Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Kona Diary 2016. Presented by MATCHSPORTS.

© Nils Nilsen 2015

Part 1
Introduction. Recap of Week 6. Preview of Week 5. 

N.B: Joel & I count down to race week, which we call "Week 0." So Week 6 starts seven weeks out from race day.

Rather than doing a big retrospective right before the race, which never seems to work out very well (e.g. "The Road to The Woodlands"), I thought I'd try just doing something a bit more regular - and more informal - leading into the race in Kona this year. My goal is to write at least once a week, recapping the prior week and looking ahead to the next week. If I can, I will try to write more. I'm aiming to cover a mishmash of topics - training, recovery, nutrition, family life, equipment choices, and just general musings. If there are any specific questions, just fire them at me via the contact form here or on social media, and I'll do my best to incorporate them.

Quick note regarding the whole, "Presented by MATCHSPORTS" tagline. As I alluded to in my post on the Matchrider, this is one of the hardest products to advocate for because it's not something that I use on race day. And it's not even something I can bring with me to a race. It's strictly a training tool, which makes it largely invisible in many ways. But the MATCHSPORTS crew have been incredible supporters of mine, and I wanted to find a way to give a little extra exposure to thank them in this small way. If it strikes your fancy, and you're looking for the best indoor riding experience on the planet, check out the Matchrider, which is shipping now. Thanks.

Last week, I did absolutely nothing after the race in Tremblant. In the past, I've experimented with a bunch of different approaches. I never do very much, but if I have another race "soon" after an Ironman, I started trying to something most days as soon as possible. Usually just very short and very easy swims. Back when my schedule for the year seemed to workout more or less how I planned, I always took a full week off after an Ironman. Last year, after Tremblant, I took the "keep moving" approach. But I found it was a real drag to get myself to the pool, and it didn't actually seem to make much difference - physically - once I resumed training, but it did make a difference - mentally - in a negative way. It didn't really seem to affect my recovery at all, but I found that the mental energy it took to go swim when I was really tired made it harder to bounce back. So this year, even when I had another race impending, I took a week totally off after Cairns and again after Tremblant this year. After a couple days of getting back into it, I haven't noticed much difference at all in terms of training - it still feels like I did an Ironman a week ago, though after 20 Ironman finishes, I certainly recover faster than after two of them, but I definitely feel much better mentally. 

This week is still pretty light, hitting 17-18hrs of training. This week and next week will be about getting back into the swing of things, then the goal is to have two solid, specific preparation weeks, and then two weeks of taper. Six weeks, with a solid foundation under me, seems pretty close to ideal. I know that I can make some pretty serious gains in two weeks and - at the same time - it's pretty hard for me to totally detonate myself. I know I'm generally pretty fit; I showed that in Tremblant. So I feel like two weeks will be great for sharpening up and putting some of the snap in my legs for Kona that I felt was missing in Tremblant. 

Two of my key benchmarks are:
- how well I am sleeping
- how eager I am to get out of bed and start training

Both of these totally subjective benchmarks have served me much more reliably than HRV, RHR, or any other "objective" marker I've found. And, right now, both of them are very good. As is my motivation to write and share. We'll see how these things track over the next four weeks as well... 

It's my goal to not have any of these be epically long reads and to simply share with greater frequency. So with that short - for me anyway - introduction, thanks for joining me on this journey to my fourth Kona. I've made a new label "Kona 2016" that I'll be using for these posts as well so if you want to re-read, just click the label link in the footer to see them all (once there's more than just this one anyway...).

Friday, August 26, 2016

A Good Plan Executed

© Kevin Mackinnon 2016

Ironman Mont-Tremblant
Mont-Tremblant, QC, Canada ★ 2016.08.21

A good plan violently executed now is better than a perfect plan executed next week. - George S. Patton

Just prior to the race, I read Mara Abbott's recap of her race in Rio. After leading for most of the day in a courageous solo breakaway, Abbott was reeled in with 300m to go and ultimately finished 4th. She's a phenomenal bike rider, but she may be an even better author. The key passage that resonated the most with me in what she wrote was when she talked about how she had truly had her perfect race.
Would you rather have some excuse or rationale for a race outcome: Sick last week, got a flat tire, missed a feed, had to sneeze when the winning attack went, or even just that you lost your nerve that day when it got really hard (yes, this happens). With that, you can forever clasp onto the worrystone-mantra of “I could have won, if only…?”

Or, would you rather honestly know you had ridden a race to the very best of your strength and ability, know there was nothing else you could have done and have that be…not…quite…enough?
This is a powerful message. After some bad luck had given me plenty of excuses in my races starting with Kona 2015 (broken saddle), then Ironman Texas 2016 (stomach flu), and finally Ironman Cairns 2016 (flat tire), I was mostly just looking for a clean race. While the weather failed to cooperate (again...), everyone had to deal with the same very wet conditions. I did not suffer any more than anyone else in the wet. And I may have even suffered less now that I'm becoming quite practiced at racing in the rain! grumblegrumble...


Ultimately, due to simple physics and physiology, cool and wet days are better days to run fast as opposed to a hot humid day where it's better ride fast, but the conditions are still the conditions. Having conditions that do suit your strengths is certainly good luck, but it's hard to really think that having normal conditions - and thunderstorms in the Northeast are certainly normal in August - that just happen not to suit your strengths is bad luck by any means. On the luck front, given that I was able to get from start to finish without anything unexpected happening to me, I'll say that luck was on my side for this one. 

And I made no mistakes. In Arizona, where it was cool and wet, I shorted myself on calories. But after letting my nutrition slip a bit, I once again think it's a strong suit. I used the same plan as in Ironman Cairns:
  • Breakfast: Largely unchanged in the past 8 years, it's Laughing Giraffe snackaroons, a banana, First Endurance Ultragen with almond milks, and Envirokidz rice cereal bars to net just over 1000 calories.
  • T1: EFS Liquid Shot Flask, trying to get most of it down, so call it 250-300 calories.
  • Bike: 2x550mL bottles on bike of EFS PRO at 9 scoops (360cal) each. Plus another 2 identical bottles in special needs. Then water and gatorade as desired on course. So call it 1600-1800cal on the bike. 
  • Run: EFS Liquid Shot Flask plus coke/gatorade/redbull (as much as I can grab) at every aid station. How many calories? "Enough."
This is quite similar to what I used to do, and I think it's sound. Not sure why I ever changed it, except that I'm an idiot. Nothing I'd change here in terms of planning or execution. 

The swim, despite being quite slow, was actually a very good swim for me. It was non-wetsuit, it was pretty rough in the second half, I managed to close quite a few gaps that opened during various points in the swim, and my relative time to both the leaders (3:20 down) and various female pros was quite solid. It may have taken me 58:59 to swim 3.8km, but it was a strong swim. 

On the bike, I'd say this was likely one of my very best rides ever. Not just in terms of output, where I rode stronger than last year, but also in terms of pacing/execution and on the mental side. When it started to rain, I certainly had some moments of panic. The Tremblant course is not particularly technical, but it does have some fast descents, some narrow choke points, and some winding roads, all of which become more complex in the rain. After some brake issues and the flat in Cairns in the wet and of course my panic attack in Monterrey 2015 in the back of my mind, I had some moments of real mental struggle when it started to really pour. After steadily making time on the leaders for the first 90 minutes, I lost quite a bit of time on the descents and corners on the first lap. I had pulled to within 2:40 but then slipped as far back as 6min by the time I started the second lap. And it's all because I rode my brakes hard. I like my brakes very, very much when it is raining. And I did adjust them a bit on the snug side this time after checking the weather, so they were very effective at slowing me down. Maybe too effective...

Heading out on the second lap - and the less technical part of the course, I was able to pull myself together. I was able to get back into a solid rhythm and - with a strong headwind on the return leg, I was able to execute a very solid ride. I think this was probably the most evenly paced Ironman ride I've ever done (link to Strava file). As a comparison with last year, I rode the Duplessis climb 1% harder than my first trip up Duplessis in 2015, but I rode the second time up almost 4% harder than in 2015. I even managed to set a ridiculous top speed that I think is my highest ever - 88.6kph/55mph (that was BEFORE it started raining though...). 

Out onto the run, I didn't have quite the same pop as last year, which I think was due to being more "generally" fit than "specifically" fit for this race because of how the year has played out, but I still managed a very even run, hanging very steady until the very end when it became clear that Chris Leiferman was not going to blow to pieces in his first ever Ironman...


Ultimately, there was absolutely nothing that I'd change (except for winning) or that I think I could have done better on the day (except for winning). I gave it everything I had on the day and someone else - though one someone, not someones - was just better. I have no excuses. I raced to the very best of my ability and it was just not quite enough. This time... Unlike an Olympian, I only have to wait seven weeks to race again, and I only had to wait a year to have another crack at Kona after last year's mishap.

