Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Know your limits... and then change them.

I didn't post after my race in Florida, mostly because I didn't have a lot to say after my lackluster performance. I evaluated the day again and again, but didn't come to any satisfactory conclusions. I was a little tired going in, but felt great race morning. I pushed hard on the bike to catch the chase group, but was unable to bridge and probably overextended myself. The run became a jog to finish, and the trip was an expensive training day and lesson. I did get to spend the weekend with fellow pros Amy and Brandon Marsh, driving through the Disney city of Orlando, so it was good to catch up and watch them have good races. Looking back now, I probably should have saved my energy for something else, but it was good to learn that even I can have a bad race. One bad race.

Fast forward to this past weekend in Durango. An easier week of training left me feeling pretty fresh and ready for a big weekend of intensity. The Iron Horse Bicycle Classic is one of the oldest and most respected road races around, and I was riding for my local team, Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory. The ride is a brutal test of climbing prowess, so I knew from the beginning it would be a game of limiting my losses. I worked early on to help chase a breakaway, got dropped on the first climb, regained contact before the first major pass of almost 11,000 ft., and then got dropped again. In the end, I was happy to best my goal time and finish with a strong group. We were lucky to have dry roads and good racing conditions, and it's always fun to be part of such a legendary event. My parents also rode in the tour, and finished in very respectable times.

The second event of the weekend was the Narrow Gauge ten miler, which is another challenging event with significant hills and plenty of altitude. I took out an early lead and ended up just short of my sub 1 hour goal, coming in first in 1:00:19. Since the last 1.5 miles are straight downhill to the finish on concrete, I was suffering the next morning when I woke up to finish off the Narrow Horse triathlon with the 1500 meter pool swim.

My plan was to just wrap up the overall with a cruisy swim before the afternoon time trial, but I ended up going decently fast. It felt smooth, and my 19:04 was good enough to set a new course record for the stage race triathlon. I ate a little food, put the race wheels on the TT bike, and headed out to do battle with the pro men in the 13.7 mile time trial on east animas. I could still feel the effects of the running race, but I gritted my teeth through the whole ride, trying to hold my watts and save a little for the punchy climb at the end of the ride. I caught my 1:30 man on the last climb and knew I had a good ride. I was a fair bit back from overall winner Ben Kneller, but my time slotted me into third overall, ahead of several pros. I really feel like my position is better after a little tweaking, and it showed during the all-out effort. There is no secret that time trialing is a fine balance between power and position.

The past two weeks have been a good reminder to listen to my body, and to know when to draw the line and get some rest. Sometimes it's more mental than physical, and I think the trip to Florida was an indicator that I needed a small break to clear my head. It's only late May, but I've already racked up over 11 events when I include my running races and cycling events. That said, recognizing that I needed some rest helped me to come into the weekend of races at home with a fresh outlook, allowing me to push my limits even further before the next big race in Boise. Life is good, and getting better.

Monday, May 11, 2009

May Days

A heads up to all readers/followers, you can now follow my blog on: http://www.i-am-specialized.com This site is a collection of updates for several of the Specialized riders in a myriad of sports, including triathlon, road cycling, XC and downhill MTB, and motorsports. I'll be posting my updates there, along with some video and photos once I've put them together.

I'm through with another solid week of training in preparation for Ironman Florida 70.3. The weather has turned to absolute perfection here in Durango recently, so I've been nailing the bike and getting out on the trails every day. It's the perfect time of year when temperatures aren't too hot, everything is green, the river is running high, and the scents of freshly mown grass and cookouts dominate the evening air.

Ironman Florida 70.3 wasn't originally on my schedule, as I had planned to return to Memphis in May and battle it out for the top spots at a shorter distance event (and eat some quality barbecue), but I changed the arrangements a couple weeks ago. My coach and I have been discussing the need to expose myself to demanding conditions that mimic Hawaii as much as possible, so the season campaign consists of several races that historically have hot and humid weather. So far I have done New Orleans, then I'll go down to Florida this weekend, race in Lubbock in late June, and possibly hit Cancun in September if I don't end up going out to Hawaii a little early. I'll be experimenting with nutrition, race strategy, and taking special notice of how my body reacts to the extra stressors. Based on my career results, I race better in heat than cold, but I'll need to make sure I get the nutrition right after my debut Ironman stomach issues.

