Monday, April 15, 2013

 (The flags flying half staff at Georgia Gwinnett College.) 

On Monday, I spent more time following the Boston Marathon than I ever had.  I watched the entire men's and women's races online, both of which were very exciting (for totally different reasons).  I also tracked five friends, including two athletes that I coach.  I had a ball.  Alas, my enjoyment turned to horror--just as everyone's did--at the 4:09 mark of the race.

The attack upset me for a lot of reasons.  My wife Kacie wrote a great blog entry about why it was particularly painful for endurance athletes.  I have read it several times since Monday afternoon.       

While I was watching the race, I wrote a blog entry, and it seems wrong not to publish it--as if, to use an incredibly over-used phrase, I'm letting the terrorists win.  At the same time, I think it would callous to publish a blog--especially a blog by an endurance athlete entitled "A Great Weekend!"--without first acknowledging the tragedy that befell Boston and the worldwide running community.   What I wrote follows.  

A Great Weekend!

Team Darden had a great weekend!  Kacie did the Tony Serrano Century on Saturday, then was the second female finisher in the mountainous, 108-mile Tour of Georgia Gran Fondo on Sunday.  I'm sure that she'll be writing about that stuff in her blog, so you should check it out.

Speaking of checking out other blogs, if you're not already following Power, Pedals, and Ponytails, you should be!  I wrote a race report for the Heart of the South 500 that Dani and Kacie won last weekend.  Read it, and be amazed at what the two of them accomplished!  They are starting to get a lot more attention, which they certainly deserve.  While you're reading, check out this article on Women Who Cycle, and this article announcing their sponsorship by Moxie jerseys.   

My good weekend started with a really good swim on Saturday.  Several months ago, I wrote that I was endeavoring to become "George the Swimmer."  (I've even used that hashtag on Twitter several times whenever I have had 140 characters to share about my progress.)  A few weeks ago, I wrote about how things were going at the Dynamo masters swim class that I've been taking since January.  Most folks who know that I've been focusing on my swimming have been asking me, "Do you think you've improved?"  My answer was always, "I don't know," because I felt like I never had an apples-to-apples comparison.  Certainly, I felt like I was better, but I wouldn't really know until I either raced or, more accurately, got in the pool at the LA Fitness where I've done so many swims and just put in a lot of laps.

Well, since I had a race on Sunday but I really didn't want to take Saturday completely off, I decided that it was the perfect chance for a swim at the LA Fitness.  I didn't aim to swim hard or fast, but just normal.  I wanted to see how my time for a regular 2000y swim would compare to what I would normally do for a regular 2000y swim before I started going to masters.  The result?  Four minutes.  Four minutes.  That is how much time has fallen off my 2000y swim time in only three months.  That's a minute per 500, or more than 12 seconds per 100.  That analogous to taking a minute off your 10K pace.  I could hardly believe my watch.  It was way beyond my expectations, and needless to say, it will serve to keep me going to masters for the next couple of months!

One interesting side note on my swim.  I wear a Swimsense watch which tells me my distance per stroke and my stroke rate.  Despite speeding up significantly, my distance per stroke and my stroke rate were the same that they always have been.  This suggests to me that the gain in speed is due entirely to improved body position and hydrodynamics.  Am I right about that, fishy friends?

On to the big show . . .

PT Solutions Cartersville Duathlon Race Report!
Sunday was my first multisport race in an Atlanta Tri Club kit.  I was excited, but also a bit nervous.  The race was a 5K run, a roughly 17-mile bike, and another 5K run.  A triathlon without swimming?  It sounds like my kind of event!!  Needless to say, I felt that I could do very well.  At the same time, I was unsure of my fitness.  I've certainly done some fast running in the past few months, but I haven't done much long cycling.  Like I wrote before, I've been experimenting with a lot of short and fast workouts, and due to scheduling conflicts and such, I haven't done anything long on my bike in a month.  On Wednesday night, I did an LT/FTP test, and I scored about 15-20 watts lower than I would have liked.  That was another blow to my confidence.  Combine my high expectations with my lack of certainty about my preparation, and that means I wasn't sleeping much on Saturday night. 

I made it to the race in plenty of time and got all checked in.  I had a nice warmup in Dellinger Park at sunrise, amongst the rabbits and deer.  And then I headed to the starting line.  My friend (and fellow RAAM crew member) Beau was there, and he got this picture at the start:

My goal was to run a relaxed 17:15 to 17:30 for the first 5K, then keep my wattage around 260 on the bike (which I figured would give me about 43:00), then another 17:15 to 17:30 for the second 5K.  I was heading into unknown territory, though.  I'm still less than two years out from doing my first ever triathlon, and I've only done one other duathlon ever.

