Sunday, October 17, 2010

Two Days, Two Podiums!

Hot on the heels of yesterday's team triathlon, I went back to Dark Mountain for the duathlon. It's never advertised with exact lengths, and that's because they seem to like to mix it up. Last year it was a 4.5 mile run, then 10 mile mountain bike, then a 2 mile run. This year the first two were the same, but the run at the end was changed to just over THREE miles. Oh man, I wasn't really happy about that. What's worse was last year's course was all trail and mostly a mile of up and then a mile of down. This year we had to go straight back up the dam (for the second time on the run, and once on the bike) and go do maybe a mile of trail, and then it was all road back. So it was more road than trail, which was my major beef. My knees don't care for the hard stuff!

Anyway, on to the race report. The first leg I needed to make sure I didn't do what I did yesterday and start too hard and get my heart rate too high. So I played it safe and ran to the bottom of the hill and then walked up. That put me last of the men and right beside the last lady. Then I took it easy getting going across the dam and got warmed up good before even trying to move much. Seemed to get warm fast, and reeled in Matt. We pretty much stayed together for the first three-fourths of the run, and at that point he stretched his legs out and pulled away by nearly a minute, I'd guess. For some reason, even though I felt like I kept the heart rate reasonable, I was pretty slow. I thought I was slower than least year, but it turns out I was pretty similar in time based on the data from last year's run leg. Even that had me bummed because I thought I'd be much better than last year. But last year I was fresh off a paddle, not a day removed from a really hard mountain bike ride.

I should mention here that I originally planned to carry a water bottle on this run, but opted at the last minute for a small Camelbak instead. That kept my hands free to more easily consume some Gu Chomps near the end of the run, as well as a salt supplement. I felt like I had plenty of fluids and proper nutrition this morning (including Gu Chomps a little while before the start and a salt supplement then, too). Then my plan was to swap to my bigger Camelbak for the ride that also has tools and spare parts in it, and after that leg to go on the TWO mile run with nothing. I didn't even think about the fluid situation with the change to a THREE mile race once I figured that out.

Even though Matt got to the first transition well ahead of me, I caught him here and we headed out together on the bike. Even more strange was another competitor beat me by even more and only left transition about a minute ahead. Matt and I stayed together up and across the dam and around the Welcome Center building, but I started pulling away on the singletrack. We did have to pass a LOT of runners from the running races that started after our race, but that trail is nice and wide, so that wasn't a problem. I doubt the runners cared for it, but I only had to slow for one and that was more my fault than her. But once we got out of that trail and out back on to the road, I never saw Matt again.

Then I headed up into the actual Dark Mountain trails, and not far in I had a very annoying reality hit me. Cramping calves. It was at the 2.5 mile mark according to my GPS, which was just about the same place this happened last year. I thought last year was because I forgot my salt supplements and didn't hydrate well enough, but apparently that's not entirely the case. It may be that no amount of salt or water was going to get me back in shape at this point in my training after that kind of ride yesterday, or it could be that I shouldn't have had quite so much sweet tea (and thus caffeine) yesterday. Or likely both. It's just strange that it happened at an almost identical place in the bike as last year with the exact same run before it (though last year I did also have a 3 mile paddle before the run, too).

Anyway, what I know is that the calf cramping was SEVERE at first. Mostly in the lower areas of the calf, and on both sides just depending on when I needed to put larger amounts of power into the pedals to climb. It was so bad at first that it seemed worse than I remembered last year, and I was seriously considering just quitting (about a mile from where this started the trail takes you back VERY close to the staging and start areas, so quitting would have been VERY easy). But as I worked on my breathing and consumed more water (yeah, I know, it's too late for that, but what the heck), it did seem to get better. I did have to walk a couple climbs (briskly, of course), which also helped stretch things out. By the time I got near the staging area I decided I might as well continue on as it seemed to subside to very tolerable levels. I'm really happy that's the way things went, because I really don't like the idea of quitting something I start. It's really gotta hurt.

So I continued on but with what seemed like fairly reduced climbing capability over yesterday. But I thought to check my power average, which I can easily get on my GPS, and found I wasn't down that much over yesterday. Hmmph, might as well lock in and get the most out of the fast sections of the trail since by now I'm really familiar with it, too. Next thing I know, I see a rider ahead of me occasionally. There's probably nothing better than a rabbit to chase when you haven't had one, so this was good. It was the guy I had seen in transition. Turns out he was climbing worse than me, so that's where I was seeing him mostly. But once we got toward the end and things started going downhill, I lost track of him again. He was on a full suspension bike and me a hardtail, though, so this all makes sense. He was losing power to his suspension while climbing, but could really rock the bumpy downhill.

I came out of the woods and headed around the field and into transition again. My rabbit was still in there, and it hit me that my legs still felt HORRIBLE and more water for this longer run would be nice. Fortunately I still had water left from the first run, so I swapped back to that Camelbak (along with all the other stuff to swap), and headed out with my rabbit-friend. We both walked up the big hill, then he took off and put a 10 yard or so gap on me across the dam. That gap would ebb and flow, but ultimately stay about the same as we ran the trail out with both of us walking some of the up-hills. My calves didn't mind the running, but my quads felt like big lumps of goo bouncing around and threatening cramping themselves. I think they were just so built up with lactic acid that it felt like they were going to cramp, but they never did.

