Friday, October 25, 2013
© Eric Wynn 2013
Ironman World Championships
Kona, HI ✮ 2013.10.12
Learn from the past. Prepare for the future. Perform in the present. - Gary Mack.
Confidence is knowing what to do when you don't know what to do. - Alan Brunacini
I struggled quite a bit trying to figure out what I, if anything, I wanted to write about my race in Kona. I'd already promised the crew at LAVA magazine to do a debrief going over the things - practical things - that I learned from the race; that article will be published in the Kona issue and probably also on lavamagazine.com. And I spent a long time on the Slowtwitch forums right after the race talking in a mixture of catharsis and brainstorming. I think I've probably written more than I've written about any race on the topic of Kona 2013, which is actually a race I'd like to forget, not immortalize on the internet.
Ultimately, I failed to prepare appropriately for the environmental conditions of this race. I failed to prepare in advance, physiologically, and I failed to take steps on race day to mitigate the consequences. There are plenty of great quotes about learning more from failure than success, finding the silver lining, etc. I don't really want to go down that road. I suppose it might make me feel better, but really I think it's really just an exercise in self-deception.
I learned a lot from the mistakes I made. I will be better prepared next year. But I also know well enough that there might not be a next year. Not to be fatalistic, but I think it's most important - as an athlete - to recognize that competition is a finite opportunity. And I squandered a very rare and special chance. I had an enormous amount of good luck in both the preparation and the race itself, and I wasted that. There are countless things that actually are out of your control that can go wrong and ruin a race. So it's disappointing to have not been able to realize the full extent of the opportunity before me because of a whole multitude of things that were in my control.
In sport, you need to have a short memory when it comes to self-pity and depression. And you need a long memory when it comes to that sense of failure that accompanies underperformance. Forget about what happened, but also never forget how it felt. I believe I did a lot of things right before and during the race. And I did a few important things wrong - both by action and inaction - before and during the race. In particular, on race day, I rushed. Why? For a variety of reasons. I lacked the confidence to be patient. I got caught up in the race. Etc, etc. The typical stuff. I needed to "make haste slowly" (festina lente). And now I have to wait a year for another chance to do so. Until then, I think it's most appropriate to borrow the motto of my friend and mentor Simon Whitfield, who just announced his retirement after one of the most remarkable careers in the sport of triathlon. Simon was a master of performing on the biggest of big stages. The larger the opportunity, the more he rose to the occasion with his performance. It was about showing up on the day and performing in the present. And about preparing for the future. And about learning from the past. It was always about the relentless pursuit.
The clock is already ticking. Time to be relentless.
Monday, September 02, 2013
Crashing waves are better than crashing bikes...
Yesterday, I got hit by a car. It was something that I was always aware might happen again, but not in that day-to-day visceral fear that I dealt with for a while after my first accident. I'm mostly thankful that I'm the one writing this, rather than having someone else write it about me. I'm generally okay. No trip in an ambulance. No phone call from the police to Jill. No major surgery. I am very sore today. And I have some wicked road rash. But I don't think anything is broken (though I will go today to see about x-rays on my hip, where I landed the hardest). And yet I don't really know how much further away I was from dying than I was on Mar 23, 2010. One foot? One inch? What if I'd had more of a headwind? What if there had been a tailwind? What if...? I suppose I'll never know, and I'll just have to be thankful for that. Though it scares me.
As I sat trying to make sense of what happened - short version: guy was lost and decided to pull over to try to become un-lost and pulled over into me, sending me into a low asphalt curb which launched me over my handlebars and into the dirt - I saw many mentions on Twitter of something going on with the Stetina family, one of the "first families" of American cycling. Peter Stetina is currently one of the best and brightest American cyclists, taking after his father Dale Stetina. Dale was involved in a wreck on Saturday while riding the famous Lefthand Canyon in Boulder when he swerved to avoid a car.
Lefthand Canyon is an extremely popular route for cyclists, but it also has a bit of a reputation from what I gather for being a bit dangerous. I was riding a similar road, PCH (the Pacific Coast Highway), which is one of the most popular routes around here for cyclists, and definitely one of the most dangerous. I haven't ridden on the coast since April, when I rode there with a big group for the SRAM RED 22 launch. Before then, I couldn't even remember when. I got in my "big" accident coming back from PCH (albeit on one of the sections I did - and still do - consider "safe"), and I still get nervous riding around there. But it's been close to 100F every day this week, and it gets hotter the further inland you go - the way I normally ride, because there are no beaches, or tourists; it's mostly just citrus farms. But it's a long way until Kona, and I wasn't sure that cooking myself day after day was a good idea. And, at the very least, I do like riding by the ocean, especially when it's hot out.
The sun was overhead, so no fear of glare. It was still early - it wasn't even noon yet, on a Sunday (albeit a long-weekend Sunday). I had my flashing lights on helmet. And I could always turn around if it got really busy. At first I thought I'd turn around before PCH, just riding down to Pt. Mugu base. But it was one of the days where it was just perfect. Perfect for everyone, which I guess is a sad sign that maybe it's not perfect for cyclists. The traffic at the beaches wasn't crazy, though. No close calls with car doors or people making crazy U-turns or anything that made me think it was time to head back home. At least, none until the one that actually happened.
