Monday, October 26, 2009

Big Kahuna 1/2 Ironman - Unfinished Business

Let's cut to the chase shall we?

1) I didn't complete a 1/2 ironman yesterday


2) I bonked

DNF you say? Not so quick. I finished the event and I got my medal. I finished slowly, and painfully, but I finished. I just didn't start it.

(cut to 4:30 AM, race day)

Up with the first alarm, didn't need the second. As usual, there was enough chaos in the bedroom to keep me from that perfect pre-race sleep: a restless dog, a sleepwalking child. But I slept well enough. I stumble into the hallway, into the bathroom, and find that the restless dog was restless for a reason. He had peed on the bathroom floor, which he does very rarely (and credit to him for using the bathroom right?). So, race day is off to an inauspicious start, I'm cleaning the bathroom floor while my coffee brews. And sadly for you readers, that isn't the last tale of an improvised bathroom that you'll read about today, but I digress.

I enjoy my banana, bagel with PB&J, and coffee, and soon enough I'm in the car for the drive over to Santa Cruz. Everything goes well at the transition area, I have a decent spot, I set up the gear I think I'll need, I get my body-markings, and I start to pull on the wet-suit. I head to the beach with 45 minutes to spare, and begin the search for friends, no easy task when everyone is in a wet-suit and cap.

Eventually I hook up with a few familiar faces: Monique, Russ, Pat, and we catch up on our recent activities as we wait for the race to start. Monique is regularly reaching the podium in her age group triathlons, Pat became an Ironman this year in Idaho, and Russ is keeping his calendar full with 4AM workouts and races. I share my Death Ride stories and am met with disbelief when I tell them of the 50+ MPH descents: I guess going that fast downhill is hard to imagine on a tri-bike. We continue to wait for the start.

And we wait.

Well, apparently the race officials don't feel safe getting the race underway, what with all the fog and the risk of losing a few swimmers, so after an hour of standing on the beach they officially cancel the swim leg, and the race gets started from the "swim out" area. The triathlon has quickly become a duathlon. I don't think any of us feel relieved at this point, and for me it just means I'm not going to complete a half-ironman. I'll be coming up just a mile short, but not just any mile...

My inner competitor knows this is not ideal, since my friends are faster on the bike and my only hope of beating them is to leave the water first and hold them off. But heck, this is just a race against the clock right? Bragging rights don't matter do they?

So the race starts and we run from the beach to transition and get started on the bike. I have actually been pretty anxious about the bike leg. When I pre-rode the course a month ago, it took me 3 hours 15 minutes, which seemed at least 15 minutes too long, so I was curious how the race day environment would affect the ride. thankfully, it's positive. I ride to the turnaround in a quick time of ~1:24 and am surprised to be so far ahead of my last pace. 20MPH average, nice! Russ and Pat are up the road, as expected, as is Monique who started with an earlier group. I learn later that Russ and Pat finish the bike a full nine minutes in front of me - I start building a mental case for buying a tri-bike next year.

On the return trip I get slower as I progress, and I assume I am losing power from a quick start. It's a little discouraging to get passed by so many in the last 10 miles and I'm blaming my training as I get off the bike, but I do a quick check of my wheel and realize my rear brake has been rubbing. Doh! Hard to say what this cost me, a few minutes a few calories, whatever. It was fine when the ride started and I think I may have knocked my wheel out of alignment with about 15 miles to go.

And now to the run. I get off the bike and feel some cramping immediately, but it seems manageable. I start conservatively and settle into a mid-to-low 8 minutes/mile pace about 4 miles into the run, hoping that I can keep this up and start pushing after mile 7 or 8. Alas, my stomach has other ideas.

I had fueled as much as possible on the bike, and apparently I had over-fueled. There's a lot of "stuff" sloshing around in there, and I am feeling more and more nauseous with every step. I slow and eventually walk to try to let the feeling pass, however it doesn't help. I still feel some hope at mile 7, having passed the half-way point at about 55 minutes, so I decide to skip the porta-potty and gut it out, but with another half mile it becomes clear to me that something's gonna have to give. I look desperately for the next aid station, but with nothing in site it's clear I'll have to improvise - time for what Phil Liggett tastefully terms a "natural break", in some well covered bushes separating the course from the artichoke fields.

I'm less nauseous now, but I'm heading into full bonk territory unable to take in any more nutrition, so the last few miles are a painful death march. It's a very frustrating feeling for me, knowing that I can't test my fitness and resolve at the end of this race, have missed any time goals I set out, and have to suck it up. But I've watched enough of those Ironman Kona recaps to understand that I must respect the race and bring it home, knowing that the karma points may come back sometime down the road. Plus there are no taxis in sight. So I keep moving, half walking half jogging. Russ catches me at mile twelve (I'd passed him at mile 5 on the run) and we silently push each other to keep running to the end (he is "one big cramp" at this point he tells me). The Big Kahuna race ends cruelly, with a half mile run on the beach to the finishing chute.

Justine is there at the finish and I'm happy to see her, but pretty wrecked, frustrated and disappointed too, so I spend the next few minutes stumbling around, saying nothing, pounding some sports drink, acting emotional, but I slowly start to feel reasonable again. I had hoped that with the walk-run pace at the end my legs would feel OK, but they're in bad shape as well.

Final stats:
Bike: 2:54
Run: 2:20
Transition 1: NA
Transition 2: really?

