Monday, July 20, 2009

Guest Blogger - Big Rocks on RI 70.3

RI 70.3 from Big Rocks

Ironman races can bring out the best in people. We arrive at Roger Williams State Park for the swim just before 5:00 am. The sky is just beginning to lighten and the wind is really whipping. I remember as I got out of the car that if the wind was that strong here in the parking lot I wonder what the water was like. As I walked toward the beach I could see the white caps on top of four foot swells and thought that it was going to be an interesting start of the day.Spectating an Ironman event be it a full or 70.3 is a test of patience. A quality that those who know me say I sorely lack. There is always a lot of nervous energy before the race and today was no exception. Since there was a storm the night before that moved the swim buoys the race start was delayed 15 to 20 minutes while they were repositioned. So, in addition to normal race jitters, people had rough water, plus a delay and if you were unlucky enough to be seeded in the 12th swim wave, nerves were being pushed to limits. The race officials decided that since the rough water conditions were not going to change they offered an out for anyone not wanting to do the swim. If you opted out of the swim you could race a duathlon that would not count in the final standings. To the credit of the 1200+ racers there, only about 2 or 3 people elected not to swim. Maybe, they were the smart ones. I don’t know how the officials decide on the swim waves. I know you want to get the old people (slow swimmers) in the early waves so they don’t hold up the race, but deciding to seed the 18-24 year old men in the very last heat was just plain cruel. These young studs were raring to go and had to wait almost an hour to start their day. Puzzling.Surprisingly, given the rough water conditions the swim seemed to go smoothly (no pun intended). The many swim waves created a lot of open space so it appeared that untypical of an Ironman race, you had a lot of open space to swim. The waves also favorably played out during the bike portion of the race since there appeared to be less drafting and pack riding which has become the standard for most races these days, unfortunately.After Eric’s wave entered to water, Gus and I positioned ourselves near the roped off section where the swimmers exited the water. Our job for the swim was to determine how far behind Bruce Gennari, Eric would be after the swim. Given that Bruce can beat most pros at Hawaii the question was how big a hole would Eric have to dig out of after the swim. If you have ever watched hundreds of swimmers all dressed the same exiting the water you know how confusing it can get. I estimated that Bruce would be finished with the swim in 22 minutes (he did 21 so I did not see him come out of the water). The good news was that Eric had an excellent swim. The bad news was that he was almost 6 minutes behind Bruce. Six minutes in a 70.3 is a huge amount of time to make up against a top all-around competitor like Bruce.Usually, I like to hop in the car and follow the riders along the bike course but the layout of the route in RI made it difficult. The first part of the bike where the riders exited the transition was closed off to traffic. Plus if you were exiting the parking lot in a car you had to drive in an opposite direction to the bike course. Since Gus and I did not have a good map of the course, plus it was almost an hour ride by car back to the run transition in Providence we decided to head back to the transition area and catch up with Eric there.
Gus had his mountain bike with him and decided to follow the runners out on the course. Since the run was a double loop through the city it was great to keep track of the runners on the course. I waited at the bike to run transition and when I saw Bruce G. rack his bike and head out on the run I started my watch. Several minutes later Eric came in and as he exited to the run course I looked at my watch and yelled out 4 minutes. The good news is Eric had picked up two minutes on Bruce during the bike. The bad news is that he was still behind by 4 minutes. The Providence run course is probably the best place to spectate a run since the double loop goes through the city in such a way that once you figured out the short cuts you could spot your runner six or eight times during the run. Up to this point the weather was very favorable with a cloud cover. As the run started the sun broke through and it became hot and humid. I positioned myself at the bottom of the long downhill and when Bruce went by I started my timer. As Eric approached I could not believe it. He closed to within 2 minutes 20 seconds with one loop of the run to go. I decided to stay where I was and wait for both Bruce and Eric to come back from the turn-around before calling out the next time differential.The time difference between Bruce and Eric was approximately the same 2 minutes 20 seconds and both of them had that locked-in look that neither was going to give an inch. Now, I have to confess something here. I actually lied to my son! When Eric came by I yelled out “2 minutes 15 seconds”. I didn’t even know it was coming out. I felt I needed to dangle a carrot out there to keep Eric moving. As he went by it seemed to be working because appeared to pick up the pace. It was getting exciting.I ran toward the finish and positioned myself near the chute, and then realized that the race finishes by the runners turning the corner and running about ¼ mile uphill to the finish. I decided that if I could get down to the corner and if Eric was close enough to Bruce he would have a final ¼ mile to catch him.I saw Bruce coming toward me and he was looking behind him for Eric quite a bit. As he started up the final hill he kept looking behind him. I thought that too bad Eric couldn’t close the gap when all of a sudden here comes Eric like a bat out of hell within less than a minute behind Bruce. So the three of us are running up the hill and that is the way we finished. Bruce then Eric about 40 seconds behind then me telling Eric too bad the run didn’t go another mile because as Bruce knew, Eric was going to catch him.You know, I got so caught up in the race within the race that I lost focus of many of the other people out there which was fine since the Bruce/Eric duel in RI was a blast to watch. When I spectate an Ironman race I need to get involved. By that I mean that unlike some people who plant themselves in one spot and stay there drinking beer the whole day, I have to move around. I usually pick out a couple of racers to follow and find myself getting so caught up in the action and emotion of the race and the athletes that I don’t even realize where the time goes. This sport can be appreciated on so many levels and if you find yourself spectating instead of racing get involved. You will enjoy it a lot more.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