I think this was one of my five best Ironman race performances ever. Better than last year in Tremblant in spite of the result. Better than Ironman Arizona 2009. Not as good as Canada 2009 (1st), Texas 2012 (2nd), Canada 2011 (3rd), NYC 2012 (4th). Just based on the similarities - topographically speaking and, at least most of the time, weather-wise, I think an 8:30 for me in these conditions in Tremblant makes me feel confident that I can go 8:25 or so in Kona in six weeks. Tremblant has a VERY long T1 (but T2 is a bit shorter than Kona, so there's maybe a minute here) and the swim this year was relatively very slow (though Kona last year was slow too, only two minutes faster). But really, I think my time in Tremblant is a good predictor of my time in Kona. 

8:25-8:27 would have put me in a position to fight for 6-10 last year. And for 9-10 in 2014 and 2013, fighting for the podium(!) in 2012, 10th in 2011 (when Crowie set the course record), and pretty consistently either fighting for 6-8 or 8-10 depending on whether or not it's a slow year (conditions that favor me) or a fast year (conditions that don't). This is because I tend to be much more consistent than other folks despite the weather/conditions. Sure, I slow down, just like everyone else does, when it's brutally hot, I just seem to slow down less. And likewise, I speed up, just like everyone else does, when conditions are fast, I just seem to speed up less. Fortunately, Kona is relatively consistent - it's always hot, humid, windy, and (mostly) dry, all of which means it is relatively slow. Much more so than most other courses. This is just the nature of the tradewinds on the islands. Hilo is wet. Kona is dry. Hawaii is hot and humid. The Pacific is windy. I also know that I still have speed to gain. Tremblant was a good plan, and I executed it promptly. But it's been a rather up-and-down year. And I'm glad to have six weeks - which really is quite a long time - to put some specific preparation (but not too much) in place for Hawaii. Last year, I wondered if I could even be as fast in Kona as I was in Tremblant. This year, I know I can be faster.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Gratitude

© Eric Wynn 2016

Ironman Cairns
Cairns, QLD, Australia ★ 2016.06.12

I'll warn you in advance, there's a lot of hokey I-can-be-self-empowered-because-I'm-rich guru-ism in this interview done by "The Genius Network" (certainly are humble, aren't they...) of Peter Diamantis (founder of the XPrize) and Tony Robbins. I certainly do not "love" marketing, even though I will certainly admit that my role as a sponsored athlete certainly falls under that umbrella quite often. So with that caveat... There's also a lot of truth to what they are saying. Tony Robbins is one of those guys where it's easy to focus on all the reasons why he's, well, insert any pejorative adjective you like in here rather than on focusing on the content of what he says. This is common these days. Focus on the messenger rather than the message. There's a lot of interesting and thought provoking stuff out there, sometimes in the unlikeliest of places. This is the either the problem or the foundation with most mainstream religions, depending on your perspective. A lot of the tenets are pretty basic advice about how to treat other people. Anyway, I digress... My point is, if you love Tony Robbins, I think you'll enjoy the interview. If you hate Tony Robbins, just imagine that someone else is speaking.

I listened to this interview - which my lovely wife found and sent to me - the night before the race. One of the key points Tony made, which I agree with, is that people are most often in a negative state (of mind) because they are either/both angry or/and afraid. And Tony's solution to this is gratitude. Because it's impossible to be angry if you are grateful. And it's also pretty hard to be fearful if you are grateful.

I had a lot of fear during the race. And a fair bit of anger too. But my solution to this, since I didn't really have anything to lose by trying it, was to try to be grateful. The fear came early, thanks to the roughest swim I've ever been a part of. Rougher, even (in my opinion anyway), than Melbourne in 2013 when they shortened the swim to 1500m. I was sure that - as in Melbourne - I was going to have a disastrous swim. And it certainly seemed that way while I was swimming. Despite my best intentions and my sincere efforts to just focus on turnover and staying on feet, I lost everyone I aspired to swim with by the time I got hit by the second wave breaking on the swim out to the first turn buoy. I swam alone and exhausted, barely believing I was making any forward progress except that, somehow, the buoys seemed to be getting closer. The first non-Australian out of the water was about 5min down from the overall leader, so there's some sense that my biggest problem going into this swim was simply not being born Australian. Or, likely, Californian. Rough water swimming is not a skill that is easily developed, especially later in life. You either grow up swimming in surf or you don't. I did not. And while I live close to the ocean now, there's a balance of priorities that I need to maintain in training. Kona is a deep water start in Kailua Bay. Even when it's "rough," it's not really rough like this. I was better in rough water when I lived in Penticton, where the constant wind can really chop up the lake, and I would venture out for practice because of that, but I lived 400m from the beach, and that made it a sensible time investment. Regardless, I was never a great rough water swimmer, and I'm barely even good now. And, given that during the 9 days leading into the race that I was in Cairns the ocean was like glass, I neither saw a need to practice in rough conditions nor, really, even had a chance to. The ocean was like a giant pool for the better part of every day. Except race day.

Somehow, by the time I exited onto the beach in Palm Cove, I had managed to lose less time per meter than I did in Melbourne, though there was a good group of guys that in most any other race I will swim right with that came out about 4min ahead of me. But in addition to thinking about just keeping my arms moving, sighting regularly because you only could see the buoys randomly depending on how the swells were, I tried to be grateful. "I'm super grateful for the chance to get sea sick during a swim, to swim by myself, to lose 20min just in the swim, and to hate this..." Oh wait, that's not gratitude. Though I did have quite a few moments like that. But I also had some moments of, "It's pretty awesome that I get to be out here racing again, and it's still a long day where anything can happen." I was pretty well spent after that swim, and had a pretty slow transition just trying to find my legs, which were quite wobbly, before setting out on my bike, unenthusiastically, in the rain.

I think most people who read my ramblings with any sort of regularity will know that I hate riding in the rain. Really, I hate racing in the rain. I don't so much dislike riding when it's wet. It's the need to ride fast when it's wet. My self-preservation instincts are very high. And they are much higher after my accident. And much higher as a father of three kids. I am extremely cautious in the rain, and extreme caution and very fast cycling do not exactly mesh well. I'm sure this is what led to my first stop of the day, about 25mi into the bike, where my brakes that have grabbed fine the day before the race no longer did much more than modulate my speed; I could no longer actually stop, just slow down and not even that well. I tried - seriously - adjust my brakes while riding, though I quickly realized this was a sure fire way to crash. Like most TT bikes these days, there's no simple barrel adjuster to tighten the brakes. So I had to stop. Thankfully, unlike some setups, there's no complete disassembly of the bike required to adjust the brakes; just the need to insert a 2.5mm hex key (which the multi-tool I carry with me has) into the lever handle to adjust the master cylinder plunger. Up until this point, I wasn't killing it on the bike, as that swim also tired me out a lot more than a normal 2.4mi swim does, but I also wasn't losing much time. And I had planned to be patient anyway, as the Cairns course finishes with a long 40mi into a straight headwind. So you need to be strong at the end. But it certainly was deflating (insert foreshadowing music here...) to have to stop for 50sec to tune my brakes. In the future, I suppose I'd tighten my brakes in the morning if it was raining, but at the same time, I certainly wasn't "on the edge" with regards to stopping power in the week leading up to the race, and I changed nothing.

Once I was able to stop, I also felt better about being able to go, and I managed to chip away at many of the riders in front of me, most of whom had - in typical pro Ironman fashion - gone out harder than was sustainable. There are a lot of reasons for this, and I typically do it too. My goal is simply to fade less than everyone else. But I certainly fade if you compare the beginning of my races to the end. But here, because of the tough swim, I actually thought I might really negative split (by power) on the bike. And then, coming down the descent from the high point on the course, the scenic Rex Lookout, at just under 54mi (85km) into the race, I heard the worst sound in the world for a cyclist. The "hssssssssssss" of a flat tire. I hoped - and prayed maybe - that it maybe was just a wet leaf going through the frame (that sounds a lot like a flat, in case you've never gotten a leaf stuck on your wheel). But no, I looked down and saw sealant spraying my bottom bracket. But, then the sealant stopped spraying and the hissing died down. Sealant doesn't always work, but it's worked for me enough that I was optimistic. The problem was, I was riding in the wet and on a relatively technical part of the course, so without knowing just how much air I had lost or was losing, I was very tentative about riding a low tire on wet, curvy roads. Very often, riding is the best way to get a tire to seal up, because you continue to keep the sealant moving to the leak, and you squeeze the tire and tube together as you roll. But this was not the place - especially on the second lap with AG athletes around me - to risk riding on a low tire. So I pulled over, got off, and spun the tire to check the size of the hole. It was a small cut. The kind that I would say, 9 times out of 10, will seal up well. And very little sealant was leaking out. But some was continuing to bubble and leak. And now I had a real dilemma. If I waited for it to seal, and it did, I'd be better off, since I could just fill it up with CO2 (I carry two cylinders) and be on my way. And I'd still be riding on a latex tube, which on the relatively rough roads of Cairns, would be a nice advantage in terms of rolling resistance over my butyl spare for the remaining 58ish miles of the bike. But if it didn't seal, then I'd have wasted time I could have spent changing the tire simply waiting. But it seemed like the chances were good based on how quickly the puncture had mostly sealed.

