Wednesday, May 04, 2011

First race of the year - part 1

After taking 2010 off from racing, I am motivated and anxious to get back to toeing the line, and chose my first race to be a course that I have raced twice, and both times, this course beat me down. My first time racing here was not so much racing but, as dramatic as it sounds, more about surviving. It was in 2001 and after over-heating early on in the race and becoming severely dehydrated; i was pulled off the course by the medical team, still with 6.5 miles to go. The second time racing on this course in 2002, I finished but it was ugly - and i certainly wasn't racing, but instead just trying to finish. Lisa planted the thought in my mind that I could leave this race alone now - I had crossed the finish line regardless of my time. I never bought this though and in my mind, I had always planned on going back at least once more. It’s like a young kid who stands up to a bully and gets his ass kicked, then attempts to take on this bully once more and even though he may land a few weak punches the second time around, he still gets his ass kicked. Well I'm that kid, and St. Croix is the bully. The first time fighting this bully, I didn't respect him. Maybe in my mind, because i had fought the world champion of bullies well, I became a bit arrogant and let my guard down thinking I would breeze through this fight which was "only" half the distance? - Hence came ass whooping number one. Then, the second time around, I clearly remember thinking that I just had a bad day last time. I didn't make many adjustments training wise, and experienced my second beat down. I went back nine years later for round three, and this time, I prepared as well as I could while still being involved with my family and running my business - I mention this because the biggest unknown factor was how would I handle the heat. I have lived in Connecticut my whole life and we were coming off our most severe winter yet. Without being able to escape to a warm and humid environment to train, I knew that acclimating to the severe temperature and humidity would be the biggest challenge. I have greatly studied the science of trying to acclimate in a cold climate for a hot weather race, and I have come to the conclusion over research and years of trial and error, that the best way to be ready for the weather is to be as fit as you can possibly be. Yeah, sounds obvious, but what I mean is that overdressing for training, saunas, bikram yoga, sodium loading - these methods work minimally. The only real way to get acclimated is to spend a couple of weeks in the environment you are trying to acclimate to. Since this wasn't possible for me, my approach was to be fit to the point where I could pace a bit easier so that my heart rate was more controlled, my physiology could function easier, and yet I'd still be competitive and "racing".

I can tell already this is going to be a lengthy write-up, and so I'll keep the details on my training preparation for this race minimal. St. Croix is unlike any other 1/2 Ironman I have competed in. This swim is typically choppy, the bike course has constant hills; rollers along with steep ones like the infamous Beast at mile 20 were the gradient reaches 21%. The last 20 miles are always undulating and typically extremely windy as well. The course is also very technical - if you aren't solid at handling your bike, you can crash easily or lose a lot of time. Oh, and the road conditions are terrible. There are potholes everywhere and the road make up is chip and seal. The run is two loops consisting of road and trails and also constantly rolls. Throw in the heat and humidity and you have a 1/2 Ironman that is typically 30 minutes slower than most, and feels more like racing a 3/4 Ironman. Since my Tucson training camp, I had two key cycling sessions each week; a harder 75 to 90 minute computrainer session done in ergo mode with the majority of this being at a wattage greater than what I planned to race at. The other ride was a three hour session done outdoors where I dragged my training partner Kenny O. up every hill within a 40 mile radius of my house at an effort again that was slightly higher than my goal race effort. To accommodate the bad weather and roads in Connecticut coming off our winter, I did most of these three hour rides on my 29'er mountain bike, converted with a road saddle and road pedals. My other few rides each week were on the ct, done in ergo mode or on a created course with some quality, but mainly just aerobic conditioning. Every session had specific cadence work. I did two brick runs per week, along with a tempo or interval run and a 90 minute to two hour run with some tempo or progression in it as well. I strength trained, and managed to get in seven swim sessions.

Lisa and I booked our trip to arrive in St. Croix on Friday, with the race being Sunday. I have found that if you cannot get out to a hot and humid race venue at least a week beforehand to acclimate, you are better off going out right beforehand. Going out three or four days prior is the worst case. Same goes for racing at altitude. Besides seasonal allergies that I was expecting, my taper was going well and as planned and I felt solid. However, the Thursday before the race, I missed all my training due to a busy work schedule, last minute packing, and spending time with the kids. Then, due to a mechanical issue with the plane, we were stuck in Miami an extra three hours and I missed all my training on Friday as well. No worries though as race week taper is just about staying loose and conserving energy, not expending it. Save it for race day.
While waiting in Miami for the connecting flight to St. Croix, more and more triathletes
became present. It can be quite hard spotting triathletes. Look for the emaciated, hairless people wearing compression socks, a finishers t-shirt from a big race or some sort of sponsor gear to let you know they are sponsored while you are waiting at the airport, and completed w/ a pair of racing sunglasses perched atop their noggins, even though it may be raining out or 10pm.

My bike arrived with our flight, which is a major concern for this race. The next morning, I met Jeff Molson outside of our rooms at the Buccaneer and we ran two easy loops of the run part of the course that takes place on the resort premises. I forgot how beautiful this course actually is. The green golf course contrasts with the white-ish, soft sand of the beach coves and turquoise waters of the Caribbean. Palm trees are interspersed throughout and even though it is hot and humid along the resort route, you get an ocean salty breeze that just makes you want to lay in a hammock with a rum punch. Lisa and I then hung out at the resort beach with the soon to be newlyweds Gus and Jen, and I took a nice swim in the ocean. I was relaxed, which was odd considering it typically takes me a few days to unwind. Perhaps I’m getting a bit more complacent? Not according to Lisa.

I put my bike together in the afternoon, and went through registration which was a piece of cake. This race is so low key, compared to all the other WTC races. It definitely embodies the Caribbean relaxed attitude. I loved it – it had the grass roots feel of races of old. We had a light dinner and I crashed around 9:30pm.
At 1am though, I was up! And pre-race nerves hit me with a one two for the first time. I reminded myself that this was good – that this meant that the race meant something to me. I also reiterated the fact that I couldn’t dwell on my two experiences here, for if I did, I’d race in fear and more than likely blow up. “You can do this; it’s just another ½ IM and you are prepared well for it!” I drifted off again at some point, only shortly before my 4:15am alarm sounded. Lisa slept right through it. In fact, I had to wake her up to tell her I was leaving. Jeff and I rode our bikes the 2.5 miles to the race start. It was pitch black out and hard to see, which made the ride kind of fun.

OK, I’ll get into the race tomorrow.



1 comment:

Christi said...

I am on the edge of my seat...