RI 70.3 part two

I think that one race spot many triathletes ignore are transitions. It’s important to have a plan and practice this plan before you race. I lost a race once in transitions. If your transitions in a ½ IM are more than two minutes, you are doing something wrong. The same if they are more than three minutes in an IM. I decided to put my shoes on in transition since I didn’t get a chance to check out the bike course. Actually, I was lazy and didn’t take the time to check out the bike course. As I always say as a coach, do as I say, not as I do. I hopped on my Cannondale and weaved quickly around the many triathletes that think they know how to mount their bikes with their shoes attached to the pedals but actually have no clue here. I got down into my aero bars, locked into my power meter, and got to it. The bike is where I have the most confidence, and I was excited to be not only in this leg, but back in a race. The first ten miles were flat and very fast with a slight tailwind. I remember thinking that I was going to be around 2 hrs for the bike because the whole bike course has to be flat, there aren’t any hills in RI. Man, was I wrong. Ten miles in, you head more inland and the rollers start. Nothing bad – in fact, I stayed aero and in the big ring throughout the whole ride. But they never let up. You were constantly going up or down. I like this type of course a lot! Starting in one of the last waves, my age group had a lot of traffic out there. Weaving through all the riders slows things a bit, but it’s equal for my true competitors which are the ones in my age division. I did not see a lot of drafting which was refreshing. My legs felt good and I focused on finding a rhythm. I think this is really important and often ignored when racing. The easier and quicker you can find a rhythm, the more relaxed you will become, allowing your physiology to do its thing.

Around 25 miles in, I got complacent. This is where the lack of racing the past two years affected me. I locked into a pace that was a bit too comfortable for a ½ IM. I stayed at this effort for way too long, and it’s easy to reevaluate now but the truth is, I stayed there thinking that if I upped it a bit more, I might blow my run. After taking last year off from racing, I was guessing again where I should be – something that’s easy to figure out from racing four or five times in a season. My wattage dropped by about 20 watts on average and I stayed here until the 40 mile mark. I then snapped out of it – it was as though someone slapped me in the face as I thought “this is a ½ IM idiot, not a full IM!” I brought the watts back up and stayed here until the last six miles of the race. The first 50 miles of this course were just great. Scenic, nice roads, rolling hills, - just great. The last six suck. As you get into Providence, the roads are all broken up and there were lots of turns. If anyone does this race next year, plan on riding a bit harder the first 50, knowing that you will have to ease up on the last six.

