoys without being right in the middle of the swarm.

As soon as the swim started, I was thrilled with the BEAUTIFUL clear water. It was amazing how much that helped, you could see everyone around you for quite a distance, which really helped you to swim your own race, avoid traffic jams, and find good feet to draft off of :) It was also pretty cool to be able to see everything, including the marine life and the scuba divers positioned at the bottom near each buoy. I was tempted to wave hello, but thought better of it as I realized they might think I was signaling for help and pull me out of the water!

After a short distance to the turn buoys, we turned around and headed back past the docks for the long section, which was with the current. A final turnaround, and then we headed back to the other side of the dock where they had set up wooden stairs for us to get out. Due to the clear water, I actually was able to see my watch a couple of times and knew I was doing well, but still was very excited to see a swim time of 1:02 as I got out! Wow, that was fast for me, and ended up being a fast swim for most people I talked to later (most likely due to swimming with the current on the long section).

I stayed very calm and deliberate for T1. First we ran across the carpeted walkway you can see to the left, and then grabbed our T1 bags with our bike gear from the racks you can see being set up in the picture to the right. Including the run out of the park once we had our bikes, it was a fair amount of distance to cover, but I went through it smoothly and got on the road with no problems.

After that fast swim start, I was feeling very good about things; and that continued as I started on the bike course. The first 10 miles or so were nice smooth, flat roads; and we were well protected from the wind. Even being conservative and keeping my HR down, I was doing great. Then the road started turning towards the back side of the island and I started feeling the effect of the winds. Nothing too bad at that point, but a noticeable drop in speed. When we hit Punta Sur and turned along the coastline, though; that's when I really knew the day was going to get tougher. As you can see from the picture below, there is no protection from the wind, and it was really howling! Plus, the road itself turns into the chipseal pavement that Texans know and love. That combination lasts for a 12 mile stretch, and every mile of that I watched my avg speed drop further and further. And, by the way, this was only the first of 3 loops - so I'd be doing this two more times! Oh well, nothing to do but stick to the plan and try to keep the HR in the right range, keep hydrated, etc.

Things improved a little when I finally took the left turn that took us back towards the city, and especially as we got into the city and all the crowds were there cheering us on (the roads were closed to traffic, so there were very few spectators on the far side of the island). Going through the downtown area, we passed the second transition area for the first time and headed back towards the swim start at Chankanaab park. That was a very nice stretch of road... too bad we would only be on that section twice!

The second loop I tried to just maintain the same type of effort and speed as the first, not wanting to overcompensate and end up blowing up completely later in the day. I did try and get in as aerodynamic of a position as I could on that backside, but it didn't seem to make much of a difference. The winds were coming mostly as a crosswind, hitting on an angle on the right front side; so there really wasn't much I could do about it.

The final loop I just tried to enjoy the smoother, less windy part of the bike as much as I could; and then just get through the coastal section without driving up my HR too high. I had known since the first loop that any type of PR (personal record) was out of the question, so I was focused on keeping a reasonable bike pace and hopefully allowing for a decent run. I finally made it to the second transition area downtown with a 6:17:07 bike split, putting me at just under 7 1/2 hours total.

Looking back, I must have been a little disoriented and tired already, because I ended up leaving my Garmin on the bike when I handed it off to a volunteer. I thought about going back to find it, but decided that I could keep track of pace via the mile markers. I'd done that for plenty of races before the Garmin, and I always survived :) My goal at that point was to try for a marathon time of less than 4 1/2 hours; so I could keep my total under 12. Ah, the best laid plans...

The run was three out and back loops of about 8.7 miles each, similar to the three loop bike course. Three loops actually works well for me, as I go a little conservative on the first, gauge my condition on the second and pace accordingly, and then by the third loop I can tell how things are going for the push to the end. Here's a pic of me on the run coming through an aid station. Bananas anyone?

Susie and Kayli were at the back end of the loop right in front of our hotel, and it sure was a welcome sight to see them! I was running at a decent pace at that point, but I could also tell that I was fading, as I was having trouble eating and drinking due to nausea. I warned the family that things would likely start slowing down for the next couple of loops.