So I spun the tire and waited. For how long, I am not sure. I just know that it became clear that it wasn't going to seal. It might have been the rain - perhaps a wet tire and the high humidity made the sealant dry less quickly. It rains so rarely in California - and ever puncture is different - that I'll probably never know. I just know that I'd now wasted a bunch of time and still had to change a flat. So I did. It was certainly not my quickest flat change ever, even once I got started, because the last time I flatted during a race in the rain - in Boise in 2009, I double flatted because I rushed it and got some debris in the tire and promptly flatted again while riding. For the record, that flat in Boise was the last time I've flatted in a race. This was my first flat in 22 IRONMANs. It was also my first flat ever on Specialized Turbo Cottons. These tires have been fantastic in all kinds of conditions. I'd ridden them up and down this highway all week without issue. And yes, I checked them over inch by inch before the race looking for damage. Nothing. Overall, I've never seen a race with so many people on the side of the road. This road was just flat central. I am not sure if there is some local tree or bush with thorns that get washed into the road when it rains, but there were a ton of flats. Which wasn't really any solace at the time, but does make me at least feel like I wasn't just careless on race day. So I changed my tire. Carefully. And without too much enthusiasm to get right back out there! Grateful, I was not. I ended up losing NINE minutes. And I was pretty down. I thought I'd at least just ride it in on the bike before calling it a day. But then as I got going, I tried to think about being grateful. Grateful that I had a spare and was still rolling. And my legs were actually feeling pretty good. And I'd said before the race that my goal was to be strongest in the last 40-45mi heading back to town. I still had more than half the race to go.

I started pushing. I figured that I'd flown all the way to Australia, I might as well give it a go on the run. People always blow up in these races, especially when it's as hot and humid as it was (Cairns is tropical so the rain didn't make it much cooler, just less humid on the bike and more humid on the run). My strongest 90min were the last 90min of the race. I didn't just not fade or fade less, I got stronger. It wasn't my best ride, by any means, but I actually seemed to be finding my rhythm. Or at least a rhythm. 

Heading into the run, I figured I had nothing to lose. And there are plenty of performances I've seen where guys really break through on the run because they run like there's nothing to lose and discover something about what they are capable of. I had spoken before the race about my confidence in my run, and I wanted to show it. And heading out on the run, I really felt that confidence in my stride. I was running too fast - though not way too fast - but I felt good. One big reason for this was that I did a much better job of managing nutrition. This had always been a strong point for me in the past, but I felt like I'd started to take it for granted and had slipped as a result. For this race, I put a 400cal flask of EFS Liquid Shot - in the awesome new mountain huckleberry flavor - in my T1 bag. I really needed it after this swim, and I was glad to get on the bike with 400cal in my belly. On the bike, I had two 22fl-oz bottles with nine scoops of EFS Pro lemon water (360cal each). I also had two more in special needs, which I grabbed (just before or after I flatted; can't remember which). Plus I grabbed one bottle of electrolyte drink on course. And I had several bottles of water (360cal/22oz is too concentrated, but I'd rather grab water than calories on course because I trust the calories in EFS Pro more). So at the end of the bike, I'd taken in about 2,000 calories. Which is perfect for me. And I think it's a huge part of why I ran well at the start. But I'd also had some problems with bonking on the run, so I had another EFS Liquid Shot in my T2 bag, and I took that in over the first hour or so of the run. I had yet another in my run special needs, but I didn't grab it. In hindsight, I wish I had. I did start to fade some near the end of the run, and while some of that was certainly cumulative fatigue - everyone slows down in an Ironman - I also know that overall, my legs were less sore than they often are, and I think that another strong hit of calories would have been welcome. Endura - the on course electrolyte drink - was new to me, and I'm not sure how concentrated it is. So I stuck mostly to coke on the run, but in Cairns, they served the coke in plastic cups, which were harder to crush-and-drink, meaning I don't think I got as much of each cup of coke as I should have. 

In general, I think I'm of the opinion that I both have the ability and the need to burn a lot of calories when I race. And more calories means better racing. For me. My friend Tim Reed raced - and won - Ironman Australia on about half as many calories, though for him, he seems to be more sensitive to how much fluid he takes in. Me, I tend to do fine even if I don't drink a lot as long as I get the calories. Nutrition is one area where I continue to be amazed at the differences between folks.  

As I headed out onto the run, I asked my friend Eric how far I was out of 10th, the last place to get paid. He said I was 11th, only a few minutes back. I realized later this was an egregious lie. I was actually in 14th place, but it was much nicer to hear that I was 11th, so I thank Eric for his quick thinking here. I kept chipping away, and guys kept getting closer (and, in some cases, dropping out), and I kept moving up. I finally actually made it to 10th. Then ninth, eighth, and finally seventh with just about 2mi to go. Luke McKenzie, who flatted twice, held on for a tough sixth, ahead of me. Looking over the results, even though I lost a lot of time waiting for the tire to seal, it likely didn't actually affect my outcome. Even had I changed my flat in super speed - say 2min, I would have been in a foot race with Jens Petersen for 5th. If I'd taken a more typical and cautious 3min to change my flat right away, I might have passed Luke, but of course that assumes Luke himself still lost all the time he lost to his two flats. Ultimately, with the tough swim, I had very little - almost zero - margin of error for the rest of the race if I still wanted to punch my ticket to Kona (meaning, pretty much, 5th or better, and - to be 99.9% sure, 4th or better). And this was a day where lots of margin of error was needed because of the conditions. 

Ultimately, there were some real positives from the race - my run and perseverance, some negatives - my swim, and some what-if's and if-only's - my brakes and my flat. It was a race that I'm proud of from a life perspective, but disappointed in from a professional perspective. That's the best and worst part of pro sport - great performances are not always rewarded but often are; and mediocre performances are not usually rewarded but sometimes are. In terms of what's next, I don't know. I need to decide whether or not I want to make the push for Kona, which would require another Ironman. I feel better after this race than I have after most Ironmans, but I also know that I've done a lot of long racing since Ironman Mont Tremblant last year. It's not just about getting to Kona, it's about getting to Kona in a place to have the opportunity to perform. So, really, I just don't know. I'm leaning towards racing again and punching my ticket to Kona, but that may change next week, as the second week post-Ironman tends to be when the fatigue really hits. ITU Long Distance World Champs are back in the US in Oklahoma in September, and that's certainly another option. Right now, after two weeks away, I'm just trying to make up for that with my wife and kids. 

Last thing, since I wasn't really sure where to stick it. I ran my 2nd best marathon ever, and my fastest since 2013, in the New Balance 1400v3. This is not their "recommended" Ironman shoe; that's the 1500 (now 1500v2) which they co-developed with Sebastian Kienle. I raced Arizona 2015 - my first race in New Balance - in the 2015. But I raced in Oceanside this year in the 1400. And I had a great run. There are quite a few differences between the two but the biggest one - in my opinion - is that the 1400 is a shoe with 10mm of offset and the 1500 is a shoe with 6mm of offset. All of my fastest runs in races have been in shoes with 10mm of offset, including my 2:46 in Texas in 2012. But I don't really like training in shoes with that much offset. I quite like low - very low - offset shoes for training. I run a lot in the zero offset NB Minimus trail and road. I would say that I dislike anything more than 6mm of offset for training. But when I race, I seem to run off the bike better in shoes with more offset. I had fantastic training runs in the low offset Newtons, but I always felt like my runs in races were never quite as good, relatively. There are obviously a huge number of factors at play here, but for me, I am sticking with lower offset shoes for training and higher offset shoes for racing. 

Sunday, June 05, 2016

Introducing the Matchrider

my Dimond mounted up on the Matchrider


[Every race is a special opportunity and one that wouldn't be available without the incredible support of the companies and people that support me. I don't often partner someone new, and when I do, it's always the result of a lot of time on both sides making sure it's a good fit. I started working with the Matchrider team at the end of last summer, but it was only recently that they launched their product for preorder. Heading into IM Cairns with some time on my hands thanks to taper, I'm proud to take this opportunity to thank these folks for supporting me and to talk about the incredible product they are brining to market. I'm proud to be a part of this company and to represent them on and off the race course.]

