Wednesday, 19 May 2010

Carbon Clinchers

Now that Zipp has joined the other manufacturers and is now producing the 404 in a carbon clincher model, is there any reason to not own a pair? I have been a big proponent ever since a mate of mine did a full season of cyclocross on his Reynolds, with not so much as a scratch. He was a pretty big rider, and could put out tons of power along with some punishing technical skills. That he did not harm his carbon clinchers several years ago convinced me that the fears many people had were overblown.

My next training wheels will be carbon clinchers.

Thursday, 13 May 2010

Kona Bike

This is the Ironman Hawaii bike course. A course known for heat and winds that generally are a crosswind. In just a few months I will be racing on this course and am now doing some planning so that I can comfortably go sub 5 hours on it.

Thursday, 6 May 2010

IRONMAN Utah - the long version

The day started just before 4 am, but really a bit earlier as I only slept sound until around 3 am. I got up, cleaned up and dressed in my tri kit along with some warm clothes for the pre and post race period. I rechecked my transition bags and then sat down for a pretty normal breakfast of yoghurt w/granola & honey, a couple of small slices of sourdough toast w/Nutella, a large glass of OJ and a double tall skinny mocha (reheated).

Angie dropped Howard & me off at T2 and from there we loaded onto a bus where I withdrew into my thoughts and iPod (combination of high motivation and calming music). Much of the ride out to Sand Hollow Resevoir was spent reminding myself that I had done a lot of work, had to be strong, weather all the down moments and be prepared to hurt badly if I wanted to get my Kona slot. I reminded myself how fortunate I was to be able to compete in such an event and how amazing the amount of support that was coming my way from my family and friends. I spent considerable time focusing on the positives and how much I love this sport, and tried not to worry about my shoulder, lack of swim training and my abbreviated build up for the race. I knew my fitness was far from where I hoped it would be, but felt that I had the mental strength to push beyond what the pure physical numbers might suggest.

Upon arriving at T1, we made our way to our bikes and I did a quick check of the brakes to make sure they were centred (but I did not have my handy Pedros wrench to make any adjustments, so I guess I am fortunate that none were needed.) I did notice that my front tire was a bit soft and had to borrow a pump to top it off. I had originally planned to bring a pump, then pass to Kurt, but the tire seemed to be holding air well and I felt the likely need was minimal, and I worried that finding Kurt to return his pump may have been stressful and possibly fruitless.

Once I got my bike sorted (two bottles – water w/NUUN in a large one, and 500ml of Gatorade in the other), and attached my SRM, I went to find the loo. It quickly became obvious that using the loo was going to be a challenge as the queue was very long and time was getting short. I decided to get my wetsuit on and drop my morning clothes and then see if another opportunity might arise. No luck, so I knew that I likely would have to stop in T2 or soon after for a pit stop, but was not too worried about that. In hindsight, I think a pit stop right before making the journey to the resevoir may have been a better option as most people were focused on getting on the buses and the loos were probably free at T2.

That issue sorted, I made my way to the swim start, all the while looking for Angie and my family. The swim venue is a stunning place with the amazing red rock landscape all around the water. I noticed the amazing views but did not see anyone from 'Team Jack' and proceeded to enter the water as soon as we were allowed. I did not want to repeat Zurich from last year and find myself on the beach when the gun went off, so I swam out to the start line and did some warm up strokes, kicks and generally tried to get loose. Unfortunately, I was in the water for over 15min getting cold (without realising it) before the gun went off.

The Swim: At the gun, all chaos broke loose and within 400m my left goggle got kicked and then filled with water. After swimming (or trying to swim amongst all the energy, confusion and aggression) for a few more minutes I decided to stop and adjust my goggles. After doing that I tried to get into a rhythm, but found myself getting anxious, then out of breath, then had a minor panic attack and I had to stop briefly and refocus myself to sort things out. Once I did that, my breathing improved and my stroke began to feel better and better out towards the first turn.