Working against me, I ride alone. Groups are always easier to see, even if it's just two people. And I ride fast, which is not a statement about my own awesomeness but rather a reminder that I cover a lot of ground quickly - more quickly than most cars, even if they do see me, expect from a cyclist. And I like to ride in the aerobars (though I ride my road bike a lot), which both makes me smaller and also takes my hands away from the brakes. And, more than anything else, I'm a cyclist. Fundamentally, we're just harder to see. Motorcyclists have the adage, "straight pipes save lives," which is why (or at least part of why) you can hear a Harley coming before you can see it. But bikes are quiet. I think that's part of why we like them. You can hear the world. You can hear yourself think.
Do the steps I take to be visible outweigh the things that make me hidden? It seemed like they'd done okay. Though how do you prove a negative? I hadn't been hit again. But I also hadn't been hit until I was even without all the changes I made. I rode a lot of miles with headphones, without flashing lights, and without really thinking that I might come very close to being one of those ghost bikes I give a quiet salute to whenever I see one. But I trusted in the changes I made to keep me safe. It was a lot of how I got back on the road.
But now I'm left wondering. I passed two other triathletes, who noted my flashing lights and said, "those are a really good idea." That was right before they watched the van hit me. Dale Stetina was riding with a big group. Dale wasn't on a TT bike in the aerobars. Dale saw the car and swerved to avoid it. I saw the car and did the best I could to avoid it. None of that mattered.
Nothing makes a difference if the driver isn't paying attention. Or is drunk. Or is angry at cyclists. Or...
So how do I get back on the road now? How do I ride and not be afraid? I don't know. I can make another rule like my rule about lights or headphones. I can say, "no riding on PCH." Or, "no PCH on the weekends." Or, "no TT bike on PCH on the weekends by myself." But every time we get on a bike, we are taking a risk. I think that being aware of that is the only thing that will keep us safe.
But why ride at all? The two triathletes - Nina & Dana - who were inspired by my lights stopped to help me after I got hit. (This time, the driver also stayed.) I rode with them to their car - at their insistence - so they could make sure I was okay. Nina kept me from doing the typical "denial in shock" thing where I say I'm fine and ride back home. Then Nina waited while Dana drove me and my bike to somewhere where another friend, coming back from his bike ride, could pick me up and take me home. Nina & Dana both knew who I was - most importantly, in my opinion - because of the work I do with World Bicycle Relief. They talked about how much they loved that I do my yearly fundraiser. (Blatant plug - it's going on right now...)
So I guess that's why I'll keep riding. I'm sure it'll be hard to clip in that first time again. And I'm sure I'll avoid PCH for a good long while again. And I'm sure my heart will skip a few extra beats every time a car gets a little too close. And I might cry a few more times in the middle of the night when I think about how much I have to lose and how close I came. But I don't want to live in a bubble. And I don't want Quentin to live in a bubble. And I don't want the twins to live in a bubble. And I don't really think that any of us can live in a bubble. And a bike is about as far from a bubble as you can get. Sometimes it's too far, and I hope I never forget that comes with a price.
So keep your head up. Your eyes sharp. Watch our for yourself. Watch out for your fellow cyclists. And stay safe out there.
Thanks for listening. Writing and sharing this helped me a lot. I hope maybe it helps some of you too.
And thank you again to Dana & Nina. You two are awesome.
And, lastly, all my best wishes to Dale and the entire Stetina family.
Wednesday, July 31, 2013
1.5km + 40km + 10km = 51.5km = a world of hurt with no room for mistakes
Giant Eagle 5i50
Columbus, OH ✮ 2012.07.28
There are a lot of things to like about short course racing. From a purely physiological standpoint, there's a tremendous benefit to working at the sorts of higher intensities required to do well at Olympic distance races. It's especially beneficial, I think, to half-Ironman performance, since halves have become much more like a long short-course race as opposed to a short long-course race. But it's also good for being able to take some of those risks to push the envelope a bit during an Ironman that can pay off in a big way. And, of course, there's also the advantage that recovering from a 2-ish hour race is a lot easier than from a 4-ish hour race, meaning it's easier to slot an Olympic distance race into the schedule without being as worried about needing to take a bunch of time to recharge, something that's especially important as Kona draws closer.
But I think the biggest benefit - at least to me - comes from the "experience" of racing short course. One of the very best parts is that, generally speaking, the baseline quality of swimming is pretty high - again, at least for me - in pretty much any short course race. There are just too many ex-swimmers who are giving it a go as a short-course triathlete - and those who aren't ex-swimmers who want to have any prayer of being successful need to realize that the swim is a much bigger percentage of the overall race in an Olympic than in a half or full and train accordingly - for any Olympic distance race to have an "easy" swim. The swim is also both short enough and important enough that you typically don't have the "settle" - once the swim groups inevitably form - that you do in long course racing. The whole 1500m is raced. And that's a very good thing for me. One downside is that Olympic distance races very often tend to be beach starts, which half-Ironmans rarely are, and Ironmans pretty much never are (IM Melbourne sort of was, but not really...). And, as with all things, specificity counts for a lot. And since I don't race beach starts, I don't practice beach starts, which means I'm not very good at beach starts. It's a worthwhile skill, but so are a lot of things. And time is time.