When I looked back prior to IMTX at the training I had done this year, the data showed that I'd done a lot more easy riding than in past years. That was supported by all metrics, but seemed most dramatically revealed by how far I had ridden. But one thing I didn't think about at the time was that I've done a lot more riding in my garage than ever before. I've enjoyed some hard workouts on Zwift, but I've also done a lot of my easy spins on the trainer. I thought this might be a necessity with the largest El Niño in close to 20 years, but - unfortunately - we didn't actually end up with all that much rain. I did have a few days where I was forced inside by torrential downpours, but plenty of days I just chose to ride inside. 

While my accident is long enough past that it's not at the forefront of my mind most days, I am not ashamed to admit that I'm still scared a little every time I ride my bike. I think that's a healthy fear. It's the kind of fear that keeps you focused and keeps you safe. But it can make a short, easy ride less relaxing that it ought to be. The roads around my house are great for training, but the best riding starts about 30min away. So for a short ride of 60 or 90min (and, yes, I do plenty of those), I found it was easier to just hop on the trainer.

In doing so, I was reminded that you can also get some pretty solid workouts in as well. It's a lot easier to control your power when you don't need to worry about anything else, though I think that has its downsides too, since you need to be able to execute when you are outside and do have to contend with weather, topography, and everything else. 

In the past, three things had really kept me from riding inside. The first, and this is still the thing that gets me on my bike most days, is that I just love being outside. Nothing will ever change that. I love being a triathlete because I love being outside. I do have to balance this, when biking, with the fact that I really do not love riding around cars, and as I get older (and my kids get older), I guess I appreciate more that rides indoors are inherently safe. That's a change. Priorities change, at least some of the time. But deciding to ride indoors has also been made easier by addressing the two other big obstacles that kept me from riding inside.

The second thing was that riding inside is, I think, pretty boring. The endless array of movies and TV shows now available on iTunes (or Netflix or Amazon Video or any of the other options out there) helps a lot here. Way better than just hoping something entertaining is on. Or watching the same movie again, and again, and again... But it's also been helped by programs like Zwift (and, I guess, TrainerRoad and some others, though I've not used those) where you actually can make the experience of riding inside more engaging rather than just seeking out more and more distractions.

The final obstacle was that I found riding on a trainer really uncomfortable. On a treadmill - which I generally mind much less than riding a trainer, you get to move. While the mechanics are slightly different, running on a nice treadmill feels a lot like running outside. But on a trainer, the bike doesn't move. I find that the same position that I can ride comfortably for hours outside is substantially less comfortable inside with the bike fixed rigidly underneath you. Saddles that never give me numbness outside seem to always give me numbness on the trainer. I find I am just way more "fidgety" on a trainer. And I'd say that, more than anything else, was really the thing that kept me from wanting to ride inside.


I had tried rollers before, but as someone who came to cycling relatively late in life and who also does a lot of my riding on my TT bike, I just always found rollers to be an accident waiting to happen. For people that can ride rollers well, they are great. But for me, I just found it to be even more nerve wracking than riding outside. And, of course, I found that rollers were not great if you want to do really hard efforts. The feel of riding on rollers is wonderful, but there were a bunch of other drawbacks. In general, it seemed like there were a lot of things that might have made riding inside okay, but no one thing that would really solve all of the things I didn't like about it.

But this year, a big part of why I've enjoyed riding indoors and chose to do it more often is that I now find riding less boring and more engaging, but also vastly more comfortable. And that's because of a revolutionary new system for riding indoors. It's more than a trainer. It's the Matchrider...

The Matchrider is a premium indoor riding experience. It's about as close as you can get to those "indoor bicycle treadmills" without needing to build an entirely room just to house it. The Matchrider allows the bike to move, realistically, underneath you, while still offering the stability of a traditional trainer. It offers an incredibly realistic road feel, with a sophisticated electronic flywheel that allows you to ride the same way you do outside - from coasting to sprinting and everything in between. The Matchrider tossed out everything about how trainers had traditionally been designed and started from the ground up. There's really a ton more great information at matchsports.com/matchrider, but here are my thoughts on the product and what I think makes it so revolutionary.

Support & Clamping System


The Matchrider uses a unique system of rubber supports that bolster the frame under the bottom bracket and downtube, with a soft-fabric strapping system to minimize stress on frame while still providing support. The Dimond cannot be used on a traditional trainer that fixes the rear axle, so this was essential for me. But for any bike, the Matchrider puts the same sort of stress on your frame that riding on the road does. It's this support system that allows the Matchrider to provide unprecedented freedom of movement within a stable platform. 

Stability System


The bottom bracket is supported by a cradle with a spring-loaded stability platform. Using the Matchrider's software, you can adjust the stability from fully rigid to totally free, all while still being able to depend on lockouts at 4deg. Bike moves under you, just like on the road. But, unlike on rollers, it won't let you fall over. This allows for more natural for riding. It allows you to move on your bike the way you want to move. For triathletes, that translates into a more comfortable experience running off the bike. Well, at least as comfortable as running off the bike ever is.

Adjustability


Because your bike mounts with both wheels on, the Matchrider adapts to fit any bike. The Matchrider supports the bike at both tires and then under the bottom bracket, three things which every bicycle has. The rear rollers adjust with a simple 5mm hex key to adjust for your chainstay length. It's quick and simple. 

Resistance Unit & Rollers


One drawback of riding inside is that trainers can eat tires. The Matchrider uses a soft (relatively) polymer for tire, that doesn't burn it up. And with force being applied, like with a bike on rollers, simply due to bodyweight, you won't need to swap your tires out to ride the trainer or risk balding the tire you prefer to ride outside. You can leave your bike exactly as is on the Matchrider. 

But unlike rollers, the Matchrider can dynamically change resistance. The electronic flywheel system of the large diameter rollers (much larger than any other trainer or roller out there) at 500Hz, so it disengages immediately if you want to coast - and your bike will freewheel just like it's on the road, maybe even longer - and then re-engages without missing a beat when you put power to the pedals. The drop-off and re-engagement is lightning fast. There's none of that lag and heaviness that can accompany riding a trainer. For a triathlete who's used to doing steady efforts, this is nice. But for a roadie who needs to train the constant on/off of road racing, it's fantastic.

Software


I'm not going to talk too much, because this is the area that's undergoing the biggest changes. Matchrider will allow you to compete against existing files - either your own or others - including with video overlay as an option. But it will also support the traditional erg mode, allowing you to use the Matchrider's internal resistance curve or to set the resistance to a given wattage level that the flywheel will adjust to keep steady. And there's going to be support for preplanned interval workouts. With both Bluetooth and on-board USB, the Matchrider has plenty of options for data input and output, and I'm the most excited to see where the UI/UX goes in this year and the next. It will come with both iOS and Android apps for control. And you can expect even more.

Made in Melbourne


A lot of folks also know about my passion for supporting domestic manufacturing. While the Matchrider is not Made in USA, it is made in Melbourne, Australia. Supporting real manufacturing jobs and real engineering jobs is something that matters to me. If it matters to you, great. One more thing to recommend the Matchrider. If that's not something that matters to you, that's okay too. But hopefully being able to pick up the phone or to write an email and to connect with the actual folks who put this thing together might prove it's value down the line.

If you're interested, you can get on the preorder wait list at: https://matchsports.com/our-products

The Matchrider lists for $4,200 for the limited edition "Model 0" which will come with a bunch of extras including a lifetime warranty. I realize that big sticker prices often get a lot of attention. Price is a funny thing, and I try not to get into the idea of "value" or "worth" too much. Is the Matchrider worth $4,200? Yes, I believe the quality of the product and of the engineering and development and manufacturing justifies that price. Does that mean it's worth it to you? That's not for me to say. That's a personal decision. I'm happy to answer any questions I can in the comments or on Facebook or via email.

Post Script...