My plan for the ride was to hold 315 watts on the flats and stay below 400 watts on the hills. I finished with a normalized power of 327 watts, good for 2 hrs 19 minutes for the 56 miles.

All that I had to do in T2 after racking my bike was remove my helmet and slip on my running shoes and I was gone. As I ran out of T2, my dad was yelled out “four minutes!” I knew that this was how far behind Bruce I was. I had only made up two minutes which for a second bummed out, and then I shouted back to Big Rocks “I’m going to get him!” My legs felt ok, but my breathing was excessive for the first ¾ of a mile, almost as though I was hyperventilating. I slowed, trying to gain control, knowing that I was going to hit the big hill very soon. This hill is long and steep, and you have to do it twice. I kept my stride shortened on the hill and tried to stay relaxed and not feel too much “burn” in the legs. Cresting the top, you have a slight downhill and roll through an aid station where I grabbed some sponges, than some water, then some coke. The first three miles, I was stuck in the same conservative wussy mode that I got caught up in during the middle of the bike. Again, I was over thinking it, telling myself to relax too much because I was concerned about blowing up. Then again, again, at the three mile mark, I felt the imaginative slap and thought “this is a race damn it!” I saw Gus who was on his mountain bike and asked him to get some splits on my competitors. About four miles in, my legs felt good, my breathing was controlled, and I was running. I was pissed with myself at this time for being “lazy” in the first three miles, but then reminded myself that I couldn’t change what’s done and the race is still going. There is a lot of self talk during a race – at least for me. The run was two out and back loops, and I was looking for Bruce on the other side of the road returning. You’d think at 6’3” he’d be easy to spot, but I couldn’t see him anywhere.

Around the five mile mark, I remember catching a team psycho member with a 60 on his calf (His age group left in the third wave). About 20 meters in front of him there was a guy with a 61 on his calf. I said to the team psycho guy “you’re running well, pace off of that guy” pointing to his competition just ahead. He replied “I’m gonna pass that fucker!” I laughed and moved on. My quads didn’t feel that bad on the downhill back and I thought that I didn’t work it enough. About a ½ mile from the end of loop one, I saw my dad again and he yelled “2 minutes 20 seconds!” I was closing in, yet I still couldn’t see him coming back the other way? I hit the turn and began loop two and Big Rocks yelled “2 minutes 15 seconds”. He later told me that during this mile, from mile 6 to mile 7, I actually didn’t make up any time on Bruce, yet he wanted to keep me positive. Good stuff!

The hill was crowded now with athletes on their first loop. I’d guess maybe 80% of the field walked up this hill. I continued on hitting every other aid station with water and coke, and using wet sponges to douse myself with at every aid station. Around mile 10, I upped the pace thinking that there was only a 5K left, most of it downhill, and don’t leave anything on the course. Two pros locked on my heels as I passed them and stayed there for a mile before I know longer heard the slapping of their soggy shoes. I smiled, tasting a small bit of pride here. Its fun and funny thinking back about the small little defeats and victories we go through during a race. At the 11 mile mark, Gus told me Bruce was 90 seconds ahead. I pushed a bit harder. As I ran up the hill in the last mile to the state capital building, I finally got a glance of Bruce, less than a minute ahead. He turned around immediately after crossing the finish line and gave me the man hug as I crossed. He told me that he was hiding behind all the other athletes on the course when he was near the turnarounds so that I wouldn’t see him – a really smart strategy. Big Rocks was there and said “if you had one more mile…” I cut him off saying “yeah, but it’s a 13.1 mile run, not a 14.1 mile run.” Bruce deserved this win – he raced great. I was proud of my race with the exception of the middle portion of the bike and the first three miles of the run. I did however negative split my run in a big way.

I was nervous before the race and that’s a good thing. That tells me that racing still means something to me. That I still desire the competition. I don’t take for granted how fortunate I am to have found this passion, or the fact that I have a bit of ability. It felt great to be back on a starting line.