So there it is. A bad race, they happen. I'm doing some post-mortem and I think I have a handle on some of the major issues/mistakes I made: basically, I treated each leg as a discrete event, eating as I normally would on a bike ride, and expecting to eat as I normally would on a run. What I came to realize though is that you can eat plenty on the bike, but if you come off with a fairly full stomach you'll not be able to finish the food absorption while running. Duh! Ironically, by eating too much, I blocked absorption and ran out of fuel halfway through the run (or more accurately, the fuel ran out of me...).

The last time I had a bad race was Big Sur Marathon in 2006, and I wallowed for awhile, but no time for that this year. I signed up for Cal International Marathon in December, and have to crank out a few long runs between now and then. Once that's done, I'll figure out the plan to recover my bruised ego and solve this triathlon distance. For now though I'll dwell on a good bike ride and the good feeling I had in my legs for a short while before things went south.

As always, thanks for your indulgence.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

on the eve of big kahuna

It's been a long week of waiting and wondering what I'm in for. It's been a year + since my last triathlon, and I've never gone this distance, so suffice it to say I'm a little anxious. My general feeling is that I'm gonna be fine in the water, and I've trained adequately for the run, so I'll need to get through the bike portion fast enough but without too much energy depletion. The basic plan is to swim at about 75%, go out easy on the bike, hope for a tail wind, and then ease into the run, see how I feel, and work hard the final 6 miles.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Race Day Lessons Learned - The Marathon

Several of the "RunDisk" group are running their first 26.2 this weekend. This is an exciting event for me since I've been running with this group for the last couple of years and have seen first hand the progress from a few lunch time five milers every week to toeing the starting line of 26.2. Wish I could be there but I have my own event to deal with. Best of luck guys! I wanted to pass along a few tips that I've garnered from the races I've done:

Race Week: Rest and relaxation is the key this week. Eat well but don't overeat. Prioritize sleep over low-value activities like watching TV, cleaning the kitchen, checking the kids homework (wait, scratch that one... check the homework). Remember, BEER IS NOT A HYDRATING BEVERAGE. Those of us who partake (we know who we are ;)) should hold off until Sunday afternoon.

Mental Aspects: If you're like me you will feel a little sluggish and have some doubts about your race prep. You're worrying that this taper is costing you some fitness. Don't sweat it, you've put the work in, you're fine. You may lose a trace of fitness, but you'll gain a lot of form - your legs will be fresh for the race. "You're fit enough, you're fast enough, and gosh darn it you're gonna do great." My best practice for countering this feeling is ...

Final Week Running: Don't run a lot of miles this week - 50% of normal max. but do go ahead and do a few miles (2 or 3 on Tuesday/Thursday) at a good pace. You'll notice the effects of rest combined with months of training. It helps calm the doubts and it's good for the legs. Don't overdo it of course, but don't underdo it either.

Race Weekend: Friday night is the night that matters, sleep wise. Eat some protein for dinner, and get to bed at a reasonable time. Odds are you will not sleep Saturday night. Carbs for dinner on Saturday are always good, but do what you've been doing. Just make sure you are hydrating, and drink some sports drink during the day. Get your gear together before Friday if possible: pick out your shoes, socks, shirt, nutrition, etc. and get it organized. One less thing to keep you awake Friday night...

Race Day: It's gonna be chilly on race morning. Bring a throw-away shirt that you can run in for a little while. I actually take a pair of my wife's thick hose (knee-high) cut the ends off, and turn them into disposable arm-warmers. Those worked great at the Napa Valley Marathon. Don't overdress, don't wear a jacket, any extra clothing besides your shirt and shorts should be DISPOSABLE .Put band-aids or body glide on your nipples, don't be this guy. I use body glide on my inner thighs as well to eliminate "chub-rub". Vaseline works for this too.

The Race: Have a plan, and stick to it. For first-timers you can be aggressive or conservative, just know that the more aggressive your first 15 miles, the more you'll suffer in the last 6. There are a lot of water stops, but it's harder to hydrate appropriately than it seems. Make sure to get a full cup of sports drink at least at each water stop. A lot of times I'll find myself drinking maybe 4 ounces every 2 or 3 miles, which really isn't enough. Walk through the first few stops if necessary.... my eating plan is to eat one GU just prior to the start, one GU after 45 minutes, and one every 30 minutes thereafter.

Mistakes I've Made:

1) Spicy noodles and a micro-brew the night before the Big Sur Marathon. Nuff said, I think I spent 20 minutes in the porta-potties that day and had my slowest day ever

2) Spending Energy on non-running related activities: OK, so this was New York Marathon, and there were so many people I couldn't resist giving high-fives to as many as I could. I probably ran an extra half-mile that day. IMPORTANT: run the inside of every turn. Marathon courses are measure from the inside of each turn, so run as close to the curb as possible to minimize your distance.

3) Starting too fast: Truth be told, this wasn't necessarily a mistake. At CIM in 1999 I ran the second half 8 minutes slower than the first, and I still PR'd. But those last few miles were painful!

4) Listening to my body in the final 6 miles: when you're on the doorstep of the finish line, you have to stop feeling the pain and just push through to the end, unless you're legitimately injured. Everybody feels it at the end of the race, but that's where the race is made.

5) Stressing: The marathon is a big deal, but you guys are ready for it. Pain is temporary, the medal lasts forever.

Post Race: Don't forget, what you do Sunday after the race helps determine how you feel the following week. 2 words, ice bath. Suck it up, you just finished a marathon. Eat right after the race, and make sure you eat some protein within the first hour.