Transitions are also really key, and I definitely need work in transitions. While we're on that topic, I think my T1 was slower than normal because it was not particularly warm in the morning, and my hands were cold, and I fumbled a bit more than normal with the buckle on my helmet. Certainly that's something I could have practiced a bit more I guess, but sometimes "luck" (for lack of a better term) still plays a role. It wasn't much colder than Vineman, where I got my helmet on no problem. But on this day, I had a bit of butterfingers working the clip. Probably karma of some sort of tweeting a picture of my helmet the day before. Though the clip-in in that caption was referring to my pedals...
In short, race execution is imperative during an Olympic distance race. It's always critical in any race, but it's easier to see how critical it is in a more clear way in short course races. In this race, 3rd through 6th - where I finished - was separated by a minute. 65 seconds to be exact. In every race where you don't win, it's inevitable to play the "where could I have found the time to have finished higher." But in halves - and especially in Ironman races - the math is much fuzzier. Missing a swim group leads to missing a group on the bike (yeah, yeah, "non-drafting") which leads to... There's a lot more ripple-effect in long course. Seconds turn into minutes. Sometimes. Sometimes it's just minutes of differences in preparedness. Though that works both ways. Sometimes small mistakes get glossed over by big differences in fitness when guys that gained a small advantage over you succumb to bigger mistakes in pacing and/or fitness. It's easy to forget that some guy beat you out of transition when you run by him because he ran (or rode or both) foolishly. In an Olympic distance race, people don't tend to blow up the way they do in Ironmans. Especially when the weather is good, like it was. LOTS of guys can run fast 10k's after a hard(ish, depending) 40k bike. At least, fast in terms of Ironman-athlete speed even if not definitively (like ITU WTS) fast. 10 seconds is nothing in an Ironman. The differences in pace are just much bigger. But 10 seconds in an Olympic? That's an eternity. You think you are closing, but then another mile - almost 20% of the run - has gone by. You don't get second chances in Olympic distance racing. But there are plenty of second chances in Ironman, which makes it harder to realize that it actually was a second chance.
In general it's harder in long course races to really pinpoint mistakes in the same way, especially when you are successful. And, in general, I've been successful at Ironman, and I think that's probably led me to make more mistakes than I realize, because, "it all worked out in the end." And because the whole race is a blur. And because little bad decisions ripple into much larger ones. But in an Olympic distance race, it's much easier to say, I should have been faster in T1 because I was fumbled with my helmet. I should have ridden harder at the start of the bike course because the back half of the course was more downhill than it seemed when I drove it. I should have rolled the dice a bit more on the run. I should NOT have raced on the East Coast, because by the time my body really woke up and realized it was time to go #2, I was doing swim warm-up... Sorry about that last one, that was too much information.
That level of execution is what's needed to do well in Kona. Crisp transitions. Not fumbling with a helmet strap. Not letting someone go that you shouldn't. Not finding yourself in a bad position in the swim. Not finding yourself wishing you'd used the port-a-john... Again, too much information. I had a bad swim last year, and that was clearly the overwhelmingly dominant factor (along with how much racing I'd done prior) in my performance in Kona. But what if I hadn't? What if I'd had a good swim? What mistakes did I make that I've overlooked because they didn't make a difference because 12th or 13th doesn't mean much, but would have been huge if it was that same 1-spot difference between 1st and 2nd, or even 2nd and 3rd, or 11th or 10th? I don't know. But I was reminded of the focus that's required to keep from making those mistakes. That as "silly" as it may seem, I need to also train packing a bag with run gear, sitting down in a chair, unpacking that bag, and putting on that run gear. Why? Because I'll need to do it in October.
Nothing is a substitute for appropriate preparation. Certainly athletes can get overwhelmed focusing on the details and miss the big picture. There's no substitute for being prepared physiologically. But attention to the "other" details isn't a substitute. It's part of what's required to be truly excellent. And that's what is required on October 12th.
Monday, July 29, 2013
I'm glad that I don't add (or subtract) sponsor logos very often from this site. I'm proud that the companies I work with, I get to work with year after year. The opportunity to work with someone new is always somewhat of a challenge. The first question for me is always, "what can I do for them?" And then, of course, there is the sometimes-obvious-and-sometimes-not question of, "what can they do for me." The further I get from my comfortable niche - technically-oriented triathlon companies, the more difficult that question is to answer. But the further I get from that niche, the more opportunity there is to reach a wider audience of people. And that's a wonderful opportunity, even if it's not one that I am always comfortable with.
It's a very awkward - for me anyway - thing to think that I get paid to do what I do. How do I stay true to who I am and not just become a "shill"? In some ways, it would be nice if I could subsist exclusively on prize money, because then that part of my life would be simpler. But that would add an enormous amount of complexity off of the race course, especially at home. As a father and husband, I'm not prepared to say, "sorry, Quentin, you don't get to eat well this month because daddy had a bad race." And beyond wanting to provide a secure life for my family, I also think that a key part of growing the sport of triathlon is appealing to both would-be triathletes (including those who maybe didn't even know they were would-be triathletes) as well as never-gonna-be-triathletes who nevertheless are drawn - as the annual Kona NBC broadcast demonstrates - to the stories within our sport. There's the obviously selfish part of this - it's good for me to grow beyond the strict confines of the endemic world of triathlon. But I also hope and believe that it's good for the sport as a whole as well. That if I can have some success doing it, maybe I can show other pros how to do it as well.
