Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Part II: The beginning of the end (of the season)

Finally.. I thought this day would never come. Four weeks ago, I kicked off my first of what would be an extremely painful series of Olympic distance races. I was unpleasantly surprised in my first race (the San Diego Classic) that I had actually gotten worse at running. Didn't think that was actually possible. However, I saw a major improvement in my cycling. In my first year of racing, I would just go as hard as possible in all three sports and it would all kind of equal out. But as I improved at each discipline, I was able to put in a greater effort and use up much more energy in one sport, resulting in a lack of energy (that I expected to be present) in the next sport. So while I'm racing and going as hard as I can on the bike leg of a race, I pay for it in the run. I'm coming to find out triathlon is all about balance, and as evidence of the Ironman World Championship last weekend, it's easy to see the guys who go balls out on the bike, end up dead on the run and fade out. It was great to watch Chris McCormack's race, because he pushed it in the bike, but only to a point, then when the run came he was in a decent position, with plenty of energy left to put out a strong run. He didn't have the fastest bike split of the day, and he didn't have the fastest run, but they were balanced perfectly. It's harder than it sounds, but pacing is one of the biggest parts of long course racing.

AG National Championship (ALABAMA)
I was pretty excited about this trip for a few reasons; I've never spent time in the South before, and I've always wanted to, the race is the same course for Collegiate Nationals this year, and lastly, it was a National Championship. It was awesome to have the city of Tuscaloosa host the event (which is basically just The University of Alabama), they were really supportive of the race and everyone was friendly and helpful. As the raced approached, I was feeling really good physically and mentally. I went for a little ride/run the day before the race and felt amazing. Race day, I was surprisingly calm and confident.

As the 29 and under wave lined up in the river along the dock, I got an odd spot, right in the middle of everyone. Not too stoked, because my strategy was to all out sprint to the first buoy to make sure I could be in position in the lead pack. I hate battling a big crowd to get out in front. Sure enough they didn't announce the the gun going off so I missed my usual quick jump on the pack to sprint past everyone. I fell victim to the chaos of the crowd. I've only gotten stuck in the pack at the beginning of a race a few times (my first race, Hawaii 70.3 both years, and this race). Each time I haven't gotten past everyone, I've had a horrible swim. Needless to say, I had a horrible swim. I couldn't get past these big doofy guys taking up space, splashing around like they knew what they were doing. By the time I worked my way out of the pack of "non-swimmers", I poked my head up and saw that the lead pack was a good minute ahead of me. There was no chance of catching up to them so I put my head down and pushed the hardest
sustainable pace I could. Unfortunately, the swim was a complete solo effort. There was no one around me swimming my pace, I was constantly passing guys that somehow got in front of me.
When I exited the swim, I didn't get down about it and knew if I was going to do anything great today, I'd have to push the bike pretty hard. I seemed to only get faster the longer I went on the bike, and to my advantage, it was hilly! I was passing dudes left and right and felt great. I decided to really put down the hammer on the second lap and floored it. I caught a big pack of guys in my age group all drafting off each other at the bottom of a hill. As I passed all of them going up the hill I shouted "nice peleton guys" (referring to draft-legal cycling) and three of them jumped on my tail and started drafting off me! Two of these losers actually hung with me until the end of the bike. When I dismounted I checked my watch and saw my split was 58:45 (which I later found out was a little off due to me hitting my watch a minute late). So it gave me a little confidence that I had just biked under an hour on a hilly course in a National event.
I threw on my shoes and booked it out of transition. I flew past a dude that was drafting off me, within 20 feet after I ran out of T2 and wanted yell "Man's Game Bitch!" (Jim Rome reference) in his face but restrained and smiled at him. God was probably getting me back... after running a blazing 5:20 first mile, my stomach cramped up and forced me to stop. After standing on the side of the road for a good 30-45 seconds, I started running again, determined to push through it. My legs just felt way too good for my stomach to ruin my day. I hit the first hill and recognized the guy that got 4th last year in Collegiate Nationals 20 seconds ahead of me. I got really amped and charged up. My day ended seconds later, when I threw up. The pain of my side stitch was out of control and I knew this run was not going to happen. I tried to walk for a bit to see if it would subside.. Nope. So I sat in the shade (did I mention that it was 90+ with heavy dirty south humidity?) with my head between my legs throwing up disappointment. I won the DNF group handily through.

My trip got a lot brighter when I watched the elite race later that day. It was awesome to see those guys go at it in a fast paced ITU (draft-legal) style race. I rarely get to see races, as I'm in most of them, so it's great to watch the best and learn from them. The next morning in the airport heading home, I was on the phone with my dad and sat down at my gate in seats on the opposite side of the only other two people in the terminal. As I hung up the phone, I glanced over my shoulder and noticed I was sitting next to Greg and Laura Bennett (two of the best Triathletes in the world, who had not only raced in the elite race the day before, but Laura won the female elite race by a dominate margin). I introduced myself to them and they were two of the nicest people I've ever met. I learned that Greg had to drop out of his race because of the same problem, stomach cramps around the first mile. I talked with them for over 45 minutes and they were really inspirational and encouraging, to say the least. So I came back from Alabama with a disappointing race but a lot more motivation to keep improving.
LA Triathlon & OC Triathlon
I realize this post is getting long, so I'll wrap it up. With great timing, I got sick the day I got back from Bama. I guess something has been going around :-/ So I couldn't train all week and was forced to lay around with a lingering flu. Had it not been for my good friend David's hospitality, I probably wouldn't have gone up to race. I didn't have a great race, performance wise. It wasn't pretty (snotty and mucusy) but I was proud of myself for pushing through it. I ended up taking first in the Collegiate Division, but the good/elite collegiate guys weren't out there so...
OC was basically a really good training day. I had an ok swim (kinda hard being the last wave, pushing people out of your way), a really easy bike, I didn't push it too hard knowing the run was all hills, and a decent run, running a hard & hilly course a minute 30 faster than I did the previous year. I won the 20-24 division and I believe came in 2nd in the amateur field.

Now the real fun begins as I start my build for Clearwater. I feel my running legs are finally coming up to speed and I'll be able to get my endurance stronger. Thanks to all my family and friends for supporting me! I'll keep you updated