Sunday, July 31, 2011

"Pittsburgh Race Report"

Today's race was another positive step toward the 70.3 Championships in Las Vegas.  The International (Olympic) distance (1.5 km swim, 40 km bike, and 10 km run) has evolved for me over the past four years.  Four years ago, when I first started triathlon, the International distance was my "Super Bowl."  It was a challenge to finish.  After a couple years of training for the 70.3 distance (half-ironman), the goal now is to go as fast and as hard as possible.

Race Morning

My swim time today was consistently average.  I came out of the water in a little over 26 minutes and made it to T1 by 27:35 ranking 50th overall.  Obviously, I have some more work to do on my swim, but isn't that the fun of doing something, the chance to improve.

Running to T1

After dealing with some foggy glasses and a crowded bike rack in T1, I was on the bike and ready to "crush it."  Coming out of the water, Laura informed me I was in 7th place in my age group, and at the top of the hill turnaround (about 10 miles into the bike), I counted 14 riders total in front of me.  I put the gas pedal to the floor going back down to Heinz Field registering 40 mph a few times, and then tried to beat my first lap split on the second lap.  When I saw my sister, Jess, and her fiance, Adam, just before the final turn to the bike dismount, I put in a few last hard revolutions and dismounted with a top ranked bike split of 58:39.  Yes!  I was shooting for the fastest bike split.

Bike dismount

Coming out of T2, I felt my swim and bike had put me in a competitive place going into the run.  I started with a faster pace than usual knowing I only had to go about 6 miles instead of the half-iron 13.1.  As I passed the sprint triathlon turnaround, the volunteer informed me I was in 5th place about five minutes back.  I knew my friend and Pittsburgh Triathlon Club President, Chad Holderbaum, was in first place, and it would be impossible to close a five minute gap.  However, I didn't know how far ahead the 4th place runner was so I kept my quick pace.  At the run turnaround, I saw that the 4th place runner had me by about 400-500 meters.  I also noticed that I only had about 200 m on the 6th place runner.  NO WAY WAS I GOING TO FINISH 6th.  Nobody says, "Top 6."  It's always "Top 5."  I kept my pace hoping to see the guy in front of me and believing I was holding off the guy behind me.  As I approached the final water station, about a mile from the finish, I couldn't see 4th place so I glanced behind me to see where 6th place was.  HE'S RIGHT BEHIND ME!!!  In fact, Bret Miller (I met and talked to he and his dad, also a race participant, after the race) said to me when he caught my glance, "YES, IT'S ME AND I'M COMING FOR YOU!"  I replied, "YEP, HERE WE GO!"

Running scared from Brett

Sometimes when I train, I wonder how much I would have left, if a race came down to a sprint (or at least as much as one can possibly sprint after six or thirteen or however many miles).  Would my football background, where speed is everything, help me?  Would my legs be able to move fast enough?  Would my lungs hold up?  Would I be willing to hurt enough to finish ahead of my rival?  Well, this was that moment.  Bret looked to be a slender 6'3 and obviously had intentions of finishing top five himself.  I immediately quickened my pace to try and put distance between me and Bret.  It didn't.  He was no more than 15 meters behind me.  I could here him breathing.  I pushed harder.  His breathing became labored, and I knew I had to go harder.  The harder I went, the more he would hurt and eventually realize it wasn't going to happen for him.  I couldn't allow him the thoughts of catching me.  With about 200 m to the finish and without slowing, I glanced behind me.  TOP FIVE!  Of course, it ends up that Bret was a nice guy, who had grown up in Pittsburgh and now lives in the San Francisco area.  While triathletes compete against each other, we share the suffering that bonds us.  So my final overall time of 2:08:07 was good enough for an overall finish of 5th place and an age group finish of 1st.  Yes, a podium finish and as I said, another positive step toward the 70.3 Championship in Las Vegas.

Podium finish

Congratulations to all that raced today.  There were many other fantastic performances by Chad (1st place overall), Jill Schapiro (PTC V.P. & 3rd place in her age group for the sprint triathlon) and my friends Christy and Matt Crummy.  Christy finished 1st in her age group and Matt PR'd.

