Tuesday, June 23, 2015

My first Ironman breakthrough

I was thinking about this on the trip I was just on while I was running on the treadmill on a cruise ship. I was thinking about this because I was thinking about all the times I had sacrificed and done work in hotels, or on vacations, cruise ships, etc. this time I was running staring at a treadmill. No music, no TV and when you are staring out the ocean it’s pretty boring. I didn’t have an I pod so I was just left with my thoughts.

I had so many years when I had experienced such subpar performances for my long course racing and despite trying so many things I could never get the results I felt I had always sacrificed for. It was so frustrating. I knew in my heart though that I had another level in me I could achieve. I would have been totally content if my potential was where I was, but I always was left with a feeling of being robbed on race day.

I really don’t really keep trophies or medals. I have very few. I had a chance to go to Hawaii Ironman though on a sponsorship entry someone had gifted me and I was ready and excited as always. I remember sitting at the pre-race ceremony and they were doing all the typical build up, etc. They went into a long explanation of the first Ironman trophy that was ever given and it was literally a few pieces of metal that someone had constructed and was to signify an “Ironman”. I of course had known about this being the big tri “Geek” but it was cool to hear about it again on the island. What I wasn’t prepared for was that if you finished the race that year – YOU GOT ONE! I remember sitting there thinking to myself no matter what, I was going to go home with the trophy.

I bring this up because I wanted to explain to people that this in large part was the changing of A LOT of my race results. Here is why:

All my bad races seemed to come down to bad G.I. Issues. I was never really able to simulate this in training because it would seem to really happen much after the 7 hour mark in racing. Once I would start to throw up it was a massive downward spiral. I have since figure out that problem with the help of a lot of people and combining a lot of different nutritionists and techniques which I can discuss my experiences with this later.

I didn’t have time to figure that out 1-2 days out from Kona but what I did have the ability to do was make the choice that no matter what I was going to do that day I would remain in control of my race. This meant I would plan to do it easier then I had ever done before. I told myself if I always felt good, there should never be any issues.

I hadn’t qualified to be there so I didn’t feel any pressure to perform and I wasn’t sure, just like I am never sure even now on my 9th trip that I would ever get the chance to be there again, so I wanted to enjoy the day. I told myself (I had no power meter or even HR that day) that if I even had to ask myself if I was going too hard, I would back off. My friend who had got me into the race was there volunteering and said he would be at the finish line until 11:00 (on the race clock) and he hoped to see me then. I told him that would be nice but I had never been baster then 11:50 and I wasn’t going to put the pressure on myself to break the 11 hour mark because that would obviously be counterproductive to the plan.

We started the swim. I stayed back from the front line and slowly got into my own tempo. I made it a point to stay relaxed and smooth. It was pretty uneventful and actually looking back I think I swam right at 1:00 which really isn’t that darn bad. I even came out of the water with triathlon legend Julie Moss, so that was pretty cool.

We got to the bike and I looked forward to one thing, I wanted to see all the professionals coming back from Hawi that I would always have to wait until magazines or NBC coverage would show me something months later. Today, I was going to get to see the race (at least in part) live and I was as much a fan that day as a participant.

I got off my bike 3 times to stretch and rub my feet. I often had foot issues so I decided since I was going to go as easy as Ai felt I needed to, I would take an extra few min throughout the bike and get off take my feet out o the shoes and give them a quick stretch. I rode a road bike with bar extensions, and while it may seem like blasphemy now, no aero helmet. J

I ended up riding 5:45 give or take which again, really isn’t a bad split at all. I felt like I was in a college crash course on how to effectively pace an ironman and I was acing the class. It became fun to see how easy I could go and still hit times I had previously worked so hard to hit. I remember riding back into town the last few miles, I saw people I knew and the only thing I wanted to let them know is I DID’NT FEEL BAD! To me that was more important than feeling good because in previous racing the wheels had already shown signs of falling off, not today. Today I was about to be 26.2 miles away from the first trophy I ever REALLY wanted.

