Tuesday, May 26, 2009

There's Something In The Water

The water in the Oklahoma River at the Boathouse Triathlon was nasty. It was brown like a mud hole. It tasted bad too. I have done some swimming in water like this as a kid so I thought, what the heck. However, when I caught my first glimpse of the water that the pros were swimming in, it did make me think. "Eeeww, I have to swim in that?" 

Well, today I was sent articles and links to pro blogs from various folks reporting that swimming in this water caused illness.  I also received an email from the Oklahoma Health Department with a questionnaire to fill out. Luckily, I only had some mild GI problems. I got a call today from the Health Department. They want a stool sample. Something was in the water and it seems that it was a little more than just mud. Some folks just had a shitty swim.

Read the article here

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Boathouse International Triathlon

When I looked at the race schedule last winter and I saw the Boathouse International Triathlon, I knew I had to be there. A race of this caliber right down the road in Oklahoma City? That never happens here. Normally, I would have to travel out of the state for something like this. It’s great that the folks in Oklahoma City are putting the sport of triathlon on the map.

Since this race was just two weeks after St. Croix, I just planned on training through it and making it a hard workout. I have IM Kansas coming up and I plan on focusing more on it. Saturday, I went down to the race venue and watched the mens elite race. The venue is located in downtown Oklahoma City at a facility called the Boathouse. The Boathouse is in close proximity to a cosmopolitan part of town called Bricktown. It has a baseball stadium, nice hotels, and quite a few arenas for conventions and events. The area seemed to be thriving. I see why Tulsa is trying to emulate this.

The swim took place in the Oklahoma river. Spectators could stand on Lincoln Ave bridge and watch the entire swim. The bike course was four loops around the capital building. This also offered quite a few opportunities for spectators to watch the race develop. The run was four loops. From the bridge you could see the entire course. 

It was inspiring watching how fast those pros can run. Drool hanging off their lips, gave me a good idea how hard those guys were hitting it. I was born 20 years too late. I would have loved to race like this. When I was young, I was a decent swimmer and I could run a 5K under 16 minutes, so it would have suited my strengths. 

Mary Beth Ellis won the women’s pro race and Matt Reed broke away on the first loop of the run and eventually won the mens race. Hunter Kemper came on strong on the last loop of the run and almost caught Matt as he celebrated with the flag at the finish. Kemper finished one second later. That would have been embarrassing if Hunter had snuck by.


There weren’t as many spectators out on the course watching the race as I thought there would be. If this race were in Europe it would have been a freckin’ madhouse. However, I did notice after it was over, the parking lots of all the restaurants in the area were full. Oklahomans have their priorities. “The next meal”

The age groupers competed on Sunday. I stayed at the Econolodge motel about a mile down the road, so that morning I just hopped on my bike and rode down to the transition area. I love not having to mess with parking a car. Google Earth comes in handy when planning race lodging. 

The race had four heats with over 200 competitors overall. I went off in the second heat.  Fortunately, my heat had the best swimmers. Christian Ballard, Jason Newland and I had a nice group going. The Oklahoma River reminded me of the chocolate river in the movie “Charlie And The Chocolate Factory” The water was a milky brown. Apparently no one has swum in the river before this weekend. Some folks came out with chocolate mustaches. I see why it’s not a popular swimming hole, however I swam in worse places when I was a kid. 

Christian is a former Cal Berkley distance guy so he established about a minute lead on Jason and I by the finish. I was surprised they had wetsuit strippers. That was a great touch. I always have trouble getting out of a wetsuit after a cold swim. The run to the transition was about a quarter mile. I made a fast transition and was out on the bike in less than 40 seconds. It wasn’t as fast as the ITU guys but they inspired me. I’d say the swim time was around high 19 minutes for the 1500 m excluding the transition run. 

The bike was four loops, and it followed the same course as the ITU race. I really enjoyed hearing the cheering spectators at the turnarounds. I was unable to get to the watts on the bike that I was hoping for because I was still a bit tired, but it was a hard workout for me, so it served it’s purpose.