Thanks to all my family that came to the race to support me, especially Laura and Luke.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011


Ah, summertime is a great time.  Vacations, cookouts, long days, sunshine, and racing.  Tonight we're heading to the U2 concert at Heinz Field.  A bunch of my good friends from high school are going and it's going to be an awesome night!  In addition to the concert, this weekend is the Pittsburgh Triathlon!  I've done the Pittsburgh Triathlon every year I've done triathlon.  I think that will make this year's race my fifth.  I always enjoy racing in Pittsburgh because it's a great course with a unique bike course that heads north on 279 in the HOV lane and then right back down to the city.  Two very fast laps!  Last year, I had the fastest bike split in the entire race, and I'm hoping to match that feat this year.  Although Pittsburgh is no longer an "A" race for me, I always race to do my best.  Every race is a measuring stick for my progress in the sport.  This year Pittsburgh serves as an important step to the 70.3 Championships in September.  I'm not planning any taper for this weekend, but will still expect to feel good and race well.  Good luck to all those getting ready to race in Pittsburgh this weekend!  The sport of triathlon is gaining momentum in the 'burgh and hopefully this weekend will be another positive step in the right direction.  Be sure to check back on Monday or Tuesday for my race report!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

"Back at It!"

After the Amica Ironman 70.3 Rhode Island, I spent last week "recovering" with some long, but low intensity workouts.  The goal was to let my body recover, while keeping the good rythm I've been having in training.  As the weekend approached, I knew it was time to crank it back up.  Saturday consisted of a 3500 meter swim and a 15 mile run.  Both workouts went very well.  I feel that my swim continues to improve.  I have been focusing on my form by implementing the "catch" drill.  It has helped me get more out of each stroke by forcing me to pull the water through the entire stroke.  I also feel that I have more balance and bouyancy in the water.  I haven't been too concerned with my workout splits because I've moved from a 25 yard pool to a 25 meter pool so I'm still getting a consistent read on my times.  As for the run, I was surprised with my 7:07 pace at the Amica race and have continued to think that maybe it was a fluke.  Maybe the course was short.  That does happen sometime.  However, after the 15 mile run on Saturday at North Park, I am confident it wasn't a fluke.  I improved my personal 15 mile time by about three and a half minutes keeping about a 7:30 pace.  Good stuff.  It means I'm headed in the right direction.  If I can keep improving my weaknesses, I could achieve another breakout race come September at the 70.3 World Championships.  Sunday's workout was supposed to be a three and a half hour bike ride followed by a thirty minute run.  However, when I decided to venture from the North Hills down to Oakmont, then out to Tarentum and Saxonburg, the day's workout changed to an 80 mile ride without the run.  My ride included a stop at a one pump gas station where I had to down some Powerade and three home-baked cookies (1 choc. chip, 1 sugar, 1 peanut butter) to keep my energy level up.  By the time I got home, I only had time for a quick shower and then Laura, Luke, and I were off to Jessie and Adam's house (Jessie is my sister and Adam is her fiance) to watch the Women's World Cup Final.  Yes, I enjoy watching soccer.  I don't think it's boring.  Well, at least not when the US is playing.  I decided to take Monday completely off from working out.  I believe it is important to take a day off once a week.  This isn't always easy for me to do.  I've always been a hard worker, perhaps too hard.  Even as a WR at Duke I remember going into games feeling tired and beat up from the week's practice.  As I have gotten older, I have learned the discipline of rest.  I now implement the philosophy that sometimes less is more.  You have to train smartly with specific goals that allow your body to perform at its best.  I believe there is a lot of wisdom in this approach, and I try to implement it in my coaching as well.  So with a full week under my belt since my last race, I'm "Back at It" and looking forward to racing the Pittsburgh Triathlon in less than two weeks, while also preparing for the Championships in Vegas.  All the travel arrangements for Las Vegas are set and as my friend and triathlon mentor, Beth Shutt, says, it's time to train our butts off so we can kill it in Vegas.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

"Rhody Race Report"

What a weekend it was!!!  My last blog post on Saturday morning explained the exciting arrival Greg (my high school buddy that was doing his first 70.3) and I had into Providence, Rhode Island.  The weekend only got better from there...

First, I want to thank Greg's friends, Dan and Mark, for allowing us to stay with them.  Dan owns an acre of property in Lincoln Woods, and he and Mark were the best hosts ever.  They made us feel completely at home and along with Greg, who did his medical residency in Providence, introduced me to the most under-rated city I've ever visited.