And I’m going back to Kona.

For those considering this race for next year, I'd highly recommend it! I thought it was a great, honest course, and extremely well organized.

After getting my Kona slot, we blew out of Providence skipping the awards to get a jump on the traffic. On Tuesday, I was working on my computer and the ups truck delivered a package which my son intercepted. He opened it up and was showing his friend Will the trophy I had won. I eavesdropped on them, proudly listening to Ryan brag about my race day to his friend. Will said with enthusiasm to Ryan, “Wow! He’s really fast!... Especially for an old guy!”



Monday, July 13, 2009

My RI race, part 1 (not that I want to drag this out...)

...but it was getting lengthy and I'm done for the day.

Triathlon is pretty simple. The gun goes off, you swim, change quickly, bike, change quickly, then run. I don’t know what it is about this simplistic sport that draws me in so much. I’ve pondered this over and over, searching, and maybe even creating some reason. The bottom line is that I love it, simple as that, simple as the sport is. Maybe I’m just simple?

The skinny: I had a big breakfast. I swam 27 something, biked 2:19 something, ran 1:26 something for a 4:16 w/ transitions. I drank my calories on the bike and used water and coke on the run. I loved the course. The race was very well organized. I didn’t think there were any hills in Rhode Island. My Nineteen wetsuit felt great, My Cannondale Slice was amazing, I saw really well through my Oakleys, and the hammer nutrition products were just right. After a year off, it was great to be back on the starting line. I’m going back to race Kona.

If you don’t want to hear any of my personal emotions on this day, then you can stop reading now. Once again, this blog is my personal journal and I want to mark down some things to remember this day.

The last time I raced was Clearwater in 2007. I did the Lake Warmaug sprint and the NYC marathon in 2008 – both great and different races, but they were more spontaneous fun than setting a goal, training specifically, going through the process. I enjoy the process of training towards a goal. So as I drove up to Rhode Island Saturday morning, Big Rocks riding shotgun, I thought about the fact that I’ve had a lot of downtime. I wondered if I had lost that edge.

One thing I knew is that I was going up to this race for a reason – to get a Kona slot. I last raced in Hawaii in 2006. In 2007, I went out to the race to work it for MyAthlete. I remember standing on Palani Hill as the athletes ran by, thinking “man, am I glad I’m not racing this year!” I went back out last year to work it once again for MyAthlete, and standing on Palani Hill, watching the athletes run by, I thought “fuck, I wish I was racing!”. I had the itch again, but also new my priorities in life are way different now. The thing is, I also feel I could race well on limited training. I wouldn’t want to go there if I couldn’t race it. I have no desire to do an Ironman just to cross the finish line. That’s a great goal for your first IM. So I sat down with Lisa and asked what she thought about going back to Hawaii in 2009 if I qualified. I still recall her response clearly of “you better qualify bitch!”.

This Spring has been very busy. I have the tendency to burn the candle a bit too often and found myself run down and sick through a good portion of June. My training for RI wasn’t optimal by any means, yet I still had the sense that I could put it together, and I had confidence in getting a Kona slot. Not cockiness, but confidence. I think that if your goal is to get a slot for Hawaii, you have to show up at the qualifier confident that the slot is yours, and yours to lose. If you go there thinking “I hope I get a slot” then you don’t stand a good chance. Just my opinion, but hope doesn’t show signs of confidence. “Hope” is what you do when something is out of your control.

OK, back to the race. My manager (my dad) and I had a nice day on Saturday. We got up to Providence early, got all the registration and pre race BS done, had some good meals, … Not much relaxing time and it seemed like we walked a ton, but it’s a gift to have the opportunity as an adult to do things like this with your father and I don’t take it for granted. I ran into Bruce Gennari from Nashville in front of our hotel. Bruce is an amazing athlete, a hell of a nice guy, and who I thought would be my biggest competition in my age group on Sunday. Bruce is an amazing swimmer. He’s been first out of the water in Kona overall before in 46 minutes and he can ride and run as well. In fact, he’s been the overall national triathlon champ before. Bruce and I have been racing each other for a long time now. Having a competitor like this certainly brings out the best in you, and our race on Sunday wouldn’t disappoint.