One of the oft-debated topics I'm passionate about discussing on twitter and Slowtwitch and most anywhere else is what the future is for the sport of triathlon. Some folks want it to follow the road of spectator sports, like baseball or football. This seems to be - to some extent anyway - the way that the ITU is pushing things, it seems with great success. But Ironman doesn't have that future, to me anyway, because I think it's length is prohibitive. The Kona broadcast takes months to put together. That's fine for one race, but it wouldn't work for every Ironman. Personally, the "sport" that I see long-distance triathlon being the most like is poker. And also contract bridge. Both of these are participant-driven (as opposed to spectator-driven). People like it because everyone competes together. And they share an experience together. And, of course, because sometimes they can win a lot of money. But the money aspect is where I think triathlon pros could learn more from contract bridge, where there is no prize money but instead the focus is on the experience, than from poker. The bridge model is one where the best bridge players are paid by tournament organizers to show up to "set the bar," as it were, for the standard of play. People want to see how the best do what they do. And they want to experience it with them. And the best professional contract bridge players earn fees that would make many (if not most) triathletes envious. This is because contract bridge appeals to a broad demographic, but a big and especially influential part of that demographic is affluent, much like triathlon.
The minimum barrier of entry for triathlon is another topic worthy of debate, but not one I'm prepared to tackle here. Do I think triathlon would benefit from being made more accessible? Yes I do. But in the short term, I think it's probably better to focus on the fact that the kind of person who can afford to swim, bike, and run in training and then go do a swimming, biking, and running race is - in general - someone necessarily falls into a relatively privileged group. Now, this isn't to say that everyone who does triathlon is "rich." But triathlon is not - and may never be - like soccer, where a single ball and a patch of ground is all that is needed to have a game.
Now this may seem like a rather rambling introduction to a new partnership, but the nature of the company I'm allying with requires - I thought - a bit of explanation. Fulcrum Partners is an executive benefits company, which is admittedly a bit of an odd thing for a professional triathlete. Though I suppose as is often the case, there's a somewhat simple explanation, at least for how the discussion got started. One of the partners is a triathlete and has a passion for the sport. But the fact that a triathlete works at a company doesn't answer the two questions that I feel must be answered for something to work long term and to set an example that other athletes might follow. What can I do for them. And what can they do for me. And, of course, the third implied question, "do those things make sense together?"
I think that my experience working with Ironman on their XC (Executive Challenge) program gave me some insights into what triathlon - as a whole - offers to a lot of the folks that a company like Fulcrum works with. But where do I fit into that? I think my role within something like XC is more clearly defined, but I struggled to figure out where I might fit into that puzzle as a lone athlete. Ultimately, I wasn't the one with the vision, though. That was Tom Chisholm of Fulcrum. But as I read more about Fulcrum, trying to understand a bit more about the company and Tom's vision for what we might do together, I started to see the sort of value that I hope that I - and other pro triathletes, many of whom have very different but at least as inspiring stories as I do - might add to non-endemic companies without even an tangential relationship to the sport.
Tom's vision was that businesses (and, more specifically, business leaders) would be inspired by what it takes to be consistently successful as an endurance athlete. And that sharing that with their clients - and potential clients - would reflect the sort of business approach that Fulcrum takes to what they do. That's the reason I linked to that specific page on the Fuclrum site, because I think that's what speaks to me about them as a business. And they created a special section of the site to reflect what I speak about to them as an athlete. You can find that under the "INSPIRE" tab on their site if you followed the prior link or by clicking HERE. I'd hoped to be able to add something to that page, but due to regulatory issues, I was not allowed to. But thankfully, I can add my $0.02 here.
I'm honored to partner with Fulcrum Partners. We share a focus on long-term goals and a commitment to thoughtful planning and execution to reach those objectives made this an obvious choice for me. The core values that lead to excellence in an endurance sport like triathlon have a lot of parallels in the business world, and I'm hoping that I can learn just as much as I can share.
And I'm hoping that we can inspire other businesses to find value in our sport and in the pro athletes who set the bar that I and others keep trying to reach...
Wednesday, July 17, 2013
"If you find yourself in a hole, stop digging." Denis Healey
Ironman 70.3 Vineman
Sonoma County, CA ✮ 2013.07.14
I tried really hard to write this in the lead up to the race, but with the last two races on the calendar being a "personal worst performance" (St. George) and a did-not-start (Honu), I just couldn't quite bring myself to write that I had stopped digging myself deeper into the hole in advance of a performance actually showing that to be true. While I finished in the exact same position - 8th - that I did the last time I did this race, seven years ago, I did go faster (though the bike course was the correct distance instead of being 1.5miles long due to construction and the swim was wetsuit legal as opposed to non-wetsuit, for whatever that is - and is not - worth). And, most importantly, I had the sort of performance that demonstrated that I had indeed stopped digging myself deeper into a hole and that I was actually building up and in the right direction towards the ultimate goal for this year - being my best on October 12th.