Anyway, as we got to the end of the trail section (with a long stretch of pavement still remaining to finish the race), he stopped at the water station only to find no water left. That wasted most of the gap he had, but we hit the road with him having about a five yard gap that he turned into a ten yard gap and then a twenty yard gap. I figured this was his push to the finish. Hmm. Wait, I have that capability, too! Okay, so I turn up the speed a little, and notice I'm reeling him in SLOWLY. I also watched the road nicely to "shortcut" the large right hand curve a bit while he ran the entire outside. Every little bit counts. Then as we got to the dam I decided that it was time to open it up a bit more. Strangely, at that point he stopped to hug some lady that was running the other way (perhaps part of one of the other races going on that day? I don't know) and stopped as I got near telling her he had to go because he was hoping to stay in front of "that guy." He was smiling and cool about it, but I think he thought this was going to be no problem for him.

Yeah, that didn't exactly work out. At this point I was really into a much better pace, better than he had been in that entire leg. So as I went by he just exclaimed "well, so much for that last goal I had...good luck!" At this point I could hear my family, friends, and kids all yelling for me from down below the dam, and the kids were making their way up the dam to greet me. I was thinking at this point that I had probably started going fast WAY too early. There was no way I could maintain. But I just figured I needed to maintain it to the hill and then go down the hill quickly. Alan offered to let me toss my Camelbak to him, which I gladly accepted. I still had a HUGE distance to cover around the big field before the finish. I kept that pace pretty well around the "track", as they call it, but on the final straight to the finish I couldn't help popping a smile and really stretching out into a reasonable sprint. It wasn't a great sprint, but it was a very strong finish for me at that point. I was completely toasted, roasted, and composted.

But damn, it felt really good.

As I write this, I have my knees propped up and am reclined on the couch. It's been several hours and yet I'm still totally stoked. I don't exactly know why, either. Maybe it's that things went wrong, somewhat horribly wrong, and yet I kept working and figured out how to make it work. Maybe things weren't as horribly wrong as they felt right then, I don't know, but it seemed bad. And somehow I ran nearly 8 miles today with a 10 mile mountain bike in the middle, and I pushed it really hard and got everything out of my body that it had to give. And for that I was rewarded with the endorphins. And they feel good. I can't wait to do this race again and be even better.

Oh, the podium? Yeah, it wasn't so impressive. I was third in the under-40 group, but there were plenty of over-40 folks that beat me, and at most there were five in my group, and maybe only four. I beat Matt, but he just wasn't in the kind of shape this event requires and had severe cramping for much of the race. Kudos to him for pushing through what were MUCH more significant cramps than what I had. Alan totally crushed me today...that's the payback I deserved for my "fast for an old guy" comment yesterday. He's just plain fast, never mind being an old guy! I was just under three minutes slower on my bike ride today than yesterday. That still put me a few minutes faster than last year. Alan, however, did the bike leg in a very impressive 54 minutes, some 13 minutes faster than me today! That is basically the same gap we had last year, too. Amazing work.

Unfortunately Miles had to bug out due to some family issues, but both Michael and Ken beat me fairly handily, too. No idea about their times, but Alan did beat them. I think everyone had a good time, though. We need more races like this around!

For the folks interested in data, this is the bike leg and the run leg from the triathlon last year. This is the first run, bike leg, and second run from the duathlon this year. The first run and bike course were the same as the triathlon this year and last year. Sorry if this is somewhat incoherent...I'm kind of wiped out right now.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Podium Finish!

So today my buddies, Alan Bocko and Matt Kimel, and myself competed in our first relay triathlon, the Dark Mountain Challenge. It's a three mile paddle, then a four and a half mile run, then about a ten mile mountain bike. Matt did the paddle, Alan the run, then I finished with the bike. The quick summary is that we finished second out of the team relay racers, which was probably only five or six teams. The winning team was about twenty full minutes ahead of us (1:56 to our 2:16), but they had a very serious paddler who beat us by maybe three or four minutes there, and then ONE guy did the run and bike, but he's a professional rider that is sponsored by Specialized. They were smoking in all phases. We did beat our other three buddies, Miles Pfeifer (paddle), Ken Riley (run), and Michael Cobb (bike). We had about seven minutes on them in the paddle, kept that interval on the run, and then Michael closed the interval by about two minutes on me. So they were about a 2:21. They finished third.

