Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Pioneer Sprint Triathlon race report

On April 21 I competed in the Pioneer Sprint Triathlon in Petersburg, Illinois along with several other Quincians.

This triathlon is part of the Abraham Lincoln Triathlon Series and consisted of a 300 yard pool swim, a 13 mile bike ride, and a 5k run.  This was my fifth event of similar distance.  I greatly enjoy the cycling and running.  However, I have struggled with swimming.  I am now feeling much more comfortable in the water and thus, I am improving.

I always start a race with a performance goal, frequently several.  For this race, I thought if everything went perfectly I could finish in under one hour and 6 minutes: 6 minute swim, 30 second T1, 21mph bike, 30 second T2, sub-7s 5k.  Considering this was not a priority race for me this year, I decided to take a bit of a chance.  My plan was to go as hard as possible even at the risk of bonking.  I wanted to see how far I could push my limits, or if I could find my limits.

We (I was accompanied by my lovely wife, Pat who was official photographer and my own personal cheering section) arrived early so I could register.  Abe's Mini triathlon (a beginner event) was held before the sprint so we had to arrive a bit earlier to get in and out of transition and stay out of the way of those competitors.  I enjoyed watching the race and the time waiting passed quickly.  I placed all my gear in transition, checking and rechecking, looking around at everyone else's setup to get ideas.  I had set up near the Quincy Iron Men right by the "swim in" and "run out" side of transition.  It looked good to me and I trusted those with greater experience.

Swim:  The pool was a bit chaotic even before the first swimmer leaped in.  We were supposed to get our chips and line up according to expected swim time, but we didn't get much instruction after our earlier meeting.  So, I talked to several guys near me in line and we tried to line up appropriately.  When my turn came up, I hopped in and took off.  Someone quickly overtook me during my second lap, I think.  The swim segment was mostly a blur.  I know I was passed several times.  One guy alternated between walking and swimming in front of me which was a bit frustrating.  Several times I had to slow down or move over or look up to keep from running into that guy or someone else.  The lanes were pretty narrow too which added to the challenge.  Anyway, I finished my 300 yards, exited the pool, and ran to transition.  After the race I saw that my official time was 6:03--best swim pace yet for me.  Considering the jog from the pool to transition, I most certainly was in and out of the pool in less than six minutes.  And, I wasn't completely exhausted by it.

T1:  Goggles down.  Shoes on. Helmet, glasses.  Grabbed the bike and I was off, starting my Garmin as soon as I reached the "mount" line so I could watch my average speed.  My official time was 32.5 seconds.  I probably could have been under 30 if I hadn't hopped around trying to put on my left shoe.  The above picture doesn't capture the humor of the moment unfortunately.  Otherwise, it was a pretty fast transition and I was pleased.

Bike:  The fun part!  I took off like a bullet.  I wanted to get up to speed quickly....and dry off.  It was quite chilly initially; I'm not sure if the temperature reached 60 degrees and it was windy--a cross wind on the bike route.  The first several miles were mostly flat, then we hit a few rollers.  My average speed before the hills was about 22mph.  The hills slowed me down a bit.  I passed one guy right away, then maintained my position.  The best part of being a below average swimmer is passing people on the bike segment of the race.  I generally do pretty well climbing and with my aerodynamic bike frame, I descend quickly too.  So, I caught several people in the middle section of the course.  My recovery times are great right now thanks to my winter training, so I continued to pass people when the course flattened out again.  I was going all out; I don't think I could have gone any faster.  I was actually a bit worried how I was going to perform on the run, but I was sticking to my plan.  As I neared the end, I decided to take my feet out of my shoes before I stopped moving to save a bit of time.  I was pretty sure I could do it safely.  And, it went smoothly.  My official time was 37:12 with an average speed of 21mph: goal achieved.  And, nobody passed me.  Well, anyone who did, I overtook again.

T2:  Racked the bike.  Helmet off.  Running shoes on.  Garmin on the wrist.  Go!  I struggled a bit here because my feet were numb after being wet and cold on the windy bike ride.  Official time, 33 seconds.