The run was four loops. Again, I couldn’t get myself to dig too deep on it either and ran at a half ironman pace for most of it. I thought I had the masters category locked up. Then I saw Jon Everets gaining ground on me with each loop. On the last loop I noticed that he was just getting too close so I flicked the switch with just 1.2 K to go. It was probably the fastest part of the run for me. With just 400 to go, I looked back and he was right there, just behind me. I’m glad coach Phil has me doing those 400 threshold track intervals. I was able to kick it in and hold him off at the finish by just one second. It was a thrill to have a sprint finish like that. Jon had a great run, kudos to him for making me work for it.  Hunter Kemper was there at the finish to give me a pat on the back and a high five for that one. Classic ITU finish. I’m thinking I need to do more of these Olympic Distance races. It was a blast. 

I ended up 5th overall, and won the masters by just a hair over Jon. Jason Newland won the race with a 2:07. A few of my coached athletes participated as well. Kara Cassel was second overall with an awesome 39 minute run. Sean Stevens finished just ahead of me in 4th. Michael Krupka was 28th overall. Go over to Tulsa Iron and take a look.

I hope this event continues to grow and flourish.  I will be back next year for sure. 

Monday, May 11, 2009

St. Croix 2009: A Race Report

On the plane to St. Croix I read a book entitled “Off The Deep End” by Hodding Carter. It was a personal account of a guy in his mid forties, that was attempting to qualify for the 2008 Olympic Trials in swimming. He was a decent swimmer in his younger years, a Division III All American, but not Olympic caliber. It was inspiring to read how he refused to listen to those tell him that his dream was impossible and that everyone slows down with age. 

In the book, he quoted some coaches ingredients for success: motivation, opportunity, and incentive. Another ingredient that was mentioned was brainwashing detox. “ We are conditioned by society to know that we can only run fast when we are young. Overcoming that mindset is, perhaps, the major battle. “You can’t help but be affected by those prevailing negative comments asserting that when you get older, you get slower.” 

I knew the competition showed up for the race in St. Croix this year and they were fast when they were young. If I had any chance of picking up an Ironman slot it would have to be due to the miscalculated pacing efforts of my competitors. I’m just not that fast. 

Dana and I were up at 3:45 am for our pre-race meals. I typically take a mixture of Perpetuem, HEED, and a banana and peanut butter. My mix totals about 1000 calories. It tops off my glycogen stores and is slowly absorbed in the hours leading up to the race.  

We loaded up the bikes and drove down to the race site around 5 am, racked them, and set up our gear. There was plenty of time to chill out and talk in the transition area. St. Croix is laid back.  I was putting my shoes on my bike when some guy came running up to me and said “what are you doing with my bike?” “Huh?” I laughed. He was getting aggressive and started pushing me. “Hey watch it bud” I said.” Finally he looked at the bike. “Oh this that isn’t my bike...Sorry” “What ever dude. Get some glasses.” That was awkward. I suppose when everyone has a Cervelo P3C there is bound to be some confusion. 

The swim starts on a island beach, so competitors have to opportunity to warm up by swimming the 200 to 300 meters over to the island. From there the race goes off in heats starting with the pros at 6:15 am. The following heats are separated by 2 to 3 minutes. I went off at 6:43 am, so I had plenty of time to do some pick ups into the boat mooring area. 

Before long it was time to head over for the beach start. The course goes out about 75 meters then makes a sharp left turn. My goal was to be second or third to that buoy. Instead of blasting out at a 58/59 second 100 meter pace to gap the field, I choose to just settle in and let someone else do that. Once I felt they petered out, I was going to gently surge past and conserve energy.

The plan was executed perfectly and I soon found myself in the lead swimming into some chop and current. I had one swimmer in tow, tapping my feet. It was Ken Glah, the ex pro. We all were wearing blue caps but somehow Ken had a purple one on. He was easy to spot. I don’t know why he had the purple cap. It is the color of royalty, and he certainly was that.

Ken has been top 5 overall in Kona multiple times, and nobody can forget the sprint finish he and Pauli Kiru had in IMNZ; Ken won. Now he has a travel business which caters to Ironman triathletes. Dana went to Brazil with his group last year and is going to Austria in a few months. 

Once we were closer to the turn around buoy, I juked and surged. I looked back under my arm and he was gone. “ Um, that was easier than I thought” I made it around the congested turn and swung wide to avoid the mess of swimmers who went off in heats ahead. I looked to my right and there was Ken stroking away with his regal purple cap. Darn!

My goal of this race was to conserve energy whenever possible, so I swam over to him and returned the favor; I got in his draft. Swimming in Ken’s slipstream, and the “tailwind like” current that brought us back in to T1, made the swim feel almost effortless. I was one arming it to avoid running up his back. 