While there were certainly aspects of the race that I was disappointed in, overall I thought it was a satisfactory performance. I swam well, both relatively and absolutely, though I do wonder if I could have closed that gap that formed to Tim Reed and Joe Gambles early in the swim. They swam only about 30 seconds faster, but were able to work together on the bike to bridge up to the front group and put themselves back into the race. I ended up riding solo, and had an average performance against a decidedly better-than-average field that left me in no-man's land starting the run. I don't yet have the deep bike fitness I will need (and prepare to have) for Kona, so the performance was in line with expectations, if slightly on the lower side of what I thought I was capable of. I ended up capping it off with a best ever run on an accurate (I got 21.2km) and reasonably challenging course. It was actually my fastest half-marathon ever (not just in a triathlon), though I haven't run a standalone half since 2007, and haven't run one on a fast course since 2006. So that's not really a revelation of anything other than that I'm a pretty good runner and need to hold myself to that standard more often. The weather was perfect for fast racing, which was nice from a personal performance standpoint against the clock, but less ideal from my preference to race in conditions that punish bad decision making. Though I suppose I could say that good conditions punish my own bad decision making process about whether or not I wanted to swim in high school...
Ultimately, there was a clear break between me and the top-7 with five minutes separating first through seventh, and then a gap of four minutes from 7th to me in 8th. So as much as I might have stopped digging myself deeper into a hole, I'm still not yet performing at the level I expect to. I won't have too many chances to test myself before Kona - this may have been the last really top field I'll get a chance to race depending on how things sort of with HyVee and/or Vegas, but I also know that being prepared to execute over 70.3 miles is different than being prepared to execute over 140.6 miles. For now, the big takeaway is that after getting beaten by top age-groupers and the top pro women in St. George, I managed to right the ship and put myself back on course for October.
That this all happened at Vineman was probably appropriate. And the fact that seven years after finishing 8th I finished 8th again was probably also appropriate. After Vineman in 2006, when I had what was - at the time - my best ever performance in a half-Ironman and ended up well back on the winner and outside of the prize money, I found myself questioning whether or not this was really what I wanted to do with myself. I found myself in a hole, and I found myself digging myself in even deeper. I seriously contemplated quitting, because the discrepancy between the relative quality of my performance - compared to previous performances of my own - and the and absolute quality of performance - in terms of where I finished overall in the race - was so drastic. I just didn't see that I could ever be the kind of athlete who would be in contention at these races. Achieving my own best was certainly a worthy goal, but I didn't really want to spend a whole lot of time chasing that as my primary focus in life if my own best was never going to be good enough. This manifested itself in my workouts, where I was unmotivated and directionless.
In retrospect, Vineman was my third race in three (maybe four) weeks - I raced a local sprint that was a favorite race and had a great race, then had a so-so performance at the NYC Olympic distance race, and then did Vineman, and I was clearly just over the line. My heart rate was high. My power was low. And I felt lost. So I basically stopped training for a few weeks. I didn't know what I wanted. Dan Empfield and Simon Whitfield both gave me great advice that - basically - could be summed up as the thing I most often need to hear - "STOP. THINKING. START. DOING." I had all these ridiculous existentialist dilemmas regarding what it "meant" to be a "professional triathlete." I couldn't quiet my brain enough to actually relax, train without expectations of anything other than getting some work done and moving forward one step at a time. It was one of the most important forks in the road of what would ultimately become my career (I didn't have anything resembling a career at that point).
After a few weeks of feeling sorry for myself, my friend Paulo Sousa encouraged me - "you need to come to here now." - to come to stay with him and Jonathan Caron and Sergio Marques in Las Cruces, NM. I packed up a duffel bag and my bike and a sleeping bag and air mattress and headed to New Mexico for about two weeks having no idea of what I really wanted to do with myself or if I even wanted to go. The first night there, Paulo made me give up my HRM and my powermeter computer. I was not allowed to know any of that. I was just going to train. Sometimes I felt good. Sometimes I felt bad. It didn't really matter. I swam, and biked, and ran. And by the end of it all, I felt pretty good. It was two of the best weeks of my life. We bought four patio chairs and a table from Home Depot for $40 ($5/chair and $20 for the table) because Paulo had no furniture. We had a TV that sat on top of the box that it had come in. We basically only watched "Seinfeld." And we had - thankfully - wifi, and we gave birth to some of the greatest forum threads ever on Slowtwitch. I remembered that I enjoyed training. I enjoyed swimming. I enjoyed biking. I enjoyed running. And I enjoyed triathlon. When I left, I had finally quieted the noise in my head that had paralyzed me after Vineman, and I was (I now realize) ready to make the big decision that really gave me a career - moving out of my parent's house, packing everything I needed into my car, and going to train full time under Joel's supervision in Flagstaff and then Canada. That's also how I met Jill. And the rest, as the saying goes, is history (in the making).
Even though I temporarily forget the lessons I learned from Paulo during those two weeks, I still have them with me enough that with some typically-Paulo-esque reminders from the man in the orange shirt himself in St. George, and some gentler guidance from Jill and my coach Michael Krueger, I was able to put the proverbial shovel down after St. George and stop digging. I went to Hawaii to remember that I liked to train. I liked to swim. I liked to bike. I liked to run. And that I liked triathlon. I was able to keep my HRM and my powermeter on. But I was able to turn off the noise. And, in many ways, I think closed a loop of sorts with the same finish in Vineman that held entirely different takeaways for me than the "same" finish seven years ago.
So a special thank you to Paulo, who taught me, as Coach Michael calls it, "to put my head on the shelf." And on that note, time to get back to training...