Sunday wake up call was at 3:15am. We had to be in Narraganset for bike check in before 5am. Gus came up to spectate and joined us for the trip to the swim start. It was great having him here as well. It’s always cool to have good energy around pre race. Gus has a little race coming up in two weeks that he’s primed for and I think that being up at this race may give him the extra bit of motivation he needs to have that exceptional day. I ran into a bunch of familiar faces at the swim start including some of my athletes. The wind was really blowing and the water was extremely choppy, leaving most that I ran into very nervous. Most except for Bruce G. who was hoping for tough swim conditions so he could capitalize even more on his strength.

My age group was the 12th wave, going off 50 minutes after the mail pro’s begun. Not the best situation but what are you gonna do? I lined up direct center in the front of my wave start right next to Bruce. The swells looked huge! A friend in my wave spotted me and asked what I’m doing here racing. I asked what he meant? He said “I thought you weren’t racing much nowadays?” I replied “they got some Hawaii slots at this race and I’m getting the itch again.” Bruce mentioned that he wasn’t going for a slot, but I still was racing for first regardless. Then, quickly, the gun fired and we charged into the surf. I ran in through some breaks and watched as most to my sides hit it and began stroking. I continued to take a few dolphin dives since it was shallow and gained a body length on everyone. It was short lived though as Bruce came by. I thought “get on his toes and hold for as long as possible” which lasted for all of five seconds – and that’s being generous. Soon, very soon, he disappeared into the huge surf. I was still all alone out there. No contact from other competitors which is always nice. The ocean was rough though – maybe the roughest open water race swim I’ve ever been in. You’d be sitting high on top of a wave, and then drop deep into the swell before crashing into the next wave. This lasted the whole way out. There was another swimmer swimming parallel to me on the way out. I put in some stronger efforts and he stayed right next to me. I could see I wasn’t going to pull ahead, so instead, I actually dropped back behind him. The pace felt easy although each time I tried to break around him, it felt tough. So I stayed relaxed and let him set the pace. Coming back into shore, if you timed it right, you would get a nice push form the incoming rollers. The rhythm of these rollers was not consistent however. Anyways. After getting tossed around and drinking a lot of salt water, I ended up on shore in 27 minutes. Not bad considering I swam eight times since last October. But pathetic considering Bruce put 6 minutes into me in the swim. Six freakin minutes!!! He had the fastest swim of the day swimming 21 minutes!!! I had my work cut out for me for the next two legs…

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Sport and Rec

Sport, and the recreation that we pursue, be it as children or adults, is a great indicator towards our true personality. Some things can certainly change throughout time, as some stay the same. For example, I hate to lose, always have. I didn't grow until I was a freshman in college and was insecure. Combine that with a late start into athletics and I thought I was always a below average athlete. Once I grew and became smarter and realized that I had some ability, my insecurities disappeared and my confidence grew. Sport taught me how to get along with others. How to adjust and adapt socially. It taught me discipline and how to set and achieve goals. I have learned so much threw sport and recreation that have molded the person I am today. But if you want an accelerated course in learning a person, whether they are timid or bold, adventurous or safe, fun or boring, honest or bullshitters, spend a day training with them. It's something more business people and people getting involved in relationships should do.



Sunday, July 05, 2009

Busy times...

Or just not in the blogging mood. Actually a combination of the two. It was a beautiful weekend, I'm feeling healthy, the Tour has begun, ... Life is good.

A bit late now for the remaining LP recap. Let's just say that the camp was challenging, hard, and fun. We rode a lot, we ran a lot, we swam a lot, and we laughed a lot. All the things that a camp should be.

I need to get back on track with this stupid blog this week. because it's been a great personal journal for me and I should be recording some of the stuff that's been taking place as of late.