I started the run and was grinning ear to ear. I had just tried to do IM Wisconsin a short 5-6 weeks prior and once again despite trying new stuff, was forced to drop out again from stomach issues. Today seemed like if all went well, I could avoid said issues. I remember I had made a choice to run with a fuel belt so I could carry my version of salt tabs in my drink solution. I had done testing at the Gatorade labs and they had given me “gatorlytes” which at the time were not available to the public and I was trying to use them to add about 1000mg of sodium every 60-90 min to my nutrition. To this point they had made me feel pretty bloated, but all in all I felt pretty good so made the decision to take the belt with me on the run.

Learning from the swim and the bike I quickly made a bet with myself. I wanted to see if I could instead of survive the run, would I actually be able to pull off a negative split??? It didn’t have to be an impressive one, just a negative split. I of course bet on myself and hedged the bet with telling myself to go out as easy as I could to help ensure the goal. I think I went through the half way point in about 2 hours. While it wasn’t the running I had always hoped I would be doing, I was in fact still running and feeling good. The bloat feeling had become quite annoying so I had decided to stop drinking so much sodium which I think actually helped me a lot. At half way I started to pick it up and actually found a good rhythm. I ran all the way to mile 15-16 where you turn into the energy lab and I thought to myself, that as I was going so well at this point I should take in a bunch of the sodium that I had been carrying. So I did and about 30 second later puked it up all over myself!

I remember feeling like I had done it to myself and that if I hadn’t just drank that I would probably had been fine. Considering it was now all over my shoes, I decide, let’s not do that again and I just started to run. I ran, I walked aid stations, always doing the math in my head if I was going to be able to negative split. I remember vividly telling myself that if I could only just keep running miles I had so often used as warm up and cool downs I would actually be able to pull it off.

Once I was within a mile of the finish I knew I had it! The finish line was awesome and I ran a sub 4 hour marathon, yes negative split, for the first time in my life and Was able to see my friend as I had finished in like 10:56! It was almost an hour PR! To make it better, I got that damn trophy and to this day it remains one of my only triathlon or any sport recognitions I keep. Ironically, It is one that everyone got that day. I have won awards that I guess seem harder to achieve but to me, that was the hardest. Nobody would understand the years of hard work and problem solving I had to do in order to get that damn piece of metal on a block of wood, but I did, and I still do.

The reason I bring this up is because I think everyone needs to find the thing that is going to motivate them to take a leap of faith and try something new. While it seems simplistic to look back on and read now it was a lot of pressure to decide I wasn’t going to keep up with my friends, or try to do something crazy that I had never done before time wise, or take any outside pressure in from external influences and trust my own internal voice which told me to: relax, stay controlled, slow down and you’ll actually go faster.

I have since struggled to break 10 hours since then, then finally broke through to low 9:00’s several times and have had other obstacles and struggles come up that I have had to work to overcome. I wouldn’t have been able to do those however if I had never gotten this particular trophy and earned it with reasoning behind it I rarely express to anyone.

I love trying to help athletes now figure out what leaps they can take to get the most out of their next evolution of training. If you had to think of something you could try, what types of things could we help you with?

Friday, June 19, 2015

Racine 70.3 Swim thoughts

When I have raced Racine 70.3 I have found a few things to look for that may help you. In general it is a pretty straight forward course. It’s labeled a “flat” race, but that’s not entirely accurate it relatively is, however the wind can play a big role as can the water temp and the weather. I have raced there in 60’s and rain as well at 105 degrees and brutally hot, which for me that day resulted in a DNF. I learned a lot that day though.

I thought I would put down some of my race tips in our Athlete Membership Program for athletes to use.

Pre swim- you have to be prepared to walk a mile down to the start of the race in the sand. There is a sidewalk up on the road or even the beach walk path I would recommend using as it’s a more stable surface, and a lot less crowded for a while. So you can get their quicker and save yourself some time. Its also a good thing to wear some disposable shoes for the walk you can throw out in a trash bin when you get there.