The course was a big rectangle with the start going out on one long end, then a left turn into the rising sun, then another left back along the long tangent, before turning left after the island to the finish ramp. I felt pretty good out to the first turn with decent sighting and reasonable sensations (after settling down), but the chaos remained all around me with only a few moments of calm water. Once I turned left into the sun, sighting went away as the sun was bold and blinding. I decided to just follow the feet in front of me and hoped they were staying on course.
At the next turn, my calves seized and I had to stop and massage and curse. I was stopped for a solid 90 seconds or more and a kayak started to make its way to me, in obvious concern. Once I got my calves to relax, I tried to get into a good, smooth rhythm that would not cause another problem with my calves, but found myself getting cold. Real cold. I have never shivered in a wetsuit, nor have ever lost feeling in my arms and the long tangent back was a battle just to generate some heat and try to maintain a semblance of a decent stroke. At times, I felt good and swam with strength and comfort, but much of the time I felt like I was swimming out of control and freezing to death. Finally the last turn approached and I had a bit of elation hit me knowing that only a few more minutes had to be endured before the race really began.

T1: The swim into the finish was un-remarkable and once I hit the ramp, I noticed a lot of guys just sort of meandering along, which irked me as I knew the real slow athletes don’t race the transitions and I began to worry that my swim was a very slow one. I got my wetsuit top off ok, with only a bit of snag and then ran to a wetsuit stripper who did not do an efficient job and had to yank and grab to get the suit off my ankles. From there, I ran to my T1 bag then into the tent, where I found a teeming mass of humanity all chaotically trying to change. WTF, I thought, where was there any space for me to sit down and get changed... After jogging to one end of the tent then the other I spotted a free spot where I dropped and got to work. A helpful volunteer took my wetsuit and I just had to get my socks, shoes, spare cycling jersey, helmet and sunglasses on, which was not a fast process. Having not done a transition since last August, the movements were sloppy and in the tight space I did not have much freedom of movement.

Once out of the changing tent, I moved swiftly to my bike (found with no drama) and then out of transition with a flying mount that missed my saddle and landed on my Beaker Concepts hydration tail....oi! It did not snap or bend and I managed to climb on my saddle with no loss of moment (or at least it seemed) and was off on my 180km scenic joy ride.

The Bike: The course design was a 38km rolling stretch from the reservoir to the start of the two loops. The two loops had the majority of the climbs and potential for wind problems going up Snow Canyon or coming back into St. George on SR 18. The loops have 2 distinct climbs and a lot of less distinguishable but very noticeable climbing. This course has a bit more total climbing than Zurich, but is much slower due to the road condition differences and the prevailing winds. It is also a course that really is great to ride with excellent views, wide roads and great terrain that makes drafting less likely.

Once out on the road, I immediately felt cold and numb on the bike and started shivering like mad with my teeth chattering as if I were riding on cobblestone. I had the urge to push really hard to generate heat but kept to my plan and stayed on 220 watts. The first segment went by very quickly and I don’t remember much other than being cold and passing hundreds of other cyclists. I did not see any drafting and throughout the day the course seemed tough and big enough to prevent drafting packs from forming. For me, the real bike course started once out on old Highway 91 that heads up Snow Canyon. That road is the roughest on the course (but less rough than the roads in London, for sure!). It winds generally up and is primarily into a headwind that gets funnelled down the canyon. I felt really good on the first lap and stayed right on my number with a nicely conservative approach to the hills. It did drag on as I mentally thought I was about to hit the switchback called the ‘Wall’ at the top of the canyon, but it seemed to always be just beyond the next bend.
Before going up the ‘Wall’ there is a short, straight and steep hill that is tough, but very manageable due to its length. After getting over the ‘Wall’ I knew that the descent was not right off the bat, but had forgotten there were other climbs on SR 18 before the descent into St. George began. At about this point I started to pick up gels and more bananas. I consumed a clif bar, one gel and some Gatorade in the first hour, but my stomach felt bloated from the swim so I did not eat as much nor as quickly so it could sort itself out. In the second and third hours it felt better and I got back on track nutrition wise. Overall, I had 8 gels, 1 small Clif bar, 1 Powerbar, 2 halves of banana, and 1000ml of Gatorade, along with nearly two 20oz bottles of water w/NUUN. I carried an extra NUUN tablet in my bento box and crushed into the fresh water I picked up in the 4th hour. I drank a bit less than I would have expected, but it was very cool for the first two hours and I did not sweat much at all on the bike.