Mark and Greg

Me and Dan

Saturday was a great day that consisted of my usual pre-race routines: workouts, packing race bags (there are two transition areas with a point-to-point bike), dropping off bike and run gear at transitions, driving the bike and run courses, and a fantastic homemade spaghetti dinner with chicken at the house.

My pre-race workouts went very well.  Sometimes you're not sure how your body will respond to a taper week, but I felt great physically and was mentally confident as well.  I did about 20-30 minutes of swimming, biking, and running each.  I went a little longer than normal because I hadn't done anything the two previous days.  I tested my new Zipp Firecrest race wheels and everything was working just as it should.  I think race wheels are faster when you own them.  Ha!

Swim start on Saturday morning

T1 - I was the first athlete there Saturday morning

T2 in downtown Providence just across the street from the Capitol
Setting up for Sunday's big finish in front of the Capitol Building

Greg & I Saturday afternoon (Go Duke!)

Finally, race day arrives!!!  My wave was set to go off at 6:15 a.m.  A little earlier than any other race I've done because sunrise in Providence is around 5:05 a.m.

Sunrise on Race Day

Each wave started from the beach at Olney Pond.  Greg and I started side-by-side, but I knew I wouldn't be able to stay with him in the water.  Of course, the swim was not wetsuit legal.  A word of caution, if you're racing with me, leave your wetsuit at home.  A non-wetsuit swim is never a good thing for me because I probably benefit more than others from the buoyancy that a wetsuit provides.  Anyway, I figured there was no use worrying about something out of my control.  I was confident in the work I had put into my swim over the winter, spring, and early summer and was ready to give it my best.  The swim was quite rough for the first 500 meters.  There were bodies all over the place, and I made it a point to let people know I was in the water (an advantage to being a little bigger).  Halfway through the swim, I felt like I had found a good rhythm and could see myself passing other swimmers in my age group as well as the age group in front of me.  I felt like I was going to post a PR.  As I swam the last 400 meters, I could see the crowd of spectators on the beach.  It was awesome!  I really focused on my form as much as my effort and finished the swim very pleased with a 37:44 split, my PR!  Those of you that know me, know I'm not a fast swimmer, but seeing my PR on my watch as I exited the water set the stage for the bike, which is where I can really get after it.

The bike course was a very scenic ride through the rolling hills of northwest Rhode Island.  It was a course that setup well for my riding abilities.  My power on the bike allowed me to take advantage of the downslopes even though I also attacked most of the climbs.  The bike started out like most of my races.  I was passing all the people that exited the water before me.  I was pumped!  However, I quickly realized that I may have made a very costly strategic mistake.  I had frozen my sports drink overnight thinking they would have thawed throughout the morning.  As I took my first sip on the bike, I was shocked to find the first bottle still mostly frozen.  Had I made a huge mistake?  I didn't give it too much thought though.  I kept riding hard and hoped the bottles would thaw quickly.  About an hour and a half into the bike, now with completely thawed bottles (thank goodness because I also told Greg that freezing your drinks was a good strategy), I experienced something I had never experienced in a race before.  As I was riding, I found myself almost completely alone.  We had driven the course the day before so I knew I hadn't gone wrong.  There was also this motorcyclist that kept passing me and stopping over and over again.  I didn't want to be overconfident, but the thought crept into my mind that this had to be a good thing.  I must be out in front!!!  Not first, of course, but close to it!  At least for my age group!  I had stopped seeing ages in my division a while ago (your age is marked on the back of your calf).  Then, the motorcyclist that was stopped on the side of the road yelled to me that the guy in front of me was only three minutes ahead.  I couldn't believe it!  I was about the jump out of my skin!  Or maybe ride out of my skin is a better description.  So I had to calm down.  I told myself the same good advice I had offered Greg (I was completely confident this was good advice unlike the water bottles), "you still need to run 13.1 miles."  This brings us to the final segment of the bike course.  The last 8-10 miles that led us down into the city of Providence for the run was the worst stretch of road I had ever seen.  We had discovered the day before, while driving the course in my Grand Cherokee, that the back roads that took us down into Providence were filled with potholes!!!  They were so bumpy that the race directors decided to post signs that said "No Passing."  In addition, every couple miles, you would see a big sign that read, "BUMP," and that's when you knew it was really bad.  So, what did I do?  I went bombing through that part of the course like you could not believe!  I was all alone so no need to worry about passing anyway.  I had new race wheels that needed tested.  And, I was out in front.  How else are you suppose to approach it?  Lay it on the line!  I did, and anyone around must have been laughing their ass off.  I made so many noises.  Uh!  Ah!  Oh!  Ouch!  I even lost a water bottle off the back of my bike.  A nicely thawed bottle of sports drink, I might add.  Oh well.  Keep going!  I flew down into the city of Providence and enter T2.  My suspicions had been confirmed...  There were next to no bikes in T2.  I had indeed been "out in front."  Of course, the pros and a couple competitors in my age group were already on the run, but I couldn't believe it.  I was pumped, but also poised for the run.

