Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Seconds matter

Those who have read my reports in the past know I'm wordy, so this time I'm offering options of short and long versions.

Let me just say up front that "Seconds matter" is the title because they do. We triathletes do a number of silly things trying to get ourselves just a "bit" faster each race. You set goals and if you fall one second short of that goal you kill yourself about what you could've done to save that one second.

This race for me was a mixed bag of emotions and in the end, dealing with wind, sunscreen and needing to pee - a few seconds here and there made a world of difference. 

Short Version:

Took 3 months off from swimming after Ironman Louisville last August. Struggled to return to running. Gained 10 pounds from strength training and overeating and not training as much.

Took swim lessons. Got faster. 

Run finally came around. Felt awesome. Did a nice job at some local events, including a couple of podium finishes and one place from another. 

Injured my hip 3 weeks from the race in NOLA. Depression hit.

Race day came and was still hurting but not as bad. Gave it a go and was able to put together a crappy swim, a great bike and pretty good run. The hip held up well. Very sore all over as I write this but am ecstatic with the outcome.

Swim course was "M-shaped" in a harbor to deal with the rough conditions of Lake Pontchartrain. Bike course was flat, fast and windy. Run course was also flat and the first part very windy. Great course, great city. Race director to be commended.

My swim was at least 5 minutes slower than what I had expected. My pool improvements have not transferred to open water. I really did well on the bike. Averaged over 21 mph. Definitely my best half Ironman effort by far. Also had my best run in a half Ironman, even with a hurt hip. My run fitness has improved a lot over the winter. Hope I can keep getting better without getting injured.

I finished in 5:19:35. My previous best time was 5:43 in Branson. That is a significant improvement. I have to think with a fully healthy hip I could've gotten close to 5 hours, or certainly under 5:10. Anyway, I am totally pleased with this race.

Division 40-44 Place: 51/173 (29%)
Overall Place: 282/1194 (24%)
Gender Place: 240/886 (27%)

Swim - 45:52 (2:11/100 yards) [Place Overall/Div 865/123]
T1 - 3:33
Bike - 2:38:24 (21.2 mph) [Place Overall/Div 199/31]
T2 - 4:31
Run - 1:47:17 (8:12/mi) [Place Overall/Div 285/39]
  Split 1 5.7 mi 48:08 (8:27/mi)
  Split 2 8.5 mi 1:11:58 (8:28/mi)
  Split 3 13.1 mi 1:47:17 (8:12/mi)
TOTAL 5:19:35 [Place Overall/Div 282/51]

Overall, very happy. Pushed myself to the limit. Had dry heaves after the finish which has only happened when I've gone as hard as I could go, so I know I did what I could.

Long Version:

Half Ironman #4 was to be New Orleans on April 21st, 2013. After IM Louisville (Aug 2012) I took about 3 months off from swimming, but added strength training and continued cycling. I ran a bit but was having trouble with soreness. I think I started doing too much too soon after Louisville. Unfortunately, the pain was not unexpected as I'm not the most patient person.

I struggled through most of the fall and early winter getting any sort of run fitness but it started coming together in Jan/Feb timeframe. I had a couple of solid local running races, including a couple of podium finishes and one place from another. By March I was feeling great. I had lost the ~10 pounds I put on during the fall. My run fitness was the best it's been since I was in 8th grade. 

I was also taking swim lessons to improve and was improving. Things were looking good for NOLA. Were ...

On March 30th I raced in the Iron Pig duathlon. It's a 5K run/30K bike/5K run. This is a good event for me because there is no swim. I'm reasonably strong at the bike and the run and have a high tolerance for pain. Last year I won the 40+ Masters division. I had high hopes this year and delivered pretty well. 16th overall out of 214 competitors. 1st in my age group. Big problem, though. I pulled up lame during the second run. I gutted the run out but knew I was in trouble.

Since I broke my hip at age 14 and had various surgeries on it, including full replacement in 2009, I have a good sense for the feelings it gives me. This pain was not good. I knew immediately my NOLA race was in jeopardy.

Bring on the depression. It would seem silly to most non-triathletes/runners/cyclists but these races mean a lot to me personally. They don't define me but do give me a sense of accomplishment and I strive to get better and better. I was in a funk and my wife can verify that.