I wrote this on Facebook in response to what was a hard criticism that this post didn't sound "like me." I wrote 100% of this, but I suppose I'm not much of a pitchman naturally (for better and for worse), and that maybe it came out sounding less genuine than some things I've written. The hard part about something like this is that there's no direct correlation to race day. It's not something that I ride during the race. It's obviously way too big to bring to races when I travel. And, fundamentally, I love riding a bike because I get to be outside (most of the time). So it's hard to talk about the places I get to see while riding this. Or the way in which it makes a particular difference on race day (like a bike, or a tire, or nutrition, or sunglasses, or a wetsuit, etc, etc). The engineering of this product is phenomenal. But it's also tough to explain. How do you split the difference between talking about how a 500Hz sampling rate affects engagement and talking about hard to pin down concepts like "feel." I don't like selling things, in general. I think it's the worst part of my job. But I also love working with creative, smart people who are trying to do something different. Some products are really easy to talk about. Like 1X. But as someone who really does enjoy riding outside (I'd quit the sport before I became one of those guys who does 100% of their training indoors), I view a trainer as a useful tool and as an (occasionally) necessary evil. Maybe it would have been more "me" to write something like, "I hate riding inside, but I also hate cars buzzing me or honking at me or swerving too close to me even more, so I've started to ride indoors more than I used to. And while riding inside is never going to be as much fun as riding outside, the Matchrider is pretty dang good thanks to some clever engineering." I don't know... I knew people were always going to give me flack because $4,200 for a trainer is a lot. I get that. But I believe in the product and, even more, the folks behind it... So I tried to write something that would show that belief. Apparently, in at least one case, I didn't measure up.

Anyway, I just wanted to add this in because I value the trust that folks put in me to be honest more than anything else. The marketing side of professional sport always has - and probably always will - make me a bit uneasy. There's nothing - absolutely nothing - that cuts me more than when (typically o Slowtwitch) - someone calls me a, "shill." Do some of the products I support have flaws? Yes. They ALL have flaws. Do I try to highlight the positives? You bet. But I always try to be genuine. This is a tough sport to make a living in, and to support a family by. I'm sure I'm biased by the support of those who make it all possible for me. But I also try really hard to stick to my guns. I've worked with some companies where I did not love the product as much as I should have. I've also walked away from relationships where I was asked to say things or do things to endorse a product that I simply did not feel was right, even though it cost me - and my family - a lot. This is a great product. But it's also one - at least on the software side - that's very much still evolving. And it's expensive. It's definitely not for everyone. Anyway, I hope if you're interested that you might consider checking them out. If the price makes it not right for you, that's fine. More than fine. But please at least take the time to consider that they are just something better and different and to see some value in that. Thanks.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

The 3 P's


Ironman Texas
The Woodlands, TX ★ 2016.05.14
After spending decades studying how people deal with setbacks, psychologist Martin Seligman found that there are three P’s—personalization, pervasiveness, and permanence—that are critical to how we bounce back from hardship. The seeds of resilience are planted in the way we process the negative events in our lives. - Sheryl Sandberg speaking to UC Berkeley class of 2016
[N.B. unfortunately, I talk more about bodily functions than I'd like during my recap of my race in Texas. When the ultimate cause of a poor race was almost certainly some sort of stomach flu, that's probably inevitable. That said, I realize some people don't really want to hear about that. If that's you, totally understood, and I'll have no hard feelings if you just click the "X" to close this window. The TL;DR version is pretty simple: I prepared as well as I thought I could and wouldn't change anything. I had some bad luck just prior to the race with a bit of illness and didn't have my best race. That's racing. And life. Get used to it and get back to work.]

The race in Texas went about how I expected right up until the point when it didn't. I've been incredibly lucky over 21 Ironman starts to have generally had pretty good luck. I've DNF'ed three races, twice where it was clearly the right decision - IMTX '15 and IMAZ '11 - and once where I still wonder - Kona '13. In all those races where it's gone wrong (including Kona '13), it went wrong pretty early, and the struggle was really no surprise. The exception to that case was my lone mechanical, in Kona last year when my saddle broke. But on the body side, it's usually pretty obvious quite quickly whether it's gonna be a great day, a good day, or a bad day. When it's a great day - like I've had on any of my ultra-distance wins, you know that almost immediately. And that's nice, because it takes a great day where pretty much everything goes right to win an ultra (meaning a 6hr+ race, in my book anyway).

I thought, for most of the week, that I was lining up for a great day in Texas. Training had gone well. I seemed to make the transition to Central Time pretty easily. Sleeping well. Final preparations in all three sports were great. I felt a bit unsettled after dinner on Friday night, but I did have a huge race looming. And I always eat a bit more than I "want" to eat the day before a race, since the caloric requirements are so high. So it was atypical, but not super weird, when I had to use the bathroom the night before the race. 

On race morning, waking up at 3:30 is always a shock. And I'm as nervous now - maybe even more nervous - as I was before my first Ironman. So again, it was atypical, but not totally abnormal, when I had diarrhea on race morning. Looking back, the one thing that was quite strange was that I thought, after finishing most of my breakfast, that I might throw up. Then again, if keeping calories down wasn't so critical before an endurance race, I might be a lot more like James Hunt, who threw up before every race he did. 

I kept my breakfast down, though missed a bit of the calories I'd normally take. And that seemed to be it. I had another bout of diarrhea before the start, but I felt generally okay. As okay as you can with an Ironman looming. My stomach settled as I finished my final prep, and I didn't think anything more of it as I got in the water. My left hip locked up a bit as I started to warm up, but your body does all kinds of weird things when you're nervous and tapered and hypersensitive. I ended up swimming about as well as I expected given the number of strong swimmers that took the pace out fast. 

Out on the bike I felt like I had good legs. Not the best. But good enough. My hip loosened up from the swim, and I found a good pace. Watts were okay but hard to really gauge with 88 turns on the modified course. The flat and turn-y bike course definitely didn't suit me, and I did myself no favors by leading a train of almost 20 into T2, but I figured that the heat would expose guys for whom that ride was just that little bit too hard. The course was the same for everyone, and I'm incredibly thankful that we had a course at all. While 88 turns in 95 miles on paper read like a disaster, on race day, the course flowed really well, and while it certainly favored the runners, you also saw enough blow-ups (and, thank you officials, penalties) that it was as fair as it could be. The Texas heat certainly exposed a lot of folks.

Coming out of T2, I was stiffer than usual heading out onto the run, especially after only 3-1/2 hours on the bike. But everyone else was running way too crazy (except Patrick Lange, who ran crazy all day to go 2:40:01...), and I knew guys would come back. So I focused on staying cool, getting calories, and being steady. 

Right about where I thought guys would start coming back, they did. I had fallen to ninth, but midway through the second lap, I had moved back up to 4th. I was steady at 2:50 pace through 25km (about 15mi). But my hips were killing me. I felt like I was swinging two legs but they weren't connected. I was muscling the pace. Every so often, I'd seem to find a good stride. But it never lasted. However, the pace was what I wanted. I wasn't overheating. And it really felt like I was where I needed to be (in terms of getting to Kona) even if I wasn't quite where I wanted to be (winning). Great days are usually easy. But I didn't need a great day; I just needed a good one, and I thought I could muscle that out. Some days are just blue collar days that way. 

At certain points in the course, we had to make a hard U-turn, which was always a real struggle, and after making one around mile 15 or 16, it felt like an invisible wall dropped in front of me. My first instinct was calories. I started walking. First time ever in an Ironman. I grabbed two packs of blocs - my savior at IMAZ last year - and downed them. In started running again, at a slower pace, and shortly came to the RedBull aid station, where I asked for a whole can, again like at IMAZ when I bonked hard in the cold. I continued to slow jog, to try to let those calories clear, but I really just couldn't find my stride. And even with the walking, my stomach wouldn't clear. 

I walk/jogged a few miles and then I had to go to the bathroom. Badly. More diarrhea, which is totally normal during a race, but then when I wiped - a luxury when placing no longer matters - and saw blood. Quite a bit. I was scared. I thought I'd gone Julieanne White/Chris Legh. Except I actually felt pretty ok. Basically, i didn't feel like I'd just killed part of my intestines. And, as I found out post-race when I checked in at medical, blood in stool is "totally normal"... At least within the context of something abnormal like Ironman. The doctor wasn't worried. I knew hot weather can lead to intestinal permeability. It's never happened to me, but I thought maybe with the cooler El Niño induced weather, I wasn't as heat acclimatized as I thought.

So kept walk/jogging. I wanted to finish. I felt like I could finish. My hips hurt like crazy, but other than that, I felt ok. I would jog for a while. And then I needed to walk again. It was pretty low. I ran the first 25km in 1:40. And I made the last 17km in... 1:40. But I crossed the line. And I'm glad I did. When you can finish, you want to finish. The emptiness of a DNF is haunting...

At first, I thought I'd just messed up preparation. Maybe my new approach to training really wasn't any good. Maybe I need to stop writing about my "road to the woodlands." Maybe I'd overdone it with all the turns and had ridden way harder than I thought by punching it out of the corners. Lots of things. All my fault. 