Thursday, May 16, 2013
© 2013 Larry Rosa (endurapix.com)
Ironman 70.3 US Pro Championships
St. George, UT ✮ 2013.05.04
After my rather ignominious finish in St. George, a single thought (well, at least a single appropriate thought) kept running through my mind. "Well, a wiser fella than myself once said, 'sometimes you eat the bar. And, well, sometimes he eats you...'" And so it goes when you are looking for solace, that "The Big Lebowski" yet again comes through in the clutch.
But rather than solely chalking up my bad race to a case of getting eaten by the "bar," which implies a bit more luck than I expect was truly at play here, I think it's important to recognize that it was not entirely surprising that I got eaten by aforementioned "bar" at this here race. This was not a case of sunning myself in Palm Beach and getting eaten by a grizzly. That is bad luck. Extraordinarily bad. And probably a case of rather lax zoo security. This was more of a case of rubbing yourself in bacon, honey, and salmon roe and laying out beneath the stars on Kodiak Island. It was more likely than not that I'd get eaten. To understand why, exactly, I made this helpful little graph.
As you can see, even if I'd been as fit as I thought I was, I'd still have come up quite short on the day. I don't think I would have been reduced to periods of walking (as I was), but I also don't think that even the best performance I had in me was particularly good. This wasn't entirely shocking; the period after Ironman Melbourne was not the best. I did a combination of too much and not enough training in that sort of random mix that indicates that a bad day is certainly a real possibility. With that said, I've had some really great races coming six weeks after an Ironman off not a lot of training, but in those cases, it was less - but still consistent - training, which this was not. Consistency is critical; for a technical look at why, this article by Brian Stover is pretty good at explaining the concept of CTL.
While I could attempt to follow the trend in current society to "put a positive spin" on this whole thing, the reality is that I should not have raced in St. George. I didn't actually get anything out of having a bad race other than remembering that it's not very much fun. And I'm pretty sure I didn't need to be reminded of that. There was no "new lesson" in all of this, though there was certainly a lesson. It's just a lesson that I've been taught before. Clearly needed a refresher course, though again, I wouldn't say that having one made the race a net-positive. It was a sub-par performance - though not really a surprising one, and I have no interest in delivering sub-par performances. Accordingly, I've decided that I will not be racing in Honu, since the likelihood of getting things turned around by then is not great, and I certainly don't want to have another bad race. The long-ish view is to October 12. And the really long view is towards the October after that, and after that, and after that. How do I put myself in the best position on those days? Well, I know how I don't do it. So now let's see if I can figure out how actually to do it.
So the next race I will for sure be doing is Vineman 70.3. If things get back on track sooner rather than later, then I might add in something else. We'll see.
Thanks to everyone who sent kind words after St. George. Not my best day, but you'd never know it from the support I got. Thank you.
Wednesday, April 24, 2013
It's hard to think of a more classic fable than the story of St. George and the Dragon. Villagers must make a sacrifice to a dragon who lives by the spring where they draw water. Typically, they sacrifice animals, but if no animals were to be had, a maiden had to be sacrificed instead. The maiden was selected by lottery, and, eventually, the princess's name is drawn. In typical storybook fashion, the princess does not die because St. George shows up and slays (or, in some versions, wounds and subdues) the dragon. But there's one particular variation that's quite good wherein George is initially defeated by the dragon but then melts his armor and forges it into a box, into which he places his fears and doubts. Then, without armor (but also without fear), George returns to fight and immediately is victorious. The moral, of course, being that it is our fears and doubts (and lack of faith, either in ourselves or in god/God/whatever or both) that ultimately keeps us from being victorious.
This latter version, with or without the religious connotations as you prefer, is the one I like the best. It's also the one that I think is most appropriate to focus on with the Ironman 70.3 US Pro Championships coming up in just under two weeks. The race is in, as you may have guessed if you didn't already know, St. George, UT. It also features several "dragons" in the form of one of - if not the - most competitive fields outside of the Ironman World Championships in Kona. It's also a particularly difficult course, with a lake swim that can be quite rough depending on the wind, a hilly and potentially very windy bike, and a very hilly and potentially very hot run. The weather in St. George is unpredictable in early May, and we may not get extreme wind (in which case it will likely be hotter) or extreme heat (in which case it will likely be windier), but it's almost certain that the conditions will make the topographically challenging course even more difficult in one way or another.
The challenging course is only one highlight of what is a pretty awesome town. I've been to St. George twice, once on a mountain biking excursion to Gooseberry Mesa, and the other as a waypoint on a drive from our summer base in Penticton, BC, Canada to Interbike en route to our home in Southern California. It's a wonderful town, and it's become(ing) a training camp destination for triathletes with great roads for riding, great trails (for both running and mountain biking), and good open water and pool swimming (though it's a bit on the chilly side in the winter for open water). It also has some great restaurants, with the Painted Pony Cafe being a great dinner spot and the Bear Paw Cafe being the only choice for anyone interested in serious breakfast. Anyway, back to the dragon...