I racked my bike, slipped on my socks and shoes, felt a slight twinge in my quad from an aggressive ride (uh-oh) and was off on the run.  I had several thoughts going through my head.  First, did I push too hard on the bike?  Was that twinge the beginnings of muscle cramps?  Second, how far behind are the others?  What was the motorcyclist telling them about me?  Third, run your race!  All you can do is your best.  Just make sure it is.  

The run course was scenic as it wound through Providence, but there was nothing scenic about Olney hill.  It was a two loop course, which means we would have to climb the mile long hill twice.  As I finished my first mile, I glanced at my watch, 6:15.  Ok, that's fast, but the first mile is always fast.  I looked at my watch after the second mile and my first encounter with Olney hill.  What?  I'm still under 8:00 pace.  Then I get to go down Olney hill and by the end of the first loop I am running under 7:00 pace.  I couldn't believe it!  I guess the past couple of weeks of training in the heat had paid off.  Unfortunately, I had been passed by a competitor in my age group so I knew the rest of the pack was close.  My legs were heavy and my mind racing with thoughts.  As I started the second loop, most of the other racers were coming out of T2, so it became impossible to track my position.  I simply continued to focus on running my race and putting in my best effort.  It was critical that I did a good job of getting calories into my body and staying hydrated.  With a mile left in the run, I said to myself, "come on, you can do anything for a mile."  Then my quad twinge again, and I found only a slightly faster pace that kept me from inevitably cramping up.  As I turned the corner off of Main Street toward the Capitol building and the finish line, the streets were packed with spectators cheering on all the racers.  As I broke from the course into the finishing chute, the cheers intensified.  It was awesome!!!  I finished the run with a 7:07 pace and an overall race time of 4:41:06.  This was good enough for a run and race PR and a 9th place finish in my division.

I know this is a long race report, but I can't leave out a summary of the post-race events.  First, congratulations to Greg for finishing his first 70.3 in an impressive 5:40:48.  He exceeded his goal of 6 hrs by almost twenty minutes.  He has a ton of upside in triathlon, and I thoroughly enjoy racing with him.  Way to go Greg!  

My 9th place finish in the 30-34 age group was good enough to be the first qualifier (the eight finishers in front of me either already had a slot or declined) for the Ironman World Championships 70.3 in Las Vegas on September 11th.  My decision to accept the slot for the championships was not an easy one.  Choosing to do the race meant not being able to fulfill the level of commitment necessary to continue to coach football.  Therefore, I decided to stop coaching football and compete in my first Ironman World Championships.  Thanks to everyone that has supported me in triathlon, most especially, my wife, Laura.  I can't post this without mentioning my son, Luke, whom I greatly missed while I was gone.  I was so happy to get home and see them both.  Finally, Congratulations to all the athletes that competed at the Amica Ironman 70.3 in Rhode Island.  It was a beautiful course and an amazing experience!

2nd & 3rd finishers Raider Class of '97 (Ha!)

Greg's pic of the Capitol behind T2 (post-race)

Awards ceremony

Me giving them Laura's money so I can race at the 70.3 Championships

Sunday night dinner and Trivia with Bob (Greg's Uncle), Greg, Mark, and a few of Mark's Trivia teammates

Saturday, July 9, 2011

"Rhody Countdown" (part II)

I've arrived in Providence, Rhode Island for the Amica Ironman 70.3.
My good friend Greg Owens and I arrived yesterday at the R.I. Convention Center at 6:02. This is significant bc we were trying to get there by 6:00 to pick-up our race packets. Keep in mind it was supposed to be a 10 hr trip, but Connecticut traffic made it 11 hrs. So we park the car at 6:02 and run from the parking lot to the third floor of the convention center. Just as we arrive at the check-in desk, the woman says, "that's it, we're closed. You guys are the last ones." Wow!!! We drove 11 hrs and every minute of the drive and our one stop for gas concluded in us making it to registration by about five seconds to spare. So we got checked-in and Greg bought some "merch," which is short for merchandise. He said to me later in the car, "you didn't even buy any merch." I looked at him and said, "I just spent $2800 on race wheels." He replied, "fair enough."