Even though my goal meant the first mile should have been about 5:40, a group of four of us went through the first mile at about 5:25.  I was running relaxed and felt fine, so I just went with it.  I feel like I have pretty good running "instincts."  By that, I mean that I can run according to perceived effort for various distances really well.  It's a skill I've built up over many, many years!  Thus, when my effort feels right, even if my times are off, I tend to trust my instinct.  In fact, I felt good enough to take the lead just after the mile mark, and my second mile was about the same.  One of the other three guys dropped off the pace.  In the third mile, I backed off just a bit in the last half mile to save some for the bike, but the mile split was nonetheless still the same.  I came into T1 in 16:45, a few steps in front of the two other runners.  I was pretty charged by this first run.  The effort felt perfect, and yet it was a good thirty seconds faster than I expected.                
I then gave back too many of those seconds in T1.  I need to work on my transitions.  I was a little bit shaky as I tried to change my shoes, but more importantly, I don't yet know how to do a "flying mount" on my bike.  Both of the two guys I led into transition changed faster than me and got out of T1 faster.  It took me 48 seconds to change my shoes, put on my helmet, and run my bike out of transition, but then I spent another ten seconds or so stopping, throwing my leg over my bike, and starting pedaling.  By that time, both of the other guys were down the road.  I had no trouble catching the first one, but the second would prove a bit more difficult.   
There were several speed bumps on the way out of the parking lot.  I hit the first one, and nearly lost my bottle.  I fixed it, hit the second one, and nearly lost my bottle again.  I fixed it, hit the third one, and DID lose my bottle.  It didn't matter all that much--I didn't really need the nutrition--but I would have liked to have had a bit of liquid!  Anyway, I caught one of the two cyclists in front of me in the first half-mile, and I knew that I wouldn't see him again.  The fella that got out of T1 first, though, was out like a shot.  I could see him way in front of me on some long straightaways, but for the whole of the bike ride, I was solo.  That's a unique experience for me since I'm used to getting out of the water in the middle of the pack and passing a lot of people on the bike.  It was what I was expecting in this race, though, so I wasn't thrown off.  Anyway, the bike course was actually harder than I thought it would be.  There were some pretty big hills in the first half, and there was a bit of wind.  Happily, though, most of that was in the first half of the course.  In addition, I actually rode with more power than I thought I would.  By the time I came into T2, I couldn't see the leader in front of me, but there was no one in sight behind me.  In the end, my bike split was the second-fastest bike split in the race, but it was almost three minutes behind the guy in the lead.  My split (43:31--23.4 mph) was slower than I would have liked, but I'm chalking that up to the wind and hills.  My average power (280w) was higher than I had expected.  T2, with its simple change of shoes, was much better.  It only took 30 seconds. 

As I was leaving transition, the race director yelled at me that the leader had three minutes on me.  I knew that I needed to run well and I needed the leader to blow up.  Three minutes--I couldn't even see him.  It was possible if he ran 20:00 and I ran 17:00, but I figured it was a long shot.  Unlike the first 5K where I had people to run with the entire time, the second 5K was an entirely solo affair.  It went well, though.   
From having done a lot of triathlons and bricks, I know that I always "feel slow" when I start running off the bike.  This was no exception.  My legs kinda felt terrible, too, but I could tell I was moving okay, and the rest of me felt good.  By the first mile or so, I found my running legs.  My first mile was a little bit slower than my first mile in Run #1 (5:25 vs. 5:35), but it was still in the ballpark of what I wanted to do.  The second mile was comparable to what I did in Run #1 (both about 5:25), so at that point, I knew that I would have a good second run.  I also saw the leader during an out-and-back portion in the second mile, and I knew he was too far in front of me to catch.  I was okay with it, though, because I felt like I was having a good race.  I ran my third mile faster than I had run my third mile in Run #1 (5:30 vs. 5:15) since I didn't need to hold anything back for the bike.  I ended up running my second 5K with exactly the same average pace as the first--5:24 pace.  The second one was just a touch longer than 5K, though, so the splits don't quite match (16:45 vs. 16:54).  My friend (and also fellow RAAM crew member) Keith was also there, and he took this picture of me coming in on the second run:
 (I think that all of the swimming has been worth it just for the way my arms look in these pictures.) 

My final race time was 1:18:28--comfortably under my "reach" goal of 1:20:00.  I was very happy about that.  On my way back to my car, I talked to the winner, Bert Harrison, a bit.  He lives in Boone, North Carolina--pretty much the best cycling grounds in the southeastern U.S.  (No wonder he smoked me on the bike!)  He also finished in the top ten at Age Group Duathlon Nationals last year, so he's clearly no slouch.  I finished just under 3:00 behind him, and in fact, I did roughly the same time that he did last year before he went on to finish in the top ten at Nationals two weeks later.  Needless to say, that has me rethinking what I might want to do with my time after IM Wisconsin.  There's this race in Tuscon, Arizona, on October 26, where I might do well if I ride my bike a bit more, do some more speedwork on the run, and hone my transition skills.  Hmm . . .  

Here I am on the podium, thanks again to Keith: 

Overall, I would say that this is a very good start to the multisport season!  After riding the Cheaha Challenge Gran Fondo next weekend--where I'll try to ride well, but I'm not aiming to defend my title after not riding many miles so far in 2013--I'll hit the water at the John Tanner Sprint Triathlon on April 27.  On to the next one!  

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