As someone who enjoys what I'll call "honest" courses, the course itself is one of the most appealing parts of this race. Ironically, this was - as an Ironman - one of those courses I really wanted to do but never got to, unlike, it seems, everyone else, since IM St. George rarely - if ever - sold out; this stands in contrast to the 70.3, which sold out rapidly, and which every single pro seems to have placed on their calendar. And while I'd love to say that the dragon is the incredible pro field, it's hard for me to really feel that's an honest answer either. At the best of times, half Ironman tends to be as short as I'd like to race, and even that can - at times - feel more rushed than the steady grind of Ironman, which is where I feel most comfortable in my discomfort. For me, the biggest dragon in this case is the bounce-back from Melbourne. The first long race of the year always seems especially taxing, and there have been plenty of fears and doubts, both in the brain and in the body, as I've worked to get back into rhythm and routine following the race in Melbourne.
In many ways, it's hard to write something like that, because it feels that admitting to it makes it both more real and also sort of exposes my own humanity. I do this for a living. I *win* Ironman races. I'm not supposed to get the "Ironman blues," which is really a combination of the physical, hormonal, and mental ups-and-downs that follow a fully-taxing effort like an Ironman. But I do. And as hard as it can be to admit that, I also have found that whenever I admit to something like that, I find that it often resonates with other people who may have wondered, "am I the only one?" I can say, with certainty, that you are not. But there's a bit of a stigma within the endurance community to being tired. I said to my coach, "I'm supposed to be super human." His reply was, "You are. But even super humans get tired sometimes..." And that's been a hard - but good - lesson for me. And I hope it might offer some solace to someone else as well.
So I don't know what to expect of myself in St. George. Sometimes, after an Ironman, you surprise yourself with the fitness you have inside of you. I'm certainly not showing up in St. George to go through the motions. I'm going to race. But, at least this time, I think the thing that I'm really going to beat is my own doubts. Where will that leave me at the finish? I guess we'll find out.
Tuesday, April 16, 2013
Boylston St. © David Abel
"This world of ours must avoid becoming a community of dreadful fear and hate, and be, instead, a proud confederation of mutual trust and respect." - D. Eisenhower
Monday, April 08, 2013
As an admitted and proud nerd, I was thrilled to be invited to be a panel speaker at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference, which took place early in March of this year. The panel that I was on was titled, "Stronger, Faster, Better: Technology Analytics." The panel was moderated by Mark McClusky, a senior editor at Wired and the man in charge of the Wired Playbook on wired.com. In addition to myself, the speakers included Dr. Peko Hosoi, a professor of Mechanical Engineering at MIT who specializes in materials; Dr. Benoit Vincent, CTO and the head of R&D for Taylor Made Golf; Tori Hanna, who works in development for UnderArmour; and David McIntosh, an intellectual property attorney with Ropes & Gray. It was a fascinating group of individuals, and I enjoyed being a part of the panel with them and also talking to them both before and after. It's definitely something that I hope I can make a regular part of my calendar.
Every panel of the conference was recorded, and they've now posted the video of my panel, which you can find here: sloansportsconference.com/?p=9835
Wednesday, March 27, 2013
The final kilometers of the run course.
Ironman Asia-Pacific Championship
Melbourne, AUS ✮ Mar 24, 2013
Ironman always takes a lot out of you, though one thing I did not expect to have taken out of me was my voice, which I lost with about 5km to go (I found myself unable to ask for anything at aid stations and just had to grab-n-go), and which did not return until about an hour and a half after I'd finished. I don't know what caused it, and while it might have been a little scary for me and for those who are used to my being an incessant chatterbox at the finish, it also might have been a welcome reprieve for them as well. My words are now flowing freely once again, and I used the long flight back from Melbourne to put together some thoughts on the race.
Besides the obvious goal of racing and placing well, my other goal at the race was to learn. You generally learn something from every race - especially from an Ironman, but there are certainly races where there's much more reliance on what you know works as opposed to being willing to take what are hopefully calculated risks. I went into this race prepared to risk on the swim and early in the bike in an effort to put myself "in the race" from the outset, rather than steadily pacing myself and racing largely in isolation, as I did to a large extent at both Texas and, especially, New York last year. My plan to be aggressive in terms of pacing on the swim was foiled by very rough conditions, the likes of which I have never before swam in. I lost four minutes in a shortened 1300ish meter swim, which I truly believe was less than what I would have lost in a 3.8km swim in the smooth conditions they had last year.
While my effort was certainly high, I would not say that I swam as hard - physically - as I could; I think I swam as hard - mechanically - as I could. If that doesn't make sense, imagine running in shoes twice as big as what you normally wear. Your ability to actually run fast would be so limited by the shoes, that even running "as hard as possible," you wouldn't be able to run as hard as you were capable of. This race clearly favored those - like the large number of Aussies in the field, the majority of whom grow up on the ocean and swimming in the ocean - with extensive rough water experience. One of the most commonly repeated descriptions of the Melbourne swim course was that of a "protected bay" (Melbourne itself sits on a bay with virtually no tide) with generally excellent conditions. Not only did last year's conditions not indicate that such a rough swim was possible, the general discussions about the course also did not mention the possibility. I don't say this in an attempt to absolve myself from a lack of practice in rough seas (I live close enough to the Pacific that I could have sought out at least similar conditions), but simply as an explanation of why I didn't think that was necessary. I will certainly make sure to include that in my preparation for next year; losing four minutes on the swim is unacceptable, and I only lost four minutes because the race organizers decided to shorten the swim.