But then my mother said, "I had some GI problems starting last night too. And this morning was quite bad." Dad? "Me too." Ever since my "experience" at IMAZ 2011, I try to cook all my own food. And when I can't, I try to eat as simply as possible. For this race, we had a VRBO  place close to start, and I was able to cook all my own food. I'm good about washing my hands. But bad luck still can happen. It was actually a huge relief to know that it probably* wasn't me. It was the sort of minor stomach flu that certainly wouldn't have kept me from training. It might have made me back off a bit. But I really think it was the sort of thing that only becomes a problem when you try to do (most of) an Ironman in Houston. In May. When it's really hot and humid.

*I say probably because it still could have been entirely my fault. I don't think so, but I won't discount that possibility.

The GI stuff made a lot more sense. My hip pain - and that feeling of being disconnected through my "core" (I hate that term) - made sense. The blood made sense. And that made thinking about "what next?" a lot easier too.

It also makes me appreciate how lucky I have been the nine times I've been able to win an ultra distance race. I was asked at a Q&A the next day what I had to overcome on race day during those wins. And the answer is, basically, nothing. I've had stuff to overcome in life and in training. I've talked a lot about that. But on race day? When it's good it's easy. And when it's not, it's almost impossible to overcome a meaningful setback of any kind. And small problems also stack. With 180km of biking or a hillier course or fewer turns, maybe the race would have broken up enough that I didn't feel I needed to run 2:50. On a cooler day, maybe the additional stress of hot weather on the gut would have allowed me to work through the GI stress of some stomach flu. In a less deep field, maybe I could have managed my output a bit better and finished okay. Or maybe not. Regardless,  on this day, on this course, in these conditions, with this field, it was just more than my body could manage.

And I think that's to be expected. The difference between 1st and 2nd in my biggest "blowout" was just over 3%. Most races I've won, it's about 1.5%. A "dominant" win might actually be only 0.5% - that's about 3min in an Ironman. Simply put, the margin of error is really small once you start talking about high performance sport. 

Ben Horowitz wrote a book about his success at OpsWare. The title is the wonderful phrase, The Hard Thing About Hard Things. There was a lot that was management specific that is not really all that applicable to sport. But there's also a lot that was applicable. And one of the fundamental truths is that while you can make a lot of your own luck through preparation, meticulousness, dedication, etc, you also need some of the old fashioned kind of four-leaf-clover luck as well. 

I didn't have enough of that kind of luck on Saturday. But it makes me appreciate just how lucky I have been in order just to be able to be there racing. Sometimes you do pretty much everything right and things still don't work out. That's life. Get used to it. Time to get back to work.

In trying to put some closure on what was, certainly, a disappointing day,  I settled on the following question - "Would I change anything about how I prepared?" The answer is, "No." The outcome on race day wasn't personal. It's not permanent. And it's definitely not pervasive. It was an especially tough day out there for many athletes, a large portion of whom struggled with brutal heat and then punishing rain and cold. If you didn't have the day you expected, don't overthink it. Sometimes, shit really does just happen...

Friday, April 29, 2016

The Road To The Woodlands. Redux.

it's by no means perfect, but it helps tell the story...

I wrote a long post in 2015 about my preparation for IMTX. At the time, I think I was trying to reassure myself, since when I wrote it, I was at the beginning of what turned out to be a pretty bad downward spiral. I finished 9th (worst ever) at Wildflower. Then I DNF'ed IMTX about 40 miles into the bike. I struggled with insomnia, burnout, and whether or not I even wanted to train and race anymore. I managed to turn things around before IMMT, and 2015 finished as a year to remember instead of one to try to forget. I wasn't planning on re-upping this blog, but someone posted a comment on that old post asking what had changed. The answer is, simply, a lot. But I thought if someone was interested, I might as well try to answer the question. It's an honor that anyone cares. Truly.

To start off, we really need to back up. We can back all the way up to 2014, when I started working again with my first coach, Joel Filliol, after a disappointing 2013. I had some good results in 2014, but I'd say it was another disappointing year. 2015 started out with a lot of promise, but then quickly degraded to the point where I thought it might all be over for me as a pro. I had talked with Joel in 2014 about what it was going to take to be on the podium in Kona, and suddenly I was wondering whether or not I could even just race an Ironman - any Ironman - again.

Joel and I both felt like we were chasing continually moving goalposts. From being on the podium in Kona to simply racing well to back to being on the podium to simply not sucking. And pretty much everywhere in between. So leading into Tremblant, I made the decision to go back to what had worked before. I trained for Tremblant using a slightly modified template of my training plans with Michael Krueger. Basically, I wrote my schedule, Joel looked it over, and then I did it. And it worked. Sort of. I had a great result in Tremblant. But I found the whole process to be pretty unfulfilling. I was doing what I had done. And I was basically achieving the same results I had. But I wasn't learning very much. And I certainly didn't see how I was going to get any better. The outcome was good, such as it was. IMMT was a great race, but I also missed the feeling of really sharing that success with Joel. Kona was a missed opportunity due to bad luck. And IMAZ was a fair race, but three Ironmans in three months is a bit much... But the process was not. I didn't learn a lot during that period, except maybe that I still had ability to win. Important, certainly, but not revolutionary. And not a recipe for further success.

Joel and I talked a lot about this in the offseason. Was he resigned to simply rubber stamping the training I thought I could do? Was I resigned to simply doing the training I had done because as a father of three young kids, change was simply too hard? The easy answer in both cases would have been, simply, "yes." But that didn't hold much appeal. I had no desire to do the same training so I could win the same sorts of races in the same sort of fashion. I wanted to learn something. I wanted to try to be better. I wanted Joel to learn something. I wanted him to be the coach and for me to be the athlete. I got huge benefit from listening to Joel's "Real Coaching" podcast with Paulo Sousa. Especially the interview with Simon Whitfield, whom I trained with during what I think was the best process period of my career and certainly the time when I learned the most.

my worst quality as an athlete...

So we started over. Again. But I think we started over in the right place. We ignored the constantly moving goalposts. We started over with process. What was the right process for me? I didn't care about what I had done. I woke up, I looked at the training, and I did the best I could to do what Joel had planned. I tried not to think about it too much. I tried really hard not to overthink it. I let Joel be the coach. And I was the athlete. That doesn't mean I was mindless. I tried really hard to give good feedback. Especially about how I felt. We had some epic conversations on the phone. But Joel was the one steering the ship. My job was execution, moving the ship along the course that he had set. And to implement changes as needed. But decisions were made together. It was cooperative. And it was a process. And it was a revelation.

This year has been the most meaningful year of change in the way in which I have trained. But some stuff that I wrote in that prior post remain true. The lifestyle stuff. I still train alone. I still start my training day later in the day. We still have three kids. Mornings are still the busiest time of the day. I still try to make breakfast a lot. I still try to make dinner a lot. I still make most - if not all - of the coffees in our house. 

Anyway, onto some numbers. And, more importantly, what's behind them. This is really the first time I've gone in depth looking at the past. I've tried to avoid that, for a lot of the reasons I've covered above. What I find most valuable here is not the similarities to the past, but the real differences...

Unlike last year, I'm not going to post a "typical" or "best" week. For two reasons. The first is that weeks have been more different, in general, than in the past. And the second is that I don't think that the biggest week of training is necessarily the best. Or, more specifically, that every week had a role to play in where I'm at, and that the light weeks were as important as the heavy weeks. The easy sessions were as important as the big sessions. It was all part of the process. And I don't want to go over 100+ days of training in detail...

2016 YTD:

Swim: 286,815m [311,000m approximately in both 2014 & 2015. 388,000m approximately in 2012; I did a huge swim block in early 2012, but I also went through huge burnout as a result.]

Bike: 4068km (149:16:41) [4979km in 161hrs in 2015. 3755km in 123hrs in 2014. 4590 in 147hrs in 2012.]

Run: 1137km (89:26:51) [1488km in 112hrs in 2015. 1157 in 92hrs in 2014. 1458km in 2012.]

What's most noticeable to me here is that the distance discrepancy between 2015 & 2016 is much greater than the duration discrepancy. On the bike side, I biked 22hrs less but 911km less. To make up the difference in distance in the same amount of time, I'd need to ride at an average pace of almost 42kph (26mph). On the run side, I ran 22hrs less but 351km less. To make up the difference in the same amount of time, I'd need to run at an average pace of almost 16kph (10mph). So what's the obvious takeaway? I did a lot more easy training. On the run side, I thought it might have also been that I did a lot more trail running, but I actually - on average - gained about half as much elevation per week in 2016 as in 2015 (800vm/week in 2016 vs 1700vm/week in 2015). Nope, I just ran easier. And flatter. So a lot easier...