Once we made the turn on the final stretch to the swim exit, I pulled out and to the right and punched it. I could tell he didn’t like that. He wasn’t going to let me just take this easily and I could tell his stroke count had increased. At that point I felt I had made a tactical error. I was to his right side and the swim exit was to the left. I would have to get a good lead then cut the tangent quickly to the ramp. 

Mission accomplished; I was first out of the water in 27:50. Ken came out four seconds later. Ok folks what do we have for the swim winner of the mens 45-49 age group? Maybe some bragging rights?

Anyway, I had saved some energy for the day ahead, so I was pleased. It was cool to be able to battle with such a triathlon legend like Ken, but I knew that there was no way I was going to be able to stay close to him on the bike. At the mount line I commented “nice swim” but got no response. See ya later swim guy.....> He was gone up the road. 

Once out on the bike, I discovered that my Profile water bottle that I put between my aerobars was loose. That little Velcro strap that holds it in place had come unthreaded. I pulled the bottle off and stuffed it in my shorts and proceeded to thread the Velcro strap through the loops as I rode. It took me about 2 miles or so to get this done. The  process allowed my heart rate to settle and not chase after Ken, which would have been  a foolish thing to do. It would have been tough to impossible to ride with that bottle loose on the front, so I was glad that I was able to fix it on the fly. I rode controlled until I got to “The Beast”.

On the way to “The Beast” there are some picturesque coastal roads. It was nice to just take in the sights and control the effort level. It was a beautiful day. Just before I made it to the beast, a few guys from my age group passed me. I just let them go. I thought to myself “I’ll see you guys on the last loop of the run. 

The Beast wasn’t that bad. I think my wattage spiked at 330-360 and heart rate went to 160s. I kept it under control. The race starts after the speed bumps and once you get onto the Melvin Evans highway. Once I got to the highway, there was a decent headwind so, I was glad that I had kept a lid on it up to that point. 

At around 40 to 43 miles, Joe Boness came by me with his entourage. It was sad but impressive watching a 54 year old man pulling a train of dudes behind him. The guy has huge quads. They all rode away from me and I was alone for the ride back to T2. Bike time including transitions 2:49.

I made a quick transition and headed out on the run with Jeff Cuddeback. He started a few minutes later in the heat after me, so he was actually a few minutes ahead. He is a triathlon god in my eyes and has accomplished so much in the sport. I thought he was keeping a decent pace so I would try to pace off him. Once we got to the Buccaneer golf course I had to stop to take a pit stop, so Jeff got away from me and eventually he ran out of sight. 

It was so hot and humid out there. Aid stations were situated every 1K and I needed refreshment and ice at each one, but despite the heat, I felt good. 

Typically, my long training runs are done the day after my long bike ride. I like to run them at a tempo pace and then on the last half I do a series of 6 x800 repeats with 400 jog recoveries at close to threshold effort. I feel this trains me to run the back half of a race like this faster. On a course like this if you miscalculate your pace early, it will come back to bite you on the last half of the run. Once I hit the turnaround, I hit the switch. “It’s go time”

I began to pass folks quickly. I felt strong. I was hitting some mile splits in 6:30‘s. My pace was faster than the first loop. Once we got to the golf course, I could see that I was gaining ground back on Jeff. Back on the road into town I surged past him on the last long grade. I could tell he was hurting. I kept the effort level high but he still hung with me. He was smoking his age group, the 50-54, but he wasn’t going to let me, a 47 year old guy, just run away from him. I was able to hold him off to the finish line. It was a thrill to race him. The guy is a competitor! At the finish he complimented me on my race execution. That meant a lot to me coming from a guy like him. Run time was 1:34. It is so tough to run sub 1:30 on this course in this heat and humidity. 

When all was said and done, I had topped my time from 2007 by 2 minutes and went 4:51. In 2007, I won the age group by 7 minutes. In all the years leading up to this one, that time would have won my age group every year, but not today; I was 6th. Former pros and Olympic marathoners showed up and just smoked me. 

None of those guys miscalculated their efforts, and on the final loop I was only able to pass only 2 or 3 guys. The guys who finished in front of me are all Kona caliber, and guys like that just don’t fade. 

Looking back on the results, I would have placed higher in the 25-29 age group. So upon reflecting on Hodding Carters book, it’s true. Old guys are refusing to let age slow them down. The times of older guys keep getting faster every year. I won’t be going to Kona this year, but I look forward to seeing the results of those who do. The times are likely going to be the fastest ever.