I'm finally back to firing on all cylinders, fully recovered from the virus that knocked me out for a couple weeks, so I'm chomping at the bit to get out and race to my potential. Look for me to get in the mix at Ironman Florida. This week won't see a major reduction in either volume or intensity until Friday, but I'm feeling fit and ready to go. Keep your eye on www.ironman.com for the live race coverage and look for my race report following the event. Until then, get out and ride your bike!

Monday, May 4, 2009

9th Place Wildflower

Just arrived back in Durango last night after another epic driving mission through the Mojave desert to Wildflower and back. It was a short vacation, but I try to make the trip each year to do battle with the top pros on a challenging course. It's tough to beat the atmosphere that surrounds the race, with thousands of people camping, racing, spectating, selling triathlon equipment, and just generally creating a woodstock-esque environment. I heard that projections for the total number of people in the park for the weekend would reach 35,000, so it ranks as one of the largest events out there, and the venue is easily one of the most scenic.

I got in Thursday evening, did a short jog to stretch out the legs, and then went to bed early. Friday started out with perfect weather, and we rode a little over an hour, bricked a short run, and then went down to the expo to check out vendors, meet with sponsors, and do a short swim. By the time we wrapped up the swim, rain was falling steadily, and it didn't let up until some time early Saturday morning. At the pro meeting, race director Terry Davis noted that we would have to dismount our bikes around mile 42 to run across a metal bridge if the rain kept falling, so we all hoped for a change in the weather patterns.

Race morning showed perfect weather for a fast day, and I felt surprising good even though my build for the race was interrupted by a nasty virus. The field was absolutely STACKED, with something close to 60 pro men toeing the line for the 8 a.m. start. I started second row so I could "surf" everyone's wake for the first part of the swim, and by the time I hit the first turn buoy at 200 meters, I hadn't worked too hard and stayed near a lead group. Of course Andy Potts was going full gas off the front, but I could tell I was in a good spot and just kept fighting for good feet through the first half of the swim. I've been working hard on my closing 500m strength in these swims, so I knuckled down when things got strung out a little and stayed on the nearest feet. Arriving in T1, I saw the likes of Chris Lieto and some other good swimmers that I rarely see that early in a race, so I kept my transition smooth and rolled out in contact with some of the big hitters. At the top of the first big climb I was with Matt Lieto, Chris Lieto, Jordan Rapp, James Cotter, and several others. I knew it was going to be a bit of a gun show on the bike, so I just rode steady and watched to make sure my stagger was legal. By mile 25, things began to string out a bit more, and I decided that I didn't have the legs to follow Rapp and Lieto as they pulled ahead. Looking back now, I probably should have gone anyway, because they made contact with the leaders around mile 35, which included Terrenzo, Eneko, and Potts. I still felt like I was riding solid though, with Matt Lieto, Romaine Guillaume, and another athlete all rolling along for the last miles.

Into T2 we were down considerably on Bjorn Andersson, but I took off at a steady pace to reel in some of the men out front. By the first real climbs I had caught one, and been passed by Romain, who hung in front by about 100m. Around mile 6 or 7 we both caught and passed a fading Fraser Cartmell, and then I began to chase Romain down, finally catching him at the turnaround at mile 10. I hit the gas on the uphill, forming a small gap, and stayed on it through the top of the hill, gaining about a minute in those 2 miles. I let the legs go on the descent of Lynch hill, and crossed the line well clear in 9th, with a total time of 4:12:14.

Reflecting on my performance now, it's a little bittersweet. I came out to race against one of the most competitive fields I have seen in my short pro career, finishing 9th behind names like Potts, Llanos, Colucci, Bell, Bozzone, Gambles, Lieto, and bested a huge number of others. I swam faster than I have, maybe ever, and ran solidly on a very tough course. The one part that irks me is that I am easily fitter than any other year, and didn't have the bike legs to match my split last year (2:18:52) in good conditions. I lost close to 4:30 on the bike this year, and I can't say where it went, although I know my form could have been a little better without being sick for two weeks beforehand. I really wanted to go sub 4:10, and my final time was well above last year's effort of 4:10:52. In the end, I was in the money against a very competitive field, I learned a ton, and had a good time at one of my favorite races. Next up, Ironman Florida 70.3 in Orlando in two weeks. Look for me to remedy the bike and get in the mix once more against some top pros.