It's worth noting, however, that because Melbourne is a bay, unlike most ocean swims, where the waves are roughest at shore when they are breaking, there is no break in Melbourne. This chop was entirely from the wind, and the shore was the most protected part of the swim, meaning what you see there is actually the best conditions we had for the swim, not the worst. With that said, as I wrote on the Slowtwitch forum, I would have supported a decision to race the full 3.8km (say three loops of the 1300m course we did) *for pros.* I think the conditions did pose a risk for age-group, many of whom were first time Ironman competitors. Rough water swimming is a skill. And at the professional level, I don't think we should mitigate the impact of a lack of skill.
I bring this up to differentiate it from a water temperature issue. Too cold - and even more too warm - water is a very real concern. I'm no more or less resistant to hypo/hyperthermia than anyone else, as evidenced by the tragic death of US swimmer Fran Crippen in overly warm water at an open water swim race in the Emirates. But rough seas? That is something I feel I should be expected to manage. I think logistics thwarted this - the day before, there was no indication that we wouldn't be able to swim 3.8km on the modified course (two loops on the more sheltered southern side of the pier) to concentrate water safety personnel, and to decide on race morning to have two swims and to further delay the age-group athletes would not have been fair. But having seen what happened this year, I hope this race has a plan to execute the full 3.8km for pros if a similar situation arises again in the future. If a race encounters rough conditions for the first time, I understand being cautious. But I hope we can learn from that and make contingencies for the future that don't involve shortening the race. There's no reason that a great swimmer shouldn't get the rare chance to actually capitalize on his/her ability at a race.
As a result of the rough conditions and my lack of experience, I started the bike in a relatively typical position - down a bunch to the leaders. The most effective way to have my best ride would have been to - steadily - pace my way towards the front over 180km. But I thought that same wind that whipped up the ocean might also allow me to bridge up to the front sooner with a strong effort on the first half of the first lap of the bike, where I knew we'd be fighting a headwind. Ultimately, the gap proved too great, and I wasn't able to close the gap within one lap, and I pushed a bit hard in trying to do so and struggled to hold pace on the second lap and ended up losing time on the second outbound leg. Had I paced with the same steady and even output I used in New York or Texas, I expect I would have ridden 4:26-27 (instead of 4:30) and actually ended up essentially with the leaders by T2. But hindsight is always 20/20, and I know I can do that. I didn't know if a riskier plan might get me into the group at the front, where I could experience the jockeying at the front that typifies championship racing and which is so valuable. I also didn't know how I'd respond on the run to a more varied output - with a VI of 1.05, this was my most erratic Ironman ride ever (though a lot of that was the wind more than a hard first lap, since VI is calculated on a rolling 30s timeframe, and you can still have a low VI even with a ride that was "erratic" on a "macro-scale"). My failed bid meant I missed out on the chance to race the run with Crowie and Eneko, which also certainly would have been immensely valuable, but again, hindsight always makes things seem obvious.
The lack of being able to run at the front did not, however, diminish what I was fairly certain would happen regardless, which is that the depth of field in this race would make the whole marathon a race. There would always be someone to catch and always someone nipping at my heels, and that's exactly how it played out. I came off the bike in seventh, and found myself chasing while also being chased, exactly the sort of situation you get in Kona. Steadily chipping away while also pushing the pace to keep a hard charging Chris Legh in my sites after he passed me at about 8km in made this one of the toughest runs I've ever had in an Ironman. Add in the constant headwind due to the point-to-point run, and it was the sort of run that teaches you a lot about what you can dig out of yourself, both mentally and physically.
My fourth place finish met my expectations of myself for the race. I think had I paced the bike more evenly, I would have finished closer to first/second/third as opposed to fifth/sixth/seventh, but I think fourth was as much as I had in me on the day. I knew that if Craig, Eneko, and Marino all performed to their level, which I think they did, that I'd need to have a best ever race in order to beat them; I'd need to reach a new level of performance. I think I'm certainly capable of that, but that was certainly less likely rather than more likely given the timing of the race. I was in the best shape of my life, but I also didn't have the deep fitness that comes with a full season of preparation and which generally sets up those sort of breakthrough performances like I had at Ironman Texas last year. My goal was to win the race, and I think I am capable of that, but I just was not on the day.
My biggest frustration was that the swim conditions prevented me from showing the real improvements that I think I made in the pool this winter. However, they also exposed a clear deficiency. I knew I was not a great rough water swimmer, but I also didn't not think I was that bad. And the value of a lesson like that is hard to overstate. I didn't get as much as I'd hoped out of the race in Melbourne in terms of experience, but I do think it was a valuable learning experience, which was one of my major goals. I believe that I got enough out of the race that I will be a better athlete for having done it, even if I missed out on some of the challenges that I set for myself going in.
In addition to the piece I wrote on here before the race, I wrote a similar (though not entirely redundant) piece for Ironman.com which you can read here:
And there was great post-race analysis of my own power file from the bike (as well as that of Clayton Fettell and several of the female pros) on TrainingPeaks.com and then in a related piece on Slowtwitch.com. You can find those here:
Thanks again for the all the well wishes leading into the race and the post race congratulations. 2013 is underway. Onwards and upwards. As Simon Whitfield likes to say, the relentless pursuit continues.