[Quick addendum. I realized after I wrote this that most of this differential likely comes from the fact that in 2015 I ran with a Garmin FR220 which uses not very accurate GPS for elevation. Now I run with a Fenix 3 which has a much more accurate barometric altimeter. GPS for elevation virtually always grossly overstates elevation change. So I may have in fact run more hilly routes this year. Or at least it's likely not nearly as disparate as I posted.]

And yet across the board I would say I'm in better shape than I was last year; key workouts in all three sports are as good or better than they've ever been. And I'm much, much happier. Now, this isn't to say that, "less is more" or anything like that. On the technical side, the training for sure has been more "polarized." The easiest way to see that is graphically:

time in bike power zones YTD 2016 vs 2015

time in run speed zones YTD 2016 vs 2015

On the run side, Z4 run speed work went up from about 3.5% in 2015 to about 4% in 2016. The biggest drop off? Z2 running, down to 20% in 2016 from 32% in 2015. On the bike, Z4 power work was down at 7% in 2016 from 10% in 2015. But the biggest drop off? Z3 cycling, down to 10% in 2016 from 22% in 2015. In both bike and run, the big gainer was Z1. Z1 running was up to 66% in 2016 from 46% in 2015. Z1 cycling was up to 51% in 2016 from 31%35% in 2015.

[Another addendum/edit: Andrew Coggan, on the Slowtwitch forums, pointed out that there was a discrepancy in the number of zones between 2016 and 2015, with six power zones in 2016 and eight zones in 2015. This seems to be a bug with TP, where it seems to be using whatever zones were set in the user settings (I'm guessing it was the 8-zone Durata setup; I must not have changed it) at the time rather than updating it based on what's currently there. Anyway, I was able to re-make the graphs using WKO4, and it reveals a slightly different breakdown. The big drop off is more in Z2 cycling than Z3. 2015 Z2 cycling was 43%; 2016 Z2 was 29%. 2015 Z3 cycling was 15% down to 9% in 2016.]

But I think the physiological aspect is only part of the story. The bigger impact has been the mental side. Rather than focusing on PMC-type metrics and data, Joel and I focused on simpler "metrics" like that flow chart. Am I having fun? Am I making gains? As long as the answer to both of those was yes, things were good. And that's really the process of improving as an athlete. Process has become a bit of a corrupted word/phrase, just like "high performance," so I'm trying to use it less as it becomes more buzz-y and less genuine. But to me, this is what process looks like. This is what it's all about.

I still don't understand it - what has changed - entirely. I asked Joel about that this morning. His answer was, "self-acceptance." We both accepted who I am, both as an athlete (physiologically and mentally) and as a person (husband, father, person-with-other-commitments). And that allowed for optimization. It allowed him to make the right training plan for me. And it made me comfortable doing that training. 

My favorite mantra of Joel's is, "Hope is not a strategy." And this year I don't hope I will have a great race in Texas; I have confidence that I will. Of course, I don't know what all this will get me in The Woodlands on May 14. But I know this is the best way - the right way - to achieve the success that I want. Success in sport is never guaranteed. That's a big part of what makes it great. I've got a whole lot of other thoughts on the value of pursuing something uncertainty for another time. 

All you have is the process. Success may not follow from that. But when success does come, it only comes that way. And I've changed. And I've learned. And that is a victory in its own right. Though you better believe I still will be racing to cross the finish line in first place.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

A Family Affair. And Lessons Learned Over 7 Years.

© 2016 Brian Comiskey

Ironman 70.3 California
Oceanside, CA  2016.04.02


I've struggled for the past two weeks to find anything of substance to say about my season opener in Oceanside. The race unfolded pretty much the way I expected. I swam about where I usually do; the swim in Oceanside has never really suited me as you get a really short warm-up and the starting area is really tight, neither of which tends to lead to great swims. I've swum better (but not here). And I've swum worse. The one bright note is that I seem to have started 2016 where I spent most of 2015 - roughly able to control my own destiny in the swim; I'm no longer in real danger of losing a race on the swim. Things need to break my way a bit for me to end up closer to the front, but I think the hard work I've done in the pool has alleviated at least some of the worry I've had at the start of races about, "okay, you cannot mess this up..." I don't know if I'll ever make the leap to being a true front pack swimmer, but I'll continue to work towards that. But relaxing the focus I had on 2013 of needing to become a swimmer has, unsurprisingly, actually made me a better swimmer. My top end is better, but really, it's my base level of performance that has risen the most. Overall, I'm a more consistent swimmer, and I'll take that. For now.

On the bike, I came out of the water with a lot of strong riders, and I went with them. The topography of the Oceanside course is roughly opposite of what I'd like as someone who's a bit on the lighter side - with the flat stuff early and the hills late - but ultimately, I rolled the dice to ride with some of the strongest riders at the half-distance in this race, and I just didn't yet have the fitness to do so for 56 miles. This is probably a good thing. My best race in Oceanside came in 2011, after I raced the Abu Dhabi long course tri, then with a 200km (124mi) bike portion, and had really deep fitness on the bike. Fitness that I really struggled to hold through to Wildflower that year. Part of the goal this year was not to be in peak shape too early, since that pattern of getting there and not being able to hang on has been one I've repeated on multiple occasions with poor results. The years that I've been a bit short on fitness on the bike at the first race of the season has generally been a year where things have worked out well - 2009, where I struggled at Oceanside before a breakout performance at Wildflower; and 2012 where I struggled at Leadman 125 (roughly the same date as Oceanside) before maybe my two best ever races at Wildflower and IMTX. I feel like I came into - and came out of - this race with somewhere to go, fitness wise. And that's important. Because six weeks is too long to simply try to "hang on" to peak fitness.

On the run, I ran almost exactly what I thought I could, including a good negative split, and it was my fastest half marathon in probably two plus years. It was a good run, reflective of a solid base of run fitness - lots of long runs, but not too much speed work. And I crossed the line in 10th, competitive in the field, though again just shy of the 4:00 mark, though this was my fastest time on here on what is arguably a slower course (slightly) than in 2011, when they didn't route you up the short-and-steep climb up to the boardwalk. In hindsight, a perfect race might have netted me 8th, a few minutes faster with better pacing on the bike and a bit more aggressive running on the first lap of the run. Oh, and I could have been quicker in transition. I'm definitely stuck in the steady-and-deliberate (but also relatively slow) routine of Ironman transitions. And I'm also for sure showing a bit of rust after not racing something short (how did I come to think of a 70.3 as short when I came to endurance sport as a 6min racer on the water...) since June of last year. 

None of this is particularly insightful. Or particularly useful to anyone. But I felt I needed a preamble (shockingly wordy, too) to the two things I wanted to actually talk about. Even if the race part of the "race report" is really super boring. The first was talking about the joys - and challenges - of having my family there. When Jill and I had one kid, Quentin came to a lot of my races. I'd actually say for 2011 and 2012, he probably came to most of my races. At the very least, it was as normal for him to be at a race as not. Since having our twins, the kids have been at almost none of my races. I can name them all - Oceanside 2014, Princeton 2014, IMAZ 2015, and Oceanside 2016. That's it. My parents come to a lot of races, but there's something special about having your wife and kid(s) there. It's a reminder of what I'm racing for. This is my job. It's how I support my family. And seeing them is a powerful reminder of that.

But it's also a challenge. Not in terms of logistics. We were able to get a great rate on a two bedroom condo walking distance from the race. Jill and the kids slept in one room. I slept in the other. The kids are all good sleepers. My sleep wasn't compromised. My pre-race routine was pretty much identical to any other race. But it was a challenge to not be able to turn off the "parent" part of my brain before the race. One of the hardest parts about being a professional athlete is the same thing that makes it so rewarding - it's all consuming. You can never really turn it off. Even when you're not training, you need to be mindful of nutrition, sleep, recovery, etc. Sort of like being a parent. And one of the things I enjoy about races is that I can, briefly, turn off at least one of those "always on" parts of my brain. When I'm at a race by myself, I don't have to be a parent. I don't have to be available, mentally, to anyone else. 

I don't think that having my family there, on balance, affected my race either way. There were some huge positives seeing them on the course and, mostly, being able to spend time with them in the period after the race when I can, briefly, turn off the "athlete" part of my brain for a couple days. But I noticed that in the week after the race, when the fatigue from the race settled in, I felt more overwhelmed by the "parent" part of my brain. On Wednesday post-race, I found that I just needed to go for a walk around the neighborhood to have some quiet time with no one around. That's time that I would normally get at a race, and I found I missed having it. It's hard to be a parent all the time. It's hard to be an athlete all the time. I realized last year the importance of needing to turn off the athlete part of myself every so often. But I don't think I necessarily realized in as concrete a way the need to turn off the parent part of my brain as well. Jill and I took our first vacation together in almost five years this spring for a few days. (We could have used a few weeks...) I found myself moving from my office (which has no doors), to the garage, to outside, and then back to my office to write this because of the inevitable madness that ensues with three young kids in the house. 

