Thursday, October 7, 2010

USAT Nationals

So this past weekend was my last race of the year. I’m happy and bummed about that. Actually thinking I’ll seek out another race to finish the year with. Anyway, we left for Myrtle Beach on Thursday morning. Arrived at the condo that evening got my bike and everything was good to go. We walked around a bit, but nothing excessive.

Friday was packet pickup and bike check in. We had a smaller car and 4 people, so we all went to grab the race packet as we had to do some shopping anyway, plus I didn’t want to drop my bike off that early. Checked out the venue a bit, it was pretty large. I tried to figure out the swim…and it was pretty odd. There was a little ramp in the water that looked like it could handle 4-5 people. I wasn’t sure it could handle the congestion. But I wasn’t sure that was the start either.

Moving along, I got my stuff, got my bike checked in, and took it easy on Thursday evening while everyone else went to the boardwalk and checked things out.

Race Morning.
Realistically speaking this is only my second half Ironman. My first being in Racine where I qualified. I did do Pigman…I don’t count it because it was about 8 years ago and I had no idea what I was doing. I had no nutrition plan, very little fluids, it was over 100 degrees, and I almost died…probably should have. I bring this up because I don’t have a lot of experience to fall back on. What works for Olympic distance races may not work for the half iron distance.

I got up at 4:30, ate a bowl of life cereal, had an Ensure, and a banana. I did some stretching and left the condo at about 5:30. Got to transition and went through my checklist…brakes, wheels, clothes, etc. Everything was set so I went for a light warm-up jog. I got back and was checking everything again when they called everyone over for a critical announcement. The Race Director was practically in tears and people were thinking the whole race was going to be cancelled…only to learn that due to the 20 inches of rain they received the day before, the ecoli levels in the water were at dangerous levels and the swim was cancelled. F***********************CCCCCCCKKKKKKKKK. Really, what else is a swimmer going to say when the swim is cancelled? I was ready for this swim too. I was easily as fast as I was for Elkhart Lake, probably faster. I had every intention of pushing the pace for a fast swim.

Having said that, I’d rather have the swim cancelled than end up in the hospital. Considering the Immunosuppressant drugs I am on, I’d probably get sick. Even though I almost never get sick. In the end, they gathered everyone at the swim exit and had us start one at a time 3 seconds apart as if we were running through transition. Unfortunately that negates a 5-10 minute lead I’d get on a lot of people. I also figured my shot at the ITU World Championships was gone. My bike is fast enough, but my run is not there yet.

So they started me off, I already had my socks on and I ran up to transition, grabbed my bike and took off.

It was an interesting course to race as we were on the freeway system and had all 4 lanes to ourselves. It was very flat and incredibly fast. We did two loops and half the course was into the wind and the other half was with the wind. While the temperature and sun was fantastic, the wind was blowing at about 15mph…maybe a little harder. It would gust occasionally too. The sections that were into the wind were very challenging. I tried to get as low as I possibly could to negate the wind, but it was tough out there with no shelter of any kind. I did my best to legally draft as I passed people or got passed. But I never really found anyone going my pace. So for most of the race I was all alone. I tried to keep my power into the wind in check. But it was a strong wind and holding back meant going really slow.

Anyway, I ripped out of T1, hit the road and was pushing the pace pretty hard right from the start. The first piece of the course was with the wind, so I was moving at a good clip. As I turned into the wind I looked at my wattage I saw a number in the 300’s and thought…”whoa there big stallion!!” Without the swim there I told myself I’d push the bike a little harder but 300+ watts?!?! (I have not reviewed my race data yet, so I don’t have the actual numbers, will post when I look) Anyway, I have my watch set to show me splits every 5 miles. This gives me an alarm every 13-15 minutes or so and reminds me to eat/drink. I had relaxed before the first lap went off, so I wasn’t above 300, but still too high.

I don’t know what my exact wattage was for the next 5 miles, but I know it was too high. At that point I turned for the long section with the wind and said to myself, this is where I need to push the pace and get as much speed as I can. I did my best to hold those laps in the 265-270 range. At that point I realized I had to pee. Badly. I know many racers have successfully been able to pee while riding…I am not one of them. Normally I go in the water…but couldn’t this time.

Anyway, the bike portion was pretty uneventful. I settled myself down and got to a nice range of 260-270 watts. I was hovering right around an average of 23mph. Considering the wind, I was very happy with that. I started to get a bit tired towards the beginning of the 2nd loop…into the wind. I made sure I relaxed and dialed back the effort a notch to allow some recovery there so I could push the pace with the wind.