I spent the next three weeks doing everything I could just to be able to struggle through the run in NOLA, even if I had to walk it. I figured my swim and bike wouldn't be very impacted by this injury.

This all leads me to the race report. (taken from my report on beginnertriathlete.com - a great message board. http://www.beginnertriathlete.com/discussion/forums/thread-view.asp?tid=485531)

Pre-race routine:

Fell asleep at 9:30. Woke up at 1:30 and couldn't get back to sleep. Laid in bed until around 4:00. Ate a bagel with peanut butter and a small dark chocolate bar. Two cups of coffee. Took shuttle to the start. Driver let us off at the swim start instead of transition, so we had to walk a bit but no big deal.

Event warmup:

Nothing really. Since this was a time trial start, we couldn't get in the water. There was lots of standing around waiting. It was a bit chilly out but the wetsuit helped keep me warm. Being a poor swimmer, I'm a huge fan of the time trial start.



I've worked a lot during the training for this race on improving my swim. My pool times have gotten noticeably faster and my form much better, as I've been working with an instructor. It obviously hasn't translated to open water. Very disappointed in my time.

The cool water didn't shock me, which was good. I didn't get hit too much, and that was great. The wind was (at least felt like) a solid 10-15 mph, so the chop was noticeable. After the first turn, probably 700 yards or so, I got into a bit of a rhythm. Breathing was more relaxed. I felt like I was going probably 1:50-1:55, but I guess not.

Quite disheartening but I didn't let it bother my overall race.

What would you do differently?:

Keep working. Get more time in the wetsuit. I do have a hard time moving my arms, so maybe a change is in order. I have a sleeveless but I was afraid to use it with the temps.



There were suit strippers at this event. That was awesome. Suit was off in a few seconds. I took some time to lather on sunscreen. Decided to run in my shoes instead of attaching them to the bike. My transition position was close enough to the bike mount that it didn't justify a flying mount.

What would you do differently?:

Don't forget my spray bottle of sunscreen. Cost me a few seconds plus my hands were slick from the lotion.



I'm an above average cyclist but I don't do well against the wind. I just seem to struggle more than I should. Wind was pretty brutal on the outbound leg. Direct head and cross winds to the turn at 25 miles. I was worried how this would impact my race. Go too hard and kill my run. Go too easy and give up a lot of minutes.

At the turn, 25 miles in, I averaged 19.4. I was really very pleased with this, because I knew there was mostly tailwinds on the way back, with two exceptions where we had to go north for a couple miles each time.

I had a goal speed of 21 for the bike leg. After the turn I averaged somewhere in the neighborhood of 23.5. That brought the total to 21.2. I was extremely happy. I thought it would be tough to hit my goal time and the wind worried me. I might have been able to push a little harder but I was worrying about cramping on the run, so I'm pleased with the effort.

As an odd note. The majority of the race the race markers were slightly ahead of my Garmin on measurements. Near the end my Garmin was about .25 short of the course markers. This is common and expected with GPS units as they are not perfect. Nearing the finish they sent us on a couple of turns before coming into the dismount line. From the last mile marker to the finish my GPS went from .25 behind to .21 ahead. That is really strange. The course may or may not have been long, but for the difference to change that much in the last little bit is odd.

A bit of humor was that I needed to pee most of the bike course. I've never peed on the bike but was willing to give it a shot, because I didn't want to stop and screw up my time. I had a good gap several times, so I tried and tried but could never make it work. It's much harder than it would seem to be. I guess that bucket list item can't be checked off yet. LOL! 

What would you do differently?:

Just keep working the wind. There is plenty where I live, so I just need to suck it up and work harder.



By this time the sun was beating down. It wasn't really hot (mid 70s) but I definitely needed more sunscreen. Again, missing the spray. Took too long to apply but it had to be done. The bigger issue was having to pee. I really needed to go now. There was two porta potties near the run out. I got there and both were occupied and one person was in front of me. Took probably 90-120 seconds waiting. Really irked me but it was a necessity.

What would you do differently?:

Successfully pee on the bike.