Whether the bike course had taken too much out of me, or the humidity was making me too hot and dehydrated (or the combination); by the second lap I could tell I was burning out. I had done some walking before I saw my wife and daughter again, and I told them that in order to finish I would likely have to do quite a bit more. It's very frustrating when your legs are capable of running, but the rest of your body is just too fatigued to allow it. Such is the Ironman... it is not just about the three events, it is about putting them all together in one day.

When I got to the last loop, Susie and Kayli had re-positioned themselves to be downtown for the finish. Susie tried her best to encourage me, including telling me that I actually had moved up a little bit in my age group. Really?!? I don't know how that was happening, as I didn't see any bodies on the side of the road :) This picture kind of tells the story of how I felt:

So, now it was time for the last loop. The first part of that last out and back was some of the hardest 4+ miles I've ever done; alternating short runs with walks and praying for the last bit of reserves I had in my body. The good news was that somebody had finally told me where to find the Special Needs bags, which contained some chicken broth that I really wanted (many people had that same problem, they did not have any signs or indication where the SN bags were - which turned out to be the parking lot of my hotel!!!). Once I reached the turnaround, I could finally sense the end and made myself a deal that I would run as close to 2 miles as I could, then walk a little before making the final run to the finish line. But whether it was knowing how close I was, the chicken broth that I finally found, or just wanting it to be over - I was able to keep on running all the way to the end! That's one of the things that I love about doing endurance events, finding out how much you have inside even when you think there is nothing...

Hit the finish line at last, with a time of 12:29:03, happy that my final run kept me under 12 1/2 hours :)

Here's a little video that Susie shot of me crossing the finish line.

I knew that I was pretty well shot, and I had learned the wonders of the post-race IV at Redman earlier this year; so I didn't waste much time after turning in my timing chip and headed straight to the medical tent. After the IV and a nice hot cup of soup with noodles, I felt like a whole new person. How I wish that they'd allow me to do that at the beginning of the run! After leaving medical, I got my finisher's shirt and scarfed down some pizza; then left the athlete area and met Susie and Kayli. They helped me grab my bike and all my gear; and we went to find a taxi to take us back to our hotel. On the way, a very excited Mexican lady was grabbing every finisher that she could and having her husband take pictures of her with them; which brought a smile to my face as I pictured her photo album with all these worn-out looking strangers in their sweaty race garb. The local Cozumel folks in general were very excited about having the race there, and treated us all really well.

Once at the hotel, I ate some food and then crashed for some much needed sleep. Woke up the next day feeling pretty good, so we started on the *real* vacation at that point, and ended up having a fantastic week on the island with sun, beach, snorkeling, scuba - and even a visit to the San Gervasio Mayan ruins. As I said at the beginning of this post, it was a great way to end the year!

Please see this website to read more about the HFK program and to make donations:
RMI Hope For Kidz Website Link

Race Schedule:

January 11: RunTex 20 Miler (20 mile run) -> COMPLETED

January 25: Frost Yer Fanny Duathlon (27.2 miles run/bike/run) -> COMPLETED

February 15: Austin Marathon (26.2 mile run)-> COMPLETED

April 5: Lonestar 1/2 Ironman Triathlon (70.3 miles swim/bike/run) -> COMPLETED

April 20: Boston Marathon (26.2 mile run) -> COMPLETED

July 19: Marble Falls Triathlon (28 miles s/b/r) -> COMPLETED

Sep 07: Austin Triathlon (32 miles s/b/r) -> COMPLETED

September 19: Redman ironman distance Triathlon (140.6 miles s/b/r)-> COMPLETED

October 25: Longhorn 1/2 Ironman Triathlon (70.3 miles s/b/r)-> COMPLETED

November 29: Ironman Cozumel Triathlon (140.6 miles s/b/r) -> COMPLETED

*** GRAND TOTAL: 581.4 miles of racing! ***

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Quick (short) update on IM Coz

Wow, that was a tough day; and seemed to be for a lot of people! Most that I talked to kissed their goal times goodbye about halfway thru the bike stretch on the back side of the island. The winds were just howling across the road and it took a lot out of you and your speed :) Had a great swim, though, and then we did get lucky with overcast conditions for the run. Ended up with a 12:29, which I am slightly disappointed with (just couldn't absorb food and water); but very happy to have finished - and having a great time here in Cozumel! I'll post a race report with pictures and video when I return to the US, but just wanted to capture a quick snapshot of the day.

Hasta luego...