In the middle of lap 2 while riding with the wind I finally got to the point where I couldn’t tolerate the full bladder any more. In my head I was competing for a spot on the US Team and frankly needed to learn how to pee off the bike. I tried many things…and will spare everyone the details other than to say….SUCCESS!! I *flushed* by taking a bottle of water and spraying my leg down. Oh happy days!!

My nutrition plan consisted of one calorie bottle with 400 calories of Perpeteum and 300 calories of Heed plus 3 salt stick tabs. I also took 2 salt sticks separately. I then had roughly 4 bottles of water, however threw some of that away as I didn’t need it. In total I finished my calorie bottle and had roughly 3-4 bottles of water.

I ended the day with around 271 watts. Quite a bit higher than I had planned. But this led to a bike split of 2:25 which is a PR despite difficult conditions. I saw the split and wondered how much I might pay for that bike split on the run…... (I’m also left wondering how fast I would have been in Racine or on this course without the wind.)

Very uneventful. I already had my race number under my bike jersey so I racked my bike, pulled off the helmet, grabbed my gu flasks and took off. Fortunately I did not fall on my face.

The one thing on my mind for this race was the run. I had been injured the month prior and did not get in the running I wanted to before this race. In my mind the place this would cause a problem was mile 9/10. I knew I was in equal shape to Racine, possibly better shape. But with the limited running I just wasn’t sure how long I’d be able to hold on as that endurance would be the first thing to go.

At Racine my goal was to simply hold 8min/mile. I did that for the first 6 miles or so, but the heat caught up to me and I slowed to 8:30’s for an average pace of 8:20. For this race I wanted to push it harder, and break 1:45 for the run.

I hit the run and immediately had a little issue, my quads felt like they were cramping. I’ve never had this happen other than at IMWI 2009. So I didn’t really know what to do. I had some salt sticks with me so I took one. I hadn’t planned on taking that until mile 1 with some water, but I had a water/gu mix in a flask and used that. Thankfully I never got the cramps or felt that way again.

Shortly after that, the little dudes that run my stomach hung a sign that said “Closed”. The first time I experienced something like this was at an Oly race in Lake Geneva like 7 years ago. I ate a clif bar on the bike and had massive gastro trouble because of it. These days I only take liquids in races to prevent that. But apparently I did something to cause a problem. I do not know if it was too much salt, fluids, calories, or my breakfast causing the problem. I’ll have to look into that. But I was in a fair amount of discomfort from about mile 1.5 on.

I wasn’t exactly sure how to handle it since there was a lot of racing to go…so I just put my head down and told myself to “giv’er”. Miles 1-6 were all between 7:30’s and 7:45’s. I was really happy with how I felt and pace. My initial thought process was to go as fast as I could for as long as I could. In my head, if I was going to slow down to an 8:30 pace like I did at Racine, I should go 7:30’s prior instead of 8:00’s. Plus it was cooler outside. Again I haven’t reviewed my laps yet…so I don’t know the exact details. But I hit the halfway point, saw Aimee, Jesse, and Jeff and was still moving really well. I still felt pretty good and was maintaining the same basic pace.

At mile 7 I did start to slow a bit, and had to quickly stop to go to the bathroom (tree, not port-a-potty). I’m not sure it is physically possible to pee while running. Anyway, I do know that mile was my first slower than an 8min/mile pace at 8:11. I put in some more effort and mile 7 was back below an 8min pace. Things were starting to hurt by then and I had not been able to put down much in the way of salt/calories or anything else. A sip of water here and there was about all. Miles 8 and 9 were a bit slower…but still close to an 8min pace. I wasn’t sure what would happen around mile 8 as that is where I really slowed down at Racine…but I know I held it pretty well.

I got to mile 10 and things got worse. My legs were cashed, hurting, and burning. Here is where my lack of experience came into play. I was hurting and knew that at some point I was going to have to change something. But I didn’t really know what to do. I had taken in enough calories, but wasn’t sure they were getting through. I knew I had not taken in enough water or salt…but didn’t want to try to eat anything else at that point. It was already too late.

