Saturday, June 29, 2013

TriRock Philadelphia Triathlon Race Report

The TriRock Philadelphia Triathlon took place on June 23, 2013 and was my sixth time racing on this course. Over the years this has gone from a relatively local race run by local people, to becoming a part of the TriRock series this year. Over the years the race course has changed little, something I can appreciate. It is nice to race in different places on different courses, for sure, but having a familiar race on the schedule is nice.

In talking to others I have found that there are many people who are not big fans, who won't race here any more. I get that. Living 60 miles north of Philadelphia, the race is a long drive on race morning if you don't plan on staying in Philly. The swim is in the Schuylkill River, which is clean, but has a bad reputation; The bike course can be technical and crowded; The run is a little goofy and can get hot. Me ... I really like this race.

Saturday Pre-Race Packet Pickup

Late Saturday morning I hopped into the Prius and headed down the Northeast Extension to the race expo to pickup my race packet and hopefully meet up with Philippe. As anyone who has ever driven in Philadelphia would expect, the Schuylkill Expressway was bumper-to-bumper. Fortunately, I have raced in Philly enough to know how to get around without the main highways, and lost little time due to traffic. On Belmont Ave. I passed pro triathlete, and second place finisher, Andy Potts, who was riding his bike over to the expo.

The lines were short and I got my packet in a timely manner, but they made it a bit more complicated than it needs to be. The expo was mostly the same vendors as year's past with one exception. I read about this product called Swim Spray that says it will take away that chlorine smell that comes with pool swimming. Got a free sample and plan on trying it our shortly. You can get more information at Philippe hit too much traffic and we didn't meet up.


Due to the layout of the course all athletes need to be out of the transition area by 6:15 am and onto a bus to the St. Joe Boathouse by 6:20 am. The Pro waves go off at 6:30 am and the first age groupers hit the water at 7 am. I get why they do it. By sending the pros off as early as they do, they have a clear course to race without the congestion of age groupers on their second bike loop. While I get it, I am not a fan of the 4 am wake up (I don't stay in the city) or the 90 minutes of sitting around for my 8 am wave to get started.

The good news is I saw Philippe before the race and he looked calm and ready to race (even though I know he was jittery on the inside). I met some of his J&J co-workers who were also competing, and had more than enough time to loosen up and use the port-o-john. Much to my delight, there was plenty of toilet paper, a big issue last year.

Swim: 1500M 21:14

Because you are swimming a straight course with the current the swim is always fast. This year things were a bit different as TriRock ditched the traditional wave start for a controlled rolling start, with 10 people taking off every 20 seconds. Sounded good in theory, but I was skeptical as to how this would in practice. And now I must admit that the rolling start worked really, really well. The staff were good about keeping things moving and efficient.

Once I sat on the dock and took off I found clean water and had none of the usual issues in a wave start. At almost every race the swim start is a bit of a cluster$@ck that takes a few hundred meters of jockeying around to settle in. Once things get comfortable you start to catch the back end of earlier waves, almost always clustered together. Here, it was clear water all the way as people were spread out. I stayed a little to the left and exited the water in a PR time of 21:14.

T1: 3:12

Nothing exciting here, other than a bit of trouble with one leg of my wetsuit costing me a few seconds. Slow times are normal here with the long run through transition and to the bike mount line.

Bike: 40K 1:04:26

This is the #1 reason why I like this race. Two loops around the river with 4 technical climbs each loop. According to my Garmin there was approx. 1200 ft. of vertical, which isn't all that bad, but it is a tricky 1200 ft. Part of racing here is dealing with the bike traffic on these hills, which wasn't as bad this year as in years past. Maybe because of the swim start, maybe because I wasn't in the last wave. The flats, which ride fast and fun, were all that and more.

Overall I rode well and within myself, producing a 30 second bike split PR.

T2: 1:35

Was about as efficient as I could have been. When I got to the bike rack I could see I was second in my age group, but not sure how far back and how I would hold up with little running in the last six week. Changed shoes, grabbed my race number, hat and gel and headed out for the run.

Run: 10k 49:24

Coming out of T2 I had no idea what to expect. The plan was to run what felt like a comfortable pace and adjust based on how I was feeling. Mile one felt ok but not great. After seeing I was holding a 7:16/mile pace I decided to just hold there and see what happens. About a 1/2 mile down the road I passed Philippe whose wave started 30 minutes before mine. He looked good and had a smile on his face .. a good sign for sure.