Yes, I did buy the race wheels. My last post ended with both of us wondering if I would purchase them. Laura was very supportive about it and I made the big purchase. I'm psyched to go test them out this morning before dropping the bike off at T1 this afternoon. As for my second big decision about accepting a slot for Las Vegas, if I'm fortunate enough to earn one. This decision remains undecided. Laura has given me her blessing to accept it if I so choose, but I must decide for myself. It will be a gametime decision if the opportunity presents itself.

I'm off to get some breakfast and tackle the day's tasks off getting ready for tomorrow's race. Check back on Monday or Tuesday for my first race recap.

By the wY, I typed this on my iPhone so disregard any grammatical errors.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

"Rhodi 70.3 Countdown"

Five days until the Amica Ironman 70.3 Rhode Island!  I'm getting excited, but have a few major decisions to make prior to this weekend's race. 

The first is whether or not I would take a slot for the 70.3 Championships in Las Vegas, if given the opportunity.  I certainly don't want to jump to any conclusions.  There is a race that will determine whether such an opportunity will exist.  However, it is important to know exactly what your goals are on race day.  My dad always says there are two steps to achieving a goal.  Knowing the goal and doing the work to achieve the goal.  The dilemma I face is that as a triathlete I definitely want to compete in Las Vegas.  However, as a teacher, football coach, husband, and father competing in Las Vegas would mean setting aside those responsibilities for several days.  Further conversations will lead me to a decision.  I'll let you know.

The second decision is the purchase of race wheels.  In the past, I have always rented race wheels from to even the playing field with other athletes that own their own wheels.  I have seriously considered spending the money to purchase wheels so that I don't have to continue to throw away money renting them and don't have to deal with the hassle of shipping.  Talk about cutting it close.  Most triathletes wouldn't have the decision on such a major piece of equipment hanging in the balance five days before a big race.  I'll let you know.

As for my training preparation.  I am confident that my preparation has me ready.  Going online and looking at past results won't be very beneficial for this race.  The swim and bike courses have been changed since last year.  The swim used to be an ocean swim, but will now be a pond swim.  Hmm...  Predicted water temps are in the mid-seventies.  I always benefit from a wetsuit legal swim, but have actually raced without a wetsuit more often.  We'll see what raceday brings.  The bike course has also changed.  It's still a point-to-point ride, but this year T1 and T2 are separated by six miles as opposed to 56 miles in years past.  I'm looking forward to riding through the towns of Providence.  Finally, I've heard the run is a two-loop run finishing at the capitol.

So even though time is ticking down, there is still a lot of preparation before raceday.  Stay tuned as the countdown continues...

Friday, July 1, 2011

"Bigger, Stronger, Faster"

While I was visiting Todd in Charleston, SC this past weekend, he showed me a very interesting documentary by Christopher Bell called "Bigger, Stronger, Faster."  Chris Bell and his two brothers grew up idolizing professional wrestlers like Hulk Hogan, bodybuilders like Arnold Schwarzennegor, and actors like Sylvestor Stallone (Rocky).  Chris and his brothers listened to the messages that Hogan, Arnold, and Stallone promoted about eating right and exercising to become big and strong.  Furthermore, their messages about achieving your goals while playing by the rules and working hard.  Without ruining the story of the documentary, Chris grows up and finds out that his idols flat-out lied.  The documentary proceeds to show how steroid use is "American."  Everyone from athletes to actors to Presidents are linked to the "acceptable" use of steroids in this country.  I was shocked!  I thought the documentary was eye-opening and very well done.  I hope Chris Bell has stuck to his values with regards to steroid use and other forms of "cheating."  I highly recommend this documentary.  Go to the link below to check out the trailer.  There are many ways to view this documentary for free online.

Bigger, Stronger, Faster (Trailer)