An internal debate was raging inside me as I thought it was time to walk the aid stations. (I had not walked one yet). I kept telling myself that once you walk it is easier to walk again…don’t do it. I don’t remember exactly where I first walked on the course…but it was close to mile 10. At that point I wasn’t angry like I was at Racine, mostly because I pushed the bike and run much harder here. I wasn’t sure I could hold on, but wanted to try knowing I might blow up a little bit.

So at that point I employed a walk/run type strategy as even the 8:30 pace I tried to hold was hurting pretty bad. Looking back I am left wondering what would have happened if I simply slowed my run pace to 8:45’s – 9’s. I really don’t know. But I do know that I ended up walking for 30 seconds at every mile, and at one point even the half mile. My overall pace became 8:45’s – 9:15’s or so.

At mile 11, my stomach gave a few gurgles and opened back up for business. I’m not sure if it was the walking or what. But my first thought was, thanks a lot. As food went through I had some pretty bad waves of pain…similar to what I’ve dealt with on several long runs. (gas). I wasn’t worried, but it disrupted things a bit.

Anyway, I kept moving forward, looked at my watch and knew my time would still be better than Racine. Not as good as I wanted, but technically a Half Iron PR. I finished the run around a 1:46. A few of those last miles were at or above a 9 minute pace. Once I look at the race data I’ll have a better idea what happened and when as my memory is only so good. But if I had just been able to hold on a little longer I would have broken 1:45.

The good news is that I was/am very sore. So I know I worked hard as 3 days later I can still feel it. I like that because it reminds stops me from second-guessing myself too much. If I’m still this sore 3 days later, I put in a hard effort.

I placed 18th in the M30-34 age group. Top 20 qualify for ITU Worlds (20-25 are alternates) so great, I made it. BUT WAIT. That’s right…a new rule is in effect. Because I’ll be 35 next season, I have to qualify in the M35-39 age group where my time was good for ----- SURVEY SAYS!!! ---- 29th. Sucks to be me!!

Based on that I’m about 99% sure I will not qualify. I do not know who bumps into or out of the age groups and will get an email sometime this week. Granted I did not really expect to qualify…but had there been a swim, I’m pretty sure I would have been an alternate. I have no doubt there were fast swimmers at this race, but most of them were probably placing top 10-15 and beat me by 15-20 minutes. I would not have caught them. The folks placing 15th-28th however…there is a good chance I would have beaten some of them out of the water by a fair margin and moved up a few places.

I can’t say that for certain, but without taking the current into effect I wanted to go close to a 26 minute swim. With a current my time may have been slower, but my advantage would have been bigger. But who knows. I finished with a 4:15:45. If you add 30 minutes for swim, some additional T1, and a slightly slower bike I’m right around a 4:45. Still a PR.

Race Pace
Ok, I did not get the chance to post the above blog on Tuesday/Wednesday as I wanted to. I don’t have access at work. So I have now had the opportunity to review my race paces and let me say…damn. Someone on Slowtwitch has a signature that goes something like this…..”If you’re gonna be dumb, you gotta be tough”. I think that applies to me in this case.

As it turns out I have selective memory. I really really thought that I got myself under control before the 5 mile mark. At it turns out I did the first 5 miles at 312 watts. That’s not a typo…312 watts, 7 watts above my functional power. Lap two – (miles 5-10) were done at 298 watts. Average that out and I rode at FTP for the first 25-30 minutes. As you will see, that decision proved to be somewhat…unfortunate.

My next three laps were around 275 watts. (15 watts higher than my original goal). At that point I got to the halfway point and my brain re-engaged…I purposely slowed down and brought my ride average down to 271. I do want to be clear on that point, at the halfway point I could have maintained my pace but chose to slow down. There was one section into the wind where I rode 254 watts and remember telling myself to relax that once I turned around I could go harder with the wind.

Onto the run. I started just fine. In fact my first 6 miles were right around a 7:40 pace. Aimee saw me at the turn and said I looked great. I did slow down at the halfway point, but didn’t feel bad at that point. But I think it is best that my splits do the talking...

First 6.5 miles – 7:35-7:40 pace. – Doing Great!!
Mile 6.5 – 10 – 8:10 pace. Holding strong!!
Mile 11 – 8:23 -- ummmm, not so good.
Mile 12 – 8:55 – Oh dear god!
Mile 13 – 9:53 – So much for the adrenaline at the last mile. Crash and burn.

And that kids is a lesson on what NOT to do!!

The good news…the two minutes I lost on those last two miles would not have mattered as far as the standings are concerned in M35-39. The guy in front of me beat me by more than I slowed.

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