If the water temp is very cold wait till the last few min to get warmed up. Otherwise you’ll be standing around cold waiting for your wave to start. If the water is very cold, I have raced there with the water temps in the very low 50’s I would notice that it was very hard to hold my face and head in the water for the first fee min of the event. This process is going to really slow you down if you haven’t figured out a way to deal with this. Here are my suggestions on how to deal with very cold water.

-        You can wear the neopreame head cap if you want. That isn’t a big deal. If the water is a bit warmer it’s not like you’ll hate having it on. Just make sure you are OK with the strap under your neck. If not, you’ll be in cold water and have the new sensation of the neck strap.

-        I would really encourage you to NOT wear the booties. I really think it will slow you down. Take some old running shoes to the pool and try to swim with em on. It’s a terrible feeling.

-        I try to warm up on dryland. Gt blood going to the muscles without getting cold.

-        You’re face, hands and feet WILL ADJUST after about 5 min. then they will just go numb. Try to get that feeling over with 2-3 waves in front of yours. So I usually go knee deep and bend down and just put my hands face and feet in and try to keep the rest of my wetsuit dry. That keeps me feeling warm but also allows me to feet my bare skin used to the cold water.

-        Once the race starts line up wide if you are unsure of where you stack up. If you line up deeper into the wave you may find people reluctant to start swimming who haven’t done a proper warm up as you have.

-        Once you get in the water keep our head down, control your breathing and stay under control.

Swim – the swim course is pretty strait forward but you want to watch the previous waves to see how far they can run out. That can vary greatly. You may not be able to feel your feet great so watch your step.

The first turn buoy comes about 150-200 meters out so it can still be quite thick through the turn so start to set up your turn before you get to the buoy. Once around I usually like to head back to shore slightly and swim just inside the buoys as it tends to be a lot less congested. Just be aware the swimmers you do run into there will usually be a lot less experienced.

I site off four things on this course. Most of them are the same as every course but I look first for the people in front of me, then for the buoys. If I cannot see them very quick, there has traditionally been a tower that lines up nicely with the last turn buoy. The last things I can use on some years are the sand patterns. The waves leave ripples in the sand and I try to maintain the same angle on those ripples once I know I going straight. That will at least let me skip a few breath cycles which can help your overall swim time.

When swimming in I look for the archway. You can usually catch a few waves coming in which is nice but in preparation for the long run with some of my last strokes Ill reach towards my neck and pull down on it allowing water to come into my suit which lets the suit slip off much easier. The run is so long in the last foot of water I will usually take my suit off there and run with it.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Swim Tips

As we get closer to race season most of us will have to venture from the pool to the open water. For a lot of people this can be scary, intimidating, confusing, and a source of worrying about underperformance based on pool times, as well as other things. In racing now for over 20 year I feel I have found a few things that have helped me, as well as the athletes I work with, transition to the open water.

Getting ready in the pool for the open water:

Sets- This is the first place I like to address the open water, often times before my athletes even know we are working on this skill. Before we even get into the specifics of sets however let’s take an honest inventory of how many people themselves, or see others setting PR’s during the warm up session? I see this so often. We swim in a pool that has lane designations based on ability. While I warm up with athletes I have swam with for years I often notice in lanes next to mine or in my lane with swimmers trying to make the leap to our lane they warm up faster than my race pace! They of course deny it but if you notice that half way through a set you start the move towards the back of the lane order, maybe consider how well you warm up. Learning to keep those emotions in check is critical practice for higher stress environments such as race day.

I find a lot of athletes like to do sets that are primarily focused on the classic 10 x 100 (n 10 sec rest). While this has value and surely can be used for a marker set, it is not in my opinion a good race prep set (depending on interval speed). I would suggest on most sets that are working on sustained speed and race effort keeping your rest interval to 5% or less of the total work is a good practice. So for a 1:45 T pace interval, you should be leaving on the 1:50, no slower. While the math isn’t perfect I would say up to 2:00 5 seconds is a good sustained interval send off.

