Wednesday, June 17, 2009
The Perfect Effort
I can't call Eagleman the perfect race, but I think it was the perfect effort. One of the things I was concerned about going into the race was my propensity to lose focus on the run and not maintain my hardest effort all the way to the end. I feel very positive that I achieved that goal on Sunday.
Friday night as part of the CEO Challenge program we had dinner with Ritchie Cunningham (RC) and Mirinda Carfrae. They were very nice and I'll come back to this later insofar as Ritchie also did the California 70.3 and came in fourth and ended up coming in second at Eagleman. I realized as I wrote this that I actually now had a good point of reference to compare the two races. Mirinda won the woman's race. Pretty cool!
Race preparation started on Saturday with a swim in the Choptank River. It was here that I learned about the multitude of jellyfish inhabiting the river. I hate jellyfish, but I was told that they were small ones that caused a "tingle" rather than stinging a lot. I was racing tomorrow, there was no way around it, so I figured I needed to embrace this concept and get on with it. My warm up swim went fine, although I did feel a "tingle" on my lip one time during the swim. I spent part of the day hanging out with my family, which I really enjoyed. I often place myself in solitude the day before a race, but I am questioning that approach. Mentally, it was nice to have my family around.
I didn't have the best night's sleep, as the room next to ours was having their own little party. In fact, we had to call security at midnight to get them to turn the music off. They kept talking loudly well into the night. That said, I awoke before my alarm and set off to the race site. Got my transition set up and then just chilled until the start. No run or bike warm up for this race, I don't know exactly why, but I just didn't feel I needed it. I knew that I'd get 5-6 minutes of warm up time in the water before the start.
I checked my pulse sitting down and relaxing and it was 39. This was a good sign. Went into the water with my wave (we were the next to last wave) and warmed up for about 5 minutes. I lined up right at the front and had no troubles going hard and getting on some feet for drafting purposes. My effort was solid and I felt good. Fortunately, the river is so dark, you couldn't see the jellyfish. The water was 76 degrees, so certainly on the warm side. This never helps, as I'd rather swim in colder water. That said, I felt good and found someone who was going at a pace that seemed right for me. It was a pace that was neither too fast or too slow, I felt like if I pulled off his draft it would be harder. I should have realized I might have an issue, however, when he slowed down a couple of times, causing me to literally stop briefly. Half way through the swim (my heart rate monitor later showed me to have a heart rate ~ 150), he literally stopped to tread water. Now I had a decision to make. It didn't seem prudent to stop and chat, so I kept going, but the nearest swimmer ahead of me in a neon green cap (my wave), was a good 20 yards ahead. I began working to bridge the gap and catch him, which I ultimately did, but in retrospect, my HR went above 160 and my effort climbed. It was manageable, but I definitely put forth a lot more energy. It turned out, in fact, not to be worth it, because he ultimately went off course and my pre-race reconnaissance didn't pay off, as I found myself heading towards the rocks that jutted out in front of the finish area. The buoys actually directed you there, instead of around them. Something else to remember for the future. Look closely at the course the morning of the race and get your sighting down!
Nevertheless, I came out of the water in about 34:06 (at California I swam 34:09; first comparison, RC swam 24:16 at Eagleman and 22:33 at California). If felt like I'd had a good swim and in fact was 16th in my age group out of the water. My swim continues to get better! I took my time getting to and through transition, and still had a very solid transition time of 2:16. I was on the bike and quickly settled into my aero position and realized that my heart rate was 170! I felt good, my legs felt good and my breathing was fine, so I scrapped my heart rate plans and just rode as hard as I could while feeling good and comfortable. I tried to keep wattage close to 150-160, but during some stretches with a tailwind, really had trouble pushing the wattage up. It took literally an hour for my heart rate to gradually come down to 150, and my average wattage for the hour was only about 140 (ave HR=158). For the next twenty minutes I averaged about 180 watts and found that my heart rate had really settled in, averaging 150. Looking at the data I realize that I then hit a 15 minute stretch where my average wattage dipped to 112, although my HR stayed at 150 (sometimes I have to question the accuracy of the powertap). Then, finally for the last hour, I averaged closer to 175 watts. This included a 30 minute period of averaging 192 watts with an average HR=150. That's all of the technical stuff. The fun stuff was that I ended up in a group of guys that included a few people in my age group and we kept rotating the lead (without drafting, of course) for the first 2/3 of the bike. We also passed a ton of people, many of whom had no clue where to ride, side, middle, other lane(!), which made the ride a little more challenging. There was one guy, Nace Mullen, wearing his Team USA uniform who I kept exchanging places with throughout the bike (more on him later). The ride was pretty fun, very flat, winds were manageable, until the significant head winds finally arrived. Ironically, it slowed the others in my group down more than it did me. In fact Nace and I pulled ahead of everyone else. While my speed dropped, my power went up and my heart rate held steady. I was feeling fine. I don't think I could have or should have pushed any harder at this point. Nace pulled ahead of me during the last mile, but my usual quick transition got me out of T2 ahead of him. I did take an extra 10 seconds to put vaseline on my feet (I will always do that in the future, no blisters!).