Three weeks before this event I raced a duathlon. I won my age group but in the process of the second run I strained or otherwise injured my hip. I have an artificial hip on my right side. It was implanted in 2009. This was my fourth 70.3 and I did a 140.6 last summer (IM Louisville). I have a fairly intimate knowledge of my hip and how it reacts to pain.

When the injury occurred I knew immediately IMNOLA was at risk. I took some time totally away from running and did a lot of massaging, taking NSAIDs, epsom salt baths, etc., trying to get it to the point where I could at least finish the event. The week of the event I was able to do some short runs up to 5 miles. It felt okay but the pain and soreness was still prevalent.

My plan was to give it a go at a comfortable pace and make a judgement after a few miles on how to continue. Off the bike the legs were jello as usual. I started off way too fast, which I usually do. I was around 7:30 or so the first mile and I had to back off. I could feel cramping start to creep up. I stopped at the first aid station and stretched for a few seconds and then took off, feeling better.

That first bridge was steep and cruel. Short strides to the top helped. The next couple of climbs were significantly less steep and long but they still hurt a bit, especially with the wind coming off the lake.

I walked through each aid station and alternated Perform and water while taking SaltSticks along the way. Felt really good after the first few miles. There weren't many spectators along the course and the field was really spread out, so I just focused on getting from aid station to aid station.

By the time I got through the dog park I was over half way done. Still feeling good. Hip was not hurting but my quads were taking a beating. I just stayed within a comfortable pace, somewhere around 8:30 and kept going. I really wanted to try to break 5:30 for the race but knew if I could really keep up the pace I had a shot at 5:20.

I decided that I would pick up the pace at mile 10 and not look at my total race time until mile 12. Funny all the head games you play with yourself out there. It's lonely, hot, your tired and hurting. The ability to endure the hurt is what drives me. Embrace the suck, as some say.

At mile 12 I looked at my time and I was around 5:13. I had a shot so I gave it everything I had. I worried that I would cramp up and would end up walking. I passed several people on the way to the finish. They were slowing, walking, hurting. It motivated me that I was speeding up as they were slowing down.

As I turned the last corner I could see the crowd. A kid, I think 24 years old, passed me. I paced off him and we encouraged each other to finish strong. Right near the finish I saw my wife and got a huge boost. There is something about seeing her at a race that does incredible things for me. She cheered me on and I turned into the finish stretch into Louis Armstrong Park. Ran as hard as I could through the finish and pushed stop on my Garmin.

5:19:35. Yes! My previous best was 5:43. I knew I had it in me but didn't think my hip would hold up. Glad it did. 

What would you do differently?:

Don't screw up my A race by going too hard in the final weeks of training.

Post race

Warm down:

Got dry heaves (at least that's what it seems like). This only happens when I've given all I can give. I know I've done my best when it happens. After that subsided, I got a massage. Grabbed some pizza and red beans and rice and some Abita beer. Walked around with my wife and just enjoyed the sunshine. Then walked to Cafe Du Monde for beignets.

What limited your ability to perform faster:

Swimming is my biggest limiter. I've improved in the pool but it's not translating to the open water. I would love to try for sub-5 hour someday but it won't happen unless I can get my swim down in the 35-minute range.

Event comments:

Great overall race. The course is really awesome. Smart move by the race director to move the swim into the protected area. Bike course was one of the best I've done. It's flat and fast, sans the wind. Run course is really nice and flat and scenic. Great finish in the park.

Crowd support was minimal along the course. It's just not one conducive to spectators. The ones who were there were great. I tried to thank them all, as well as the volunteers. Best sign of the day: Ironman, ain't nobody got time for dat.

First WTC event I've done where there was only a medal at the finish. Almost always get a hat or shirt. No big deal, just odd. Food was good, although the limit of two pieces of pizza was odd. Red beans and rice and beer was excellent.

They really shut down most of the course. Police were everywhere. Really impressive. Overall a fantastic event. It was ~11 hour drive for me and I would definitely return.

Sorry for the (yet again) very long report, but I like to document my experience. I could've made it a lot longer, ha ha. Anyway, for anyone who read this, thank you very much. 

Keep calm and endure on!