The backstory is that we did this race last year, but all three of us as individuals (our entire team, and Michael also did it along with some other friends who didn't make the trip this year). Matt showed he was really strong in the paddle by being fifth out of the water (overall) last year in what wasn't a very fast boat. Before that race I had purchased an 18' "surf-ski", which is a Hawaiian sit-on-top kayak that's really fast but really unstable. Just got a killer deal on Craigslist. The problem was it was so unstable when I tried it out that I opted for something a little more sane (long story there, but that boat kind of stunk for other reasons). But in the time in since, we learned that the surf-ski actually is a boat that can be mastered, with the big key being it's much more stable at speed, just not going slow or stopped. Fortunately we don't want to go slow or stop during the race, so Matt worked on it for a few weeks and got the thing down nice. And it is fast. They handicap boats for this race, but even with the extra handicap over the boat he paddled last year, Matt was three minutes faster (maybe more, I forget) this year. He paddled the three miles in 31:30, but with the seven minute handicap we were at a 38:30 for his leg. With some technique work Matt feels like he can shave a few minutes off this time, still.

Alan is fresh off a pretty bad achilles injury, so while he's still plenty fast, he was just a little off his time from last year at about 33:30. That's for about 4.5 miles of singletrack trail in an area that's very hilly and at a little bit of elevation. Still very fast for an old guy. And he'll get faster again.

My bike leg of the triathlon last year on this same course was 1:12, so I really wanted to beat that badly this year, especially since last year I had paddled three miles and run 4.5 before getting on the bike. This year I was fresh. I thought that was in major jeopardy, however, as I started out too hard. See, there's this HUGE hill you have to climb right when you get on the bike to go over the Kerr Scott Reservoir dam, and I went too hard there and didn't ease up enough to get my heart rate in check going across it. Then I realized it when I got in the first section of singletrack (about two miles worth) and STILL couldn't manage to get it back. After that, well, there's just so much up and down in succession that it just kind of sucked for most of the race. So my climbing really suffered.

To make matters worse, the Garmin GPS watch I have is pretty good most of the time at collecting data, but occasionally can be off by up to 20% of the total distance you've ACTUALLY covered. So around 30 minutes in I was just getting to four miles on the GPS. What? This is bad. It's a 10 mile course. I'm thinking this heart rate thing has me going slow. Wait, I'm not going slow. I'm going fast, just not as fast as I want to be going. And I remember "data can be wrong." So I just keep working with my breathing and trying to keep the heart rate in check and keep pushing. Then riders start passing me. Two or three guys and one girl! And let me tell you, she went by me like I was standing still. Fortunately all of those folks were doing the race as individuals, but yes, that means we got beat by a few individuals. That doesn't just mean they were in better shape than our entire TEAM, that means they overcame that part and transition time, since they had to do shoe changes and gearing up that we didn't have to do. Ugh. So now I'm worried again that I'm REALLY slow and the data isn't wrong. Shoot!

But after those folks went by (in fairly quick succession, thinking back), I never heard or saw anyone else. My biggest fear was that I had inherited a ten minute lead on Michael and would blow it all. But I know all I can do is ride my race. Trying to be Superman won't do anything but make it worse, so I keep breathing and churning. Turns out I actually only inherited a seven minute lead, and much to my surprise, I ultimately only lost two minutes or so of it! This is very good, I think. I finished in just under 1:05, with basically a 1:12 last year. So while I felt bad for most of my leg, I did beat it pretty significantly. And I think I could do much better, which is a good feeling, too, even if I didn't pull it off today. For reference, last year Michael beat me by six full minutes on the bike leg. This year he was about three minutes faster.

How will I fix this error for tomorrow? TOMORROW?!? Oh yeah, tomorrow there is a duathlon at the same location. Most of us from today are doing that race as individuals (there's no team option anyway). It's the same 4.5 mile run, followed by the same 10 mile mountain bike, followed by ANOTHER two mile run. Yeah, big fun. I'm looking at tomorrow's race as not a race at all. It's a training session that I must finish and just want to finish strong. Only it will have a starter's gun and a big group starting with me. Then I'll throw all that out the window for the two mile run at the end since I'll be in survival mode at that point anyway. (I'm sure my coach, Sage Rountree, will love that last comment!)

Here's a link to data from today, along with data from last year. Couple things of note...last year's data has this at almost ten full miles, this year only eight. Yet the course was almost identical. Last year I went 42MPH down the big paved hill, this year it's showing 47MPH. That's not possible, especially since I had to brake and swerve around a stupid pickup truck who decided to take his half out of the middle before I got to the bottom. That probably cost me 10 seconds of time, too, as the uphill on the other side was a LOT more pedaling than I've had to do in previous attempts. I am using a different GPS this year than last, but both are Garmin devices. The same watch that I used last year had me at 43.5MPH on that same hill a few weeks ago, and that's without a truck trying to kill me.

Also of note is that this year I have a power meter on my bike. I put out an average of 268W for this entire ride according to Garmin Connect, which is around 40W higher than my training averages. That's a pretty significant percentage and I'm very happy with that. But it means I could probably train harder, too. *cough* (And for reference, the Power Meter is a separate device from the GPS and the data so far has appeared to be much more trustworthy. It does get logged by my GPS, but it's made by a different company and is actually a physical device in the crankset.)

The final word for those of you still awake after all this is to thank my coach, Sage. This weekend is going so much better thanks to her help. She's only been working with me right at a month, but I can feel a ton of improvement that simply wouldn't have happened without her. I can't wait to see what we can do in the coming months!