None of which is meant to imply that I have it any harder (or easier) than anyone else. We all have our challenges. And, I think, based off what I've seen from the typical triathlete, it's challenges that motivate us. I suppose my takeaway is just that the same things that make this sport worthwhile are also the things that can make it overwhelming. Just like being a parent...

On a totally unrelated note, I also spent some time thinking after this race about those things that I've changed and those things that have remained the same since my first race in Oceanside, in 2009, to this most recent race, seven years later. Some things have remained the same. Some of have changed. But I remember many of the decisions that I made then were just sort of incidental. Not to say that I hadn't thought about them. But it was more that I was doing something because, as of then, it hadn't "not worked." In some cases, I have come back to doing things the same way as I did then, though it's now because I've tried alternatives and think, "okay, this isn't just 'good enough.' I actually think it's the best way to do this." And, in other cases, I do things differently because I realize now that how I did things back then wasn't actually the best way to do them. So here's some of what I do now, with some comparison to what I did then...

Nutrition

For most of my career, this has been a strong suit. For 2013 and especially 2014, I thought I let it slip a bit. And now I think it's back to being a strength. One big difference now from then is that I race with two bottles on my bike. I have a permanent bottle cage behind my saddle. I really like that I can mix the new EFS Pro very strong and still digest it easier. I always struggled to digest gels, especially in halfs; they were just to strong. But I struggled to get enough calories in with drinks. Now, I can mix my drinks strong enough that it's a non issue. I mixed two 26oz bottles with 9 scoops each for a total of 360cals per bottle (720cals total during 2:11 bike). I do think I could have drank more early - the hardest part of the flat part of the Oceanside course being early is that on flat roads when it's also very cool, you don't think about eating/drinking. But overall, I was able to get the calories I needed without issue, which helped me be strong across the day. My race breakfast is virtually unchanged after seven years, and you can find it here. I used to take supplemental salt religiously during the race, but now I do a sodium pre-load before the race and find I don't need any extra salt. I continue to think that a good breakfast is the foundation of a solid race day nutrition, but I also appreciate the ability to easily digest even more calories on course, something which EFS Pro clearly makes easier for me. So I'm back to basically eating as much - on-course - as I did before; but I have an easier and more reliable method of doing it now.

Swim

2009 was actually one of my best years from a swim standpoint; I was finally able to absorb a lot of the (excessive) work that I did swimming with an ITU-focused squad as I transitioned to training on my own. I lost a lot of that due to my crash in 2010, and I still think that the permanent damage to my left arm/shoulder is somewhat of a limiter. But I swam faster, relatively, than I did in 2009 or 2011. Some of the credit here for sure goes to ROKA. I swam in the new Maverick X - one of the first 10 production prototypes, and it is without question the best suit I've ever used. I also think I'm a smarter swimmer, knowing that I need a bit of clean water at the start, being better about managing energy, etc. And I think overall, I'm just a better swimmer; not surprisingly, consistency in the water pays off. Mostly, I'd say this is the result of focusing on day-to-day execution rather than worrying about the larger issue of how good (or not) I am as a swimmer. I don't worry about swimming in the front pack or not; I worry about this. That said, a great wetsuit makes a real difference. I've swum the best in suits where I've been the happiest. I've swum in some good suits. And I've swum in some great suits. If you don't love your current wetsuit, try a different one. There are more good options than there used to be.

Bike

The base level of cycling in 70.3 racing has dramatically increased in the time that I've been a pro. Much more so than Ironman cycling. The same power output that would have given you a huge gap on the field is now required just to stay in the field. Some of this is better equipment choices and positioning across the board. People waste less watts, in general, than they did. So the racing is tighter. But it's also just harder. 70.3 used to be the short long-course race. Now it's the long short-course race. 70.3 is raced much more like Olympic distance used to be raced. Ironman is trending this way, but you still can generally bet on people blowing up as a result. Not so in 70.3 races. You need to be prepared to race the whole bike from the gun. 

On the equipment side, I continue to be impressed by the utility of a 1X drivetrain. There are some really challenging climbs on the Oceanside course. But it's also a course where most of the race is flat-to-rolling. I never felt limited by having only 11 - as opposed to 20 or 22 - speeds. I ran 54-11/30, which is my "most often" configuration (I'll run 54-11/26 at Ironman Texas), and it was great. I could have run 54-11/28 and been fine. I never really needed the 30, even on the big climbs. I used it, but I could have done without it. 

The aerodynamics of the Dimond are really awesome. Looking at total bike+rider aerodynamics, some of that is the 1X. Some of that is clothing - I am back racing an ITU-style (back-zip, minimalist) race kit from Kiwami, but I've added a textured short-sleeve "jersey" for the bike, which gives a big aero advantage but still allows me to run in a "free-er" fitting kit. I rode quite a bit faster in 2016 than in 2011 (2min) on quite a bit less power (about 10w less average and normalized). Chalk that all up to better equipment selection. It does matter. But, as I said at the outset, even that same power wouldn't have made up for the difference to the fastest riders. The same power as 2011 would have had me at maybe 90sec faster (depending on how I distributed it), when I was about 90sec slower than the faster rider. This year, I was four minutes slower than the fastest guys. So aerodynamics matter. But it's more than just the aero differences that are contributing to the fast bike times. You can't ignore any of it.

Run

I like to train in shoes with relatively low offset. Anything from 3mm to 6mm is fine. But I think 6mm of offset is my "preferred" offset. But for racing - meaning when I have to run fast on tired legs, I think more offset is beneficial. All of my best runs in races have come in shoes with 10mm of offset. For training, I'd say that 6mm of offset is the most I'd want. But for racing, I'd say 6mm of offset is the least I want. I ran in the NB1400v3, which has 10mm of offset. It's a racing flat - with probably too narrow a toebox for Ironman, but for 70.3 racing, I think it's the perfect shoe for me. I also think it's a shoe I can - should - run sockless in. It's a snug fit, so socks don't add much. And it's pretty seamless inside. But, having done some training workouts in it, I do think that the increased offset makes it just a bit better for running off the bike. Especially for running fast (relatively) off the bike. I always thought that I'd like the same shoes for training and for racing, and I've always tended to enjoy running in training in lower offset shoes. So I thought I'd naturally enjoy racing in them as well. But after a lot of experimentation, I've decided two things: 
  • Wanting less offset is not the same as wanting the least offset. I have some zero-offset shoes (the NB Minimus road and trail) that I like running in. But I really don't like running fast in them. For me, the faster I have to run, the more offset I want.
  • I want more offset in transition (meaning running off the bike) than not. 6mm seems to be my sweet spot for all-purpose running. I'd say 10mm is more of a sweet spot for running off the bike. 
There has been an increasing trend towards lower-offset shoes. Some of this came during the simultaneous shift towards minimalist shoes. Minimalist shoes are, somewhat necessarily, also low offset. But you can make low offset shoes that are not minimalist. Hoka One One being the prime example. Typically, minimalist shoes are shoes with low overall stack heights. Say, 10-15mm or less. Low-offset - sometimes called "natural" (though that term is also applied to minimalist shoes) - shoes are typically shoes with 4mm or less of differential between the heel and the toe. I think lower offset shoes - which to me means less than the 10-12mm differential that has been industry standard for a long time - are great. I think they are especially good for training. I think most people should run most of their miles in shoes with less - rather than more - offset. But I also now think that shoes with more offset make it easier to run off the bike. For whatever that is - and isn't - worth...

Transition

I used to be faster in transition... This year, I lost about a minute to Andy Potts in transition - 30s at each transition. In 2011, I was about 20s slower in T1 (I've never been super speedy getting out of a wetsuit), but I actually had a faster T2 than Andy. I used to race without socks, which helped, and I was very close to racing without socks again having found new shoes to run in. (I would have gone sockless if I had it to do over again.) But I think I just was sharper. And quicker. I raced transitions back then in a way I don't do as much anymore. Some of this is that, overall, I race less than I did. But I think I've also just tried to avoid urgency in transition - because I think it can be a bad thing in Ironman, where you tend to fastest by being deliberate. I could spend some time practicing this though. It's time I don't need to lose. I could have easily - and finally - broken four hours here if I had just done T1 and T2 better. I didn't lose any prize money, but I could have... 

Overall

Overall, I'm older. I'm faster (except in transition). And I'm a little bit wiser. In some ways, I feel like I've made surprisingly little progress. In other ways, I feel like I've made a lot. The race itself was non-remarkable. But there were still lessons in that for me. And hopefully for some of you.