Long story short, I held pace through about 3 1/2 miles before the legs decided they had enough. The last few miles were a struggle, with some walking breaks. The legs simply decided they were done a little too early.

Overall: 2:19:52  8th in AG40-44, 108/1333

All things considered I am happy with my performance. Coming off a calf injury I knew my run would be a crap shoot. While I swam and rode faster than I ever have at the Olympic distance, I don't think that was the cause of my run problems. It also got a bit warm ... but again, not an issue. Run fitness - or lack there of - was the issue on the day. And fortunately, that can be rectified.

Philippe finished in 2:58:xx.

Like I said earlier, I really enjoy this race. TriRock has some work to do as it wasn't 100% as smooth as it should/could be. There were two rookie mistakes, both dealing with water, that I cannot give them a pass on. At the St.Joe Boathouse there was no water available when my bus arrived. It did eventually show up and wasn't an issue for me, but should have never been an issue. The other issue of note was the water on the race course was lukewarm at best, and way too warm at its worst. I would expect this to be rectified for the 2014 race.

Up next: a little vacation time and my two week, mid-season break.

Train hard, stay focused.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

In Defense of Food

On October 10, 2010 I ran the Chicago Marathon. The very next day I made the decision that while I ate a reasonable diet, my eating habits could improve. See, as The Queen would tell you, I wasn't a very good vegetable eater. I ate mostly real food, but I knew I wasn't getting the nutrition I could be getting with a more thoughtful eating plan.

Being as active as I am with swim/bike/run, it takes a lot of food to keep me going. When I'm training for an Ironman, it takes a family-of-four amount of food to keep me going. That may be exaggerating a little ... but I suspect that The Queen might agree with me on this one (as she's the one who buys the food).

I came to realize that there is a better way, one where the calories you get are more nutritionally dense, helping the body recover. In my younger days recovery rarely came to the front of my thoughts. Since turning 40 a few years ago, thinking of recovery - and how to speed up the process - has definitely been front of mind. My thinking on 10/11/10 was fairly simple: better nutrition would lead to better overall health, which would lead to better recovery.

At that point in time the decision was made to eat more fruits and vegetables.

In the past I have read up on nutrition and could tell you about how much protein you need, and things like that. Yet, I really had no knowledge on food ... so I started to read up on the subject. Which led me to Michael Pollan's book, In Defense of Food. The thesis is simple: "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants."  When he says food, he means real food, not "edible foodlike substances." This made me think back to when I a kid and we had dinner almost every night around the kitchen table as a family. Those meals were real food, cooked by mom, not the processed food-like substances that fill grocery store shelves today.

Another overriding theme of the book is that the science of nutrition has done more harm than good. The more we think about the need for this vitamin or that mineral, we lose the big picture of fueling the body. Go to almost any  grocery store and you can see what Pollan's talking about. "Enriched with Vitamin C" ... "Calcium Fortified"  ... vitamin enriched  just about anything ... you know what I'm talking about.

The Western diet, essentially, has lost its way, becoming something that is more damaging than helpful. He argues that something gets lost when we break down what we eat into its nutritional pieces without losing something in the translation. Food is more than the sum of the parts.

So when we have a simple meal of rice and beans, for example, we know that we get a certain amount of protein, x grams of carbohydrates and fat, with a variety of vitamins and minerals. And while we could take in these exact amounts of nutrition in a different way, there is something about the combination of the rice with the beans that makes biological sense to our bodies, and makes the combination work. Sure, it is a tasty combination, but Pollan argues these foods work together to give you a nutritional value greater than the sum of the parts.Put another way, 2+2=5.

The ideas in Pollan's book helped confirm my own ideas about eating and fueling the body. I have always been a believer in "real" food as it makes sense. Please don't let me fool you into thinking I'm perfect. I eat chips and other questionable substances, but the vast majority of what I eat is real food. Maybe I can thank Joe Weider's Muscle & Fitness magazine or maybe my mom. Probably both.

Since 10/10/10 I have gone from being a "bad vegetable eater" to a "good vegetable eater" and have noticed the difference. I still eat meat, but I really don't crave it like I have in the past. My energy levels have become very consistent and my body recovers much better since making the change. I feel the difference not just from workout to workout, but also near the end of the year when, in the past, my body would always seem to break down.