On the descent into St. George, there seemed to be a nice tail wind and I found that I could get down into a classic road descending position and really pick up speed (89kph for a top speed). I passed lots of folks this way and loved the free time being aggressive and aero provided me.

The second lap was easier by some respects as I knew the course better and did not stress about what was around the corner. As the lap went along there was some noticeable fatigue in my hamstrings and my injured calves, but only a minor amount and it did not stress me much. My self talk on the bike was positive the entire ride and I never questioned myself other than to ensure I did go too hard on the climbs. Once out of the canyon for the last time and on the final descent into T2 I allowed myself to assess the tactical situation and felt that there were probably no more than 50 guys still out in front of me with most of those being pro’s.

T2: This is a short story as I came into T2 and did a running dismount (not super smooth, left foot snagged the pedal as usual...), and then turned the corner and saw a volunteer holding my T2 bag. We ran into the tent together and he emptied my bag while I took off my shoes and helmet, then put on my trainers, visor and grabbed a gel. The only negative was that I forgot to remove my cycling top, but overall it was a blazing fast T2, one of the very fastest including the best of the pro’s.

The Run: This run is a brutal creation and beyond anything I really expected even after cycling and driving the course. It was up and down the entire time with steep pitches and almost no flat ground to be found. I came out of transition fast as usual and was immediately almost knocked off my feet by the roar from my family who were just outside T2. I blew Angie a kiss and off I went, running the first mile in around 6:45 (uphill of course). I took the liberty to stop at the first porta-loo to clear out my system, and then it was back on the course for over three hours of torture, where I noticed there were hardly any runners on the course.

My plan was to try and run a solid pace (whatever that might be considering the terrain) for the first 16-18 miles and then try to hold what I could of it until the emotion of the last mile or two took over. That plan was very difficult to follow as the hills just beat me to tar and the run quickly became a survival contest. After about 6 miles, I decided to break the race into 5-mile chunks (yes, I called them chunks). There was no rhyme or reason to the distance or name, but I figured five 5-mile chunks would get me to the last mile. It helped and I focused on finishing the second chunk from there, where I would be 40% through the chunks. I did all kinds of math to work out different ways of making the distance manageable.

After the first turn around at just under 7 miles (which is just after a sneaky detour up Pioneer Park in a winding and miserable way), I really began to wonder if the legs were going to make it as more fatigue than I expected was felt. I started to really try and motivate myself with my key phrases and thoughts of the family and friends who were out there supporting me. I knew the last couple miles back into town were downhill and then I would hopefully see Angie and my family. Before I got to the town, I ran up the other detour (bloody bastards), and the digital board (on my first trip up the detour the board had my number and note that I was in 42nd place) had my number and special message that was repeated by the announcer: ‘HTFU 1013, you were born to run!’