Run:  Starting the run with numb feet was a bit of a challenge, but I quickly found my stride.  The runners were well strung out, but I started passing people right away.  I looked at my average pace early on and saw that I was around 6:30/mile and decided to slow down a bit.  I wanted to go all out, but didn't want to get crazy.  The elevation map I saw before the race appeared to only have 2 hills, or the same one twice--it was hillier than that.  I guess there were 2 major hills, but it was an out-and-back course.  I descend pretty well and I've been doing a lot of hill repeats this year so far and it helped.  I passed people up and down both hills.  Around the half-way point we meander through a cemetery (where Ann Rutledge and Edgar Lee Masters are buried).  Here, I was passed by one guy, but I passed him descending the hill just outside of the cemetery and didn't see him again.  No one else passed me on the run.  Through this section I was able to cheer on all my fellow Quincians as we passed each other.  At the top of the last hill, I checked my pace which was somewhere under 7:00/mile and I picked up the pace a bit.  Around the half mile to go point, I dropped the hammer with the intent to empty the tank and I finished strong.  According to my Garmin, I finished at 6:48/mile, a 5k PR!

Official results: Swim 6:03; T1 0:32; Bike 37:12 (21mph); T2 0:33; Run 20:46 (6:42/mile); Total Time 1:05:07.  I was 18th overall out of 133.  7th in my age group.  7 of the top 18 finishers were aged 40 to 44 years!  Tough group.  Of course, I was very pleased with my performance.  I basically met all my goals and achieved some PRs.  It was an opportunity to practice a few things, mainly transitions, that I hadn't done since last summer.  I also learned a bit about myself: how hard I can push myself and how quickly I recover.  Overall: a top notch experience.

Bonus: we received nice cotton t-shirts at registration and a hot meal of chicken and noodles and green beans after the race.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Training Smart

Just last week I ran my fastest 5k ever at the age of 41 (21:14).  It was significantly faster than any I ran in my 20s and my previous PR was about two and a half years ago (21:45).  When I looked at my Garmin at 3.11 miles and saw my time and pace, I immediately had a big giddy grin on my face.

My winter training has been going especially well.  I am getting faster at all running distances.  My swimming and bicycling have greatly improved too.  After having an exceptional 2009 and early 2010, my performance started to decline or at least I met a plateau in progress.  I think I had been overtraining, so I sort of took 2011 off.  I did okay, still setting some PRs, but progress slowed.  Then, in late 2011, I refocused.  My recent improvements can be attributed mostly to training with purpose and listening to my body.

First, I emphasize quality over quantity.  Workouts have specific goals.  Some examples: a swim workout focusing on form or maybe just one aspect of the stroke; a bike ride with 20-minute intervals at lactate threshold to improve muscular endurance; or, running hill repeats to improve VO2max, leg strength and power.  My training regimen is designed by keeping the end goal in mind.  I first answer questions like: What metabolic systems do I need to train?  What are my weaknesses?  How much time do I have?  Next, I consult my resources, do a few calculations, and draw up a plan.  Then, it's time to get to work.  However, the training plan is always subject to appropriate modification.

Second, I pay close attention to how I feel.  If I experience abnormal pain, I address it right away.  I won't try to work through it.  If my performance declines or it takes significantly more effort to achieve the same performance, I rest.  I'll even skip workouts if I don't feel I can achieve the goal of the particular workout.  I want to continue training and racing as long as I can.  I won't sacrifice longevity for a given race or goal.  On the other hand, if I feel really good, I push the intensity.  I also monitor how I respond to my diet: what works, what doesn't, what causes distress.

My training and coaching philosophy is "train smart, not hard."  I didn't make that up, but I have no idea where I heard it first.  A fellow personal trainer is not a big fan of this motto.  He's more of a "train hard" kind of guy and training hard is important.  I just believe it is important to train appropriately hard.  An athlete can be successful just by training hard, but sometimes plateaus in progress occur that cannot just be gutted through.  That's when you need to start flexing the brain muscle.

So, that's the secret to my success (such as it is):  training smart.