This book has helped me make some changes to my eating habits for the better. I recover faster, have steadier energy levels, and I have to be healthier. In Defense of Food is a relatively quick read that makes sense for anyone looking to just be healthier, or for the athlete who is looking to get the most from his or her body. Michael Pollan has a new book, Cooked, that I have on my Summer reading list.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Run Update, Thoughts on Philly Tri

On Monday morning I was back out there running this week after 6 weeks of dealing with a calf injury.Only went 3 miles, slowly, but I was running. Wednesday I went a bit further. Friday I did 5+on the road with some small hills and 10 miles this morning on the towpath. Not ready to say I'm back 100%, but racing Philly (now called TriRock Philly Tri) next weekend is a definite. I said race, not complete.

Yes, we really will be swimming in the Schuylkill River.
The big question now is, how do I go about this. Without 6 weeks away from running it would be simple - go all out. The variable I need to consider is how much work on the swim and bike is enough to run and not blow up. Or not blow up too much. I know I can run a 10k off the bike ... right now I'm not sure how much of a beating I can put on my legs and still run a descent 10k.

My default is to just go balls out on the swim and the bike, hoping for the best on the run. It's only 10k and blowing up would only give me 20-30 minutes of real suck at the end.Racing conservatively would have me hold back at least on the bike a bit to give me the best chance of a running and not blowing. There is always the middle ground. Maybe go into the run with the idea of getting progressively faster until I'm where I can go.


As for the early morning runs,it was nice to be back out there again this week.

Train hard. Stay focused.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Stupid Racing

Racing Rev3 Quassy in the Aqua-bike division instead of the full 70.3 distance, gave me a much different look at racing than I am used to. Over the years I have made more than my fair share of racing mistakes. In fact, safe to say if there is something bone-headed you could do ... I have given it a try. On June 2 I saw for myself what is probably the #1 error in racing triathlon - riding the bike too damn hard.

Triathlon is a sport that is a combination of three sports - swim, bike, and run. Every now and then I get asked which sport is the "hardest." For me it had been the swim, simply because I am not a swimmer and had to build swim fitness and technique. In reality, the run is where things tend to get interesting for many of us. Not because of run fitness in many cases, but due to either poor race day nutrition or bad racing.

And by bad racing, what I really mean is racing the bike.

Getting out of the water and onto the bike feels great. All warmed up and ready to push, it is soooo easy to just kill it out there on the bike. Especially at the 70.3 or full Ironman distance pushing the pace doesn't even feel hard ... at least for a while. What's worse is when you start in a later wave and have hundreds or thousands of people out in front of you. Passing people feels awesome!!! Until ...

There comes that point, either on the bike or on the run where you suddenly realize that your legs suddenly just aren't there. Can't figure what happened. Just. Not. There. What happened was you. Or in my case, me! A triathlon is swim-bike-run, not a bike race with a swim warmup and a run cool down. And a great bike and a crappy run is just a race that could have been better. Probably much better.

So in Quassy I was in a swim wave behind all the men except for those under the age of 30. That put a lot of guys in front of me, all of them having to run a 1/2 marathon off the bike. The top guys I would never see because, quite honestly, they were better than me and they started 5 to 20 minutes before I did. And if I did see them, they are strong enough cyclists/runners ... that's why they are the top guys.

All I had to do is ride my bike and grab some lunch. For once, I really was racing the bike. And I rode like it, pushing the pace from the get go. About 3 miles in, however, a funny thing happened - a guy tried to jump on my wheel. Getting past the it's illegal to draft thing, I was a little shocked. This was a challenging course which requires a disciplined approach. Yet here's a guy looking to push the pace three miles in,  just because I passed him. He didn't stay with me very long.

This happened again and again over the next two hours. Even on the 7 mile climb I saw it happen. Later in the day I was out on the run course cheering on friends thinking about the number of people walking/shuffling as they went by and wondering how many of them pushed too hard on the bike.

As I said earlier, I have done this myself. At the Philly Tri one year I did it quite spectacularly and for a really, really dumb reason. I'm riding along feeling good, doing what I need to do. Then, on the back half of the first loop I get passed -- really cut off - by this guy in my age group with this really stupid looking bike and a stupid grin on his face (I swear he did. There is no way he went by and wasn't taunting me with that look. No way!!!). Anyhow, I take off riding with my head down, like I was doing a time trial. I absolutely killed it. Coming into transition I realized that I had only drank 1/2 a bottle of Gatorade. Hummmm. Then my legs weren't quite under me "running" into T2 ...