I also like to lean more towards longer sets. So I think 4 x 300 is a better muscular endurance (ME) set then 12 x 100 on 5 sec. using close to the math above I would use the 10 sec interval here. I think for Olympic up to Half Iron this an example of a good base set. Feel free to modify these 300s too. I like to do variations especially when in a pool that doesn’t have a clock, or I am not motivated where I do 75 hard, 75 aerobic, 50,50, 25, 25. I don’t worry so much about pace and time, just the feel of changing the pace which is also critical for open water. You will need to change pace often to catch a draft, or lose someone, or just have a higher HR while getting bumped around turn buoys.

Another great thing to do is use tools. Things like paddles only for some of these so long as you don’t have shoulder issues will help build strength for rougher open water. You can progress to bands around feet, fly sets, and all types of fun stuff. We have several swim workouts in our AMP (Athlete Membership Program listed here)

Drills – Drills can be very helpful in the pool for getting ready to race open water.

Head up swimming will help build shoulder strength. It will also help you learn to refine and hold good body position. This has been called head up swimming, or Tarzan swimming. I like to also have athletes see what happens to their times when they take an average of 4 sights per length. Remember this for later in the article.

Strokes – While most triathletes fight the need to do anything other than freestyle I think it is a good idea to learn at least 1, if not 2 other strokes. Back stroke is valuable because it offers you a chance to work muscles that are different then freestyle, but also forces you to work on body position as well and remain balanced in the water. Fly is awesome for building strength and while it is short axis swimming (bend at the waist) the arm movement is very similar to freestyle. The only difference is that both arms are involved in each stroke so they get half the rest. This is one of the reasons it can be so effective for building open water fitness and has the added benefit of getting your run in and outs a bit smoother.

Once in the open water there are several things you can do help you capitalize on the work you have done in the pool

Landmarks- this is the first and easiest thing to do. Note landmarks if and when possible from all the directions you can while swimming. Make sure they are as tall as possible. A spot on a tree line, or a hotel, even a flagpole works well. You would think the buoys and the finish line arch would serve as good markers but they don’t until you are only a few hundred meters out. On course that I swim along the shoreline I have often paid attention to the distance I seem to be from shore and use that as a reference point. Just make sure it isn’t the sun, a boat, or any other type of moving object. Also if you are going to be swimming on sunny days, consider this during goggle selection.

Sighting – while sighting the landmarks you must trust your swimming, even if it is in the wrong direction. Remember the sets we swam in the pool with the heads up drill? Well if you sight all the time that is what your open water times will look like! I like to count between 10 (when I am the least sure, and 30 strokes, when I am the most sure or have feet to follow). If I look and I notice I have gone off course let’s say to the right, then I just try to adjust on race day and make myself swim off to the left (or at least feel like I am). If you really are confused as to which direction you are going then do a few breast strokes (good thing you used other strokes in the pool). As well, you don’t have to always see the landmarks, just the swimmers in front of you. Just like Days of Thunder “steer right at em Cole”

Breathing while navigating can be a bit of a tricky thing to get the hang of but my main suggestion would be to practice incorporating the breath and sight forward in unison. You’ll have to learn to trust that you do not have to lift your head as high which will only take energy and compromise optimal body position. Personally I lift my eyes forward just high enough to see where I am going. I don’t need to read the city in which the swim buoy was made printed on it, just a general sense of the direction everyone is going then immediately turn my head to the side to finish the normal breath cycle. I think it is better to do 2-3 sights in a row if you missed a sight then to sight longer one time. Try to maintain body position.

Positioning can be the last tricky situation to deal with. A lot of people will tell you to seat yourself in an aggressive position and hang on for dear life. If you think about the starting line as an X’Y axis 0,0 would be the fasted spot. As you move further out, away from the origin on the “X” you get theoretically to slower ranks as well as if you move back deeper down the “Y” axis. I think it is good to be as aggressive as you can be that you can still maintain calm and order. If you are freaking out and over extending yourself from the beginning, you will miss the draft and you will swim slower than if you had just stayed smooth and in your rhythm.

So much of open water swimming and execution is between the ears. This is a great topic to talk to one of our coaches about which is why we have included this service in the AMP membership. Contact us today to set up your consultation.