My bike time was 2:36:15 (compared to 2:51:10 in California), good for 12th in my age group (only 5 minutes slower than the 4th fastest time, so very respectable. Of note, RC rode 2:15:00 in California and 2:11:14 here). Clearly, I had a big jump in my bike compared to California. In retrospect, I have to wonder if I could have given back a minute or two on the swim in order to gain 4-5 minutes on the bike. It's nitpicking in terms of time. The neat thing was my ability to give the concerted effort on the swim and the bike, although I may have backed off at times on the bike in order to recover.
So, next comes the run. This was what I'd been thinking about for the previous few days. I wasn't going allow my focus to slack off and immediately started off with a good pace. I kept my leg turnover quick, put ice in my tri shorts at the first aide station and managed a 7:38 for the first mile. This was around the time that Nace caught me, I ran with him for about 400 yards, learned his name and that this was his first 70.3, his prior distance specialty was olympic, at which he'd earned All American status in our age group as well as qualifying for Worlds. I realized that I couldn't stay with him, so I let him go ahead, but maintained my pace for mile 2 at 7:54. The next five miles were all about consistency, staying cool and keeping from getting a side stitch (which I avoided). I also was preparing myself for the turnaround, which was looking better all the time due to the headwind the majority of the way out! I averaged 8:26 pace for these five miles, but still passed a bunch of people. I hit the turnaround and immediately increased my already focused self. Somewhere along the way I started my "grunting" with each breath. It may actually scare people as I pass them:), I was determined. I kept looking ahead to the next person and tried the rubber band concept of reeling them in, and reel them in I did. My pace stayed constant and my effort got consistently more difficult. In fact, the last three miles required every ounce of mental energy I had left. I ended up averaging 8:13 for the next six miles, including 7:51 for the last mile. During the entire run, three people in my age group passed me (one of them was Nace, who ended up putting an additional nine minutes on me to finish 7th in our age group). With about two miles left, though, I saw one of the guys who had passed me and he was walking, I went by him as quickly as I could and kept my pace. The last mile was somewhat of a blur, I just wanted to get to the finish line and stop. In fact, the first thing I thought as I got to the finish line was "why do I want to do this again in 2 months?".
My run time was 1:47:51 (compared to 1:48:56 at California). RC ran 1:14:01 at California and 1:13:25 here, pretty similar). This was good for 14th best in my age group.
My final time of 5:02:44 put me 14th in my age group (out of 85) and 335th overall (out of 1540). This was a Personal Best for me by five minutes. I didn't get under 5 hours, but I gave it everything I had for the entire time. Also, I was only 10 minutes out of 6th place in my age group.
The aftermath of the race was good as well. Three slices of pizza and two cokes later, I was already getting excited about my next half ironman in two months. I was walking fine and my DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) max'd out 36 hours later and it wasn't that bad. Basically, some quad and IT soreness, general fatigue and tiredness. Today (only 3 days later), I have minimal soreness in my legs and I'm already looking forward to jumping back into training.
So, in summary, I may have been able to pace myself better in order to get a better time, but I could not have given a harder or stronger effort for the entire race. I am both excited and proud of what I did at Eagleman.