Ugly would be an understatement for what happened after that. At least it was hot and the sun was glaring down on us, just so I could suffer a little more. Wasn't the first time it happened, wasn't the last.
This is what a bonk looks like - IMCDA June,2008
Which brings us back to the Philly Tri. I ran for the first time in 6 weeks this morning and in less than 2 weeks I will be in the Schuylkill River looking for a time, fully knowing that my run, at best, will be 2-3 minutes slower than I would like it to be. My better judgement tells me to run a smart race. My inner voice tells me to really push the bike. Must. Race. Smart.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Rev3 Quassy Race Report

At the beginning of every year I will sit down and figure out which races I plan on doing over the next twelve months. Some, like the xMas City 5 Miler, are always on the schedule.  Others are new or occasional events. Rev3 Quassy is a race I did in 2011 as a test of my fitness in my buildup to Ironman Lake Placid. When I signed up for 2013, it was an "A-ish" race for the first half of the year. And what I mean by that is I wanted to well, meet my goals, etc., but I had another race that was more important. With a bum calf,  the original game plan changed.

Earlier in the week I contacted the race director and explained that I couldn't run due to injury and wanted to switch to the AquaBike division. The very quick reply was, no problem, just let us know at packet pickup and we will change it for you. Because this is a Rev3 event, it really was that easy. So just like that I was able to compete without worry.

The expo was uneventful ... a few vendors, a pro forum, then the athlete's meeting. From there we found our hotel, ate some dinner, had some ice cream, tried to get some sleep.The only real issue we had was the bachelorette party that was starting/finishing directly across the hall from our room. (Side Note: Who the heck decides to get a room at the Holiday Inn Express for your friend's bachlorette party? Seriously, try this instead.) Fortunately they left rather quickly and the noise was limited over night.

Does it get any better than free soda? Who does that?
Jeff, Emily and I woke up around 4:30 am, grabbed some food at the Duncan Donuts and were in the transition area just after 6 am. Nick and Barb were already there getting set for the 7am start.

Swimming was a much different experience than I am used to with a wave start. Typically,the strong swimmers move aggressively to the front with the weaker swimmers to he back. The first few hundred meters can get rough, but it usually sorts itself out quickly. Here, there were a lot of weaker swimmers who seated themselves at the front, making it difficult to find space or a set of feet to draft off of. It only got worse at the first turn into a blinding sun. I was so not swimming straight until finally finding the final turn and heading into the swim finish. Honestly I was expecting to see a 35:xx on my watch and, all things considered, was happy with a 30:58 swim.

Transition was standard, with the exception that I walked it (due to my strained calf). My 3:04 was slow but expected.

Onto the bike and the real race in my eyes. The ride in Quassy is really like no other. With 4000+ ft. of climb, you need to be strong and fit. The pure amount of climbing is what everyone talks about, but there are other challenges to be conquered - a long, never-ending 7 mile climb from mile 23 to 30, technical descents, blind descents, portions of rough road, and sand/gravel sitting in the S-turn around mile 5. You need to bring your A-game, you need to stay focused, and you need to have proper bike gearing to keep from expending too much energy. 

The plan was to ride hard and fast to mile 23, take the middle section from 23 to the turnaround at mile 39.5 in control, then open it back up to the finish. Coming out of transition I was next to Emily long enough to say hello and I was gone. Starting in the 7th wave of swimmer I had a crowd of cyclists in front of me, but with more than enough room to ride without worry. For the first hour I put my head down focusing on pushing the pedals and hydrating. 

I hit the 7 mile climb just after the 1 hour mark with a steady rhythm and an eye on my effort. By the time I hit the top it was heating up and the water station was a needed commodity. I continued to manage the course to the turnaround and then I started to hammer it home. The final few miles feature steady climbing back into transition. Knowing my day would be over at transition, I continued to push right to the line. Official bike time was 2:42:09. Total race time was 3:16:11, good enough for second place in the AquaBike division. Full race results here.

After turning in my timing chip I walked over to the finish line to pick up my metal, get some Gatorade, and watch the end of the pro race. I was also able to see my race results and check up on where everyone was out on the course. See, Rev3 has computers setup to give you a chance to see results in real time. So not only did I know Emily and Jeff were out on the run, but I also knew how I placed. I spent the next few hours spectating and cheering for those still out on course.
Emily, Me, and "The Mayor" post-race

Overall Rev3 Quassy was a great experience. Changing my registration from the 1/2 Ironman to the AquaBike was simple and easy; the course a great challenge. The race was well organization, the people were friendly, and the venue was a nice change of pace. Quassy, if you don't know, is a small amusement park. The swim is in the lake the park is situated on, the transition area is right next to a roller coaster, the finish area is located in the pavilion area. I sure I will be back.

Next up: Trirock Philadelphia on June 23.

Train hard. Stay focused.