When I saw my family, my only thought was to shed my cycling jersey as quick as I could, and once I did that I gave Angie a slit across my throat to share my feelings at that point. I really did wonder how long the next out and back would take at my quickly faltering pace. From there, each little hill and descent were taken gently as my hip, and knees began to ache very badly. Over the last few miles, running down hill was probably slower for me due the pain in my knees. What caused my knees so much pain is a mystery and one that needs some thought and study after the race. The distance did continue to creep by and as I approached the turn around on the last out, I knew that I was almost in the last chunk and nearly home free, which gave me motivation. The course proceeded to beat that motivation out of me as miles 20-23 were my slowest by far (over 9min per mile pace...ugh!). Up to that point, I had ran through every aid station and taken coke and water (and an orange on one, and Gatorade on another), and now began to think whether I needed to get any more kcals to finish the race. I told myself that I would hit two more aid stations (between miles 23 and 25) and continue to run through them at race pace. I hit the aid stations and my emotions got the better of me as I turned onto Diagonal lane and knew the last mile was upon me. After rounding onto main, it was a blessed feeling and I gave it a huge burst to the finish, nearly catching the runner in front of me (who had 34 on his calf, but a number that placed him in my AG and he ended up finishing just ahead of me in my AG).

The finish was a blur and two volunteers were able to catch me and lower me to the ground, where they raised my legs and massaged my beat up muscles. They picked me a few minutes later and then escorted me to the medical tent where I was checked over and began to feel a bit more normal.

After the race, I went from nauseous and in misery to elated and full of excitement, but I did not want to know the results or speculate on Kona after the letdown of Zurich. My family found me and were congratulatory and very kind, and Angie and Troy really looked after me as I did not have good stability or good sensations. My time was not what I had hoped, so I was not super confident that I was in the top ten or in Kona consideration.

After sitting for a while and getting some warm dry clothes, I went to see Howard come into the finish. I was pretty miserable internally as my stomach felt like it was torn and my legs were completely weak. I was empty and quite weak overall, and all I could think about was my bed. After collecting my bike and gear (Troy & Angie handled that), we made our way home where I got a nice shower (although I nearly collapsed from exhaustion and a bit sick feelings mid-shower). A short, not super restful nap and then I got up and joined the others for some pizza, bread sticks and salad (took me 2 hours to eat a very small amount).

The next day, I was still fatigued, sorer and still very unsettled internally. I had a better appetite, but did not eat quickly nor much.

Overall Time - 10:13:25 (5th AG, 39th OA)
 Swim – 1:11:21(88th AG, 485th OA)
 T1 – 5:29
 Bike – 5:18:40 (2nd AG, 25th OA)
 T2 – 1:14
 Run – 3:36:28

Sunday, 2 May 2010

Tapering and Stress? One in the same?

I am sure many triathletes (and other endurance athletes) can attest to how stressful tapering for a big event seems to be. I am not sure if it the changes in daily training where the body and mind are used to a greater load that induce the irritation, anxiety and sometimes nausiousnous. The big event itself can’t be to blame for the stress that invades my body in the weeks prior, as I have raced in more than a hundred and fifty events over the last 15 years. The stress of training changes, excess energy from said reduction in training, travel and logistics issues that pop up all seem to be the primary cause, but often there are others such as equipment dramas that unfold at the most unfortunate time, or even a head cold that arrives just a few days before the race.

How to minimise this stress? The first thing to do, is to ensure all equipment is in top order long before the taper period begins, as that is one area that can induce more than stress (think heart attack). What else can a type ‘A’ do to keep the mind and body from going into overdrive? For me, music is very helpful, and not super calm or relaxed music, but just great tunes that bring about other thoughts and emotions outside of the race and all its demands. I also try to simplify the days prior to a race so that there aren’t melt downs when one think goes awry and impacts several other things. Taper is not really the time to pack the schedule with non training or racing related things (even though there seems to all that extra time). I try to add only things that are fairly simple and not too time consuming or demanding (a bit of DIY or work around the flat, or more time catching up with friends, etc.).

For IM St. George, my taper was going fine with no bike issues, travel complexities (the volcano situation was quite tenuous for several days...) or other major problems sprouting. The one thing that got me this time, was a head cold that hit me 8 days before the race, and proceeded to stick around right up to and through the race. I spent those 8 days intensely speculating how I managed to get infected and could almost pinpoint the moments.

How insane is that kind of obsession??...oh the joys of tapering