Dana, my wife, had a great race too and finished 3rd in her age group. Unfortunately for her, the two women who finished ahead were also the top two women in Kona last year. So the top woman already had her slot from the Kona win, and the slot passed to second leaving Dana just on the cusp again. She is getting used to being a Kona slot bridesmaid. When we were on the plane back home, and away from all the other triathletes, she told me she was happy not to hear the word “Kona” anymore. I totally understood. 

St. Croix is a fantastic race. The volunteers are great, the venue is fantastic, and the islanders throw a huge party for all the athletes the Friday before the race. I love this race and I will be back. 

Saturday, May 2, 2009

St. Croix 2009:Pre-Race

Well, we’re back in St. Croix. Last fall Dana signed up for this race so I followed along too. I had a great race here in 2007, and nabbed a Kona slot. It’s a tough race, probably the toughest 70.3 race on the circuit. I often wonder why they chose Clearwater as the World Championship. This course is epic in so many ways. This would be a destination as desired as Kona if they could move the race here. Have it in May to avoid the hurricane season. Just my opinion.

We had an uneventful trip down here on Wednesday. These folks have it figured out. It’s a small airport, and most of the planes that fly in here are double props. There isn’t enough space in the cargo area for all the bikes and luggage so they are shipped over separately on a cargo plane. When we arrived, our bikes were waiting for us in the baggage claim.

We met some nice people on the flight over and pro Mirada Carfrae was sitting behind us. I wished her luck even though I don’t think she needs it. This course seems to favor the “small athlete”. It’s hot and hilly.

We rented a car and I made sure that I concentrated on driving on the left side of the road. It’s easier in Britain because the driver’s side is in the middle of the road, on the right side of the car. Here you drive an American car, so the driver is on the edge of the road. Weird. Island music piped from the cars as we sat at stoplights. The atmosphere was definitely island.

Last time we were here, we stayed at the Buccaneer hotel. It was nice but very expensive. This time we reserved a spot at the Carrington’s Inn. It is a nice little bed and breakfast with a great view of Christiansted Harbor. When we arrived at 11 pm, we were greeted by, Roger, the inn’s proprietor. He was friendly, and showed us to our spacious room. It was painted a pastel yellow. The ocean breeze was blowing through the windows and it was quite refreshing after our long trip. Something about a sea breeze just helps you sleep better, which we did.

The sun came up at 5:45am, which brightened our room. We were treated to an awesome view and sunrise. Breakfast was at 8:30. The inn has five rooms and we all sat together, family style. We met a few other folks at breakfast, including two Germans who had been here for week training. Both were surgical residents currently training in Switzerland. Man, in my residency, I had a total of two weeks vacation for the entire year and there was no way I could have done a triathlon, let alone this one! They work 50 hr weeks, pretty much what I do now.
After breakfast, we put the bikes together then went down to the harbor for a swim on the course. The water was rough with a resistive current on the way out, and a nice smooth push on the swim back in. I timed myself at 29 minutes, which included some stops to tread water and check my sighting points. Swimming shouldn’t be a problem.

After our swim, we loaded up the bikes and drove the front half of the course. Some folks were out riding it. I remember some of the roads being very rough with potholes and loose gravel. I wasn’t interested in riding over that. On a positive note, they were oiling the roads and laying down fresh asphalt. Unfortunately, the folks on their bikes were riding through the oil and the hot asphalt. I was cringing hearing the sound of the rental car driving through it. I sure wouldn’t have ridden my bike through it.

We stopped at the foot of “The Beast” to take some photos. Laura Sophia and Kevin Moats stopped behind us. Kevin pulled his bike out of the car and without a warm up proceeded to ride straight up it. Laura, Dana, and I choose to save our legs for Sunday. Kevin is a stud!

We drove the rest of the course and refreshed our memory, then stopped at the Divi hotel and unloaded our bikes. This is the Southern and windward side of the island. It has some great views and rolling hills. People are all freaked out about “The Beast”. In my opinion, this is the part of the course that is the toughest. Winds can come at you like the climb to Hawi in Kona.

Dana and I rode this loop and the Lowery Hill. I felt great. I was hitting target wattage easily and the climbs seemed effortless. After an hour, we called it a day and headed back to the room for a dinner consisting of sandwiches and chips on the floor of our hotel room.

Typically before a race, I usually take a day off two days before so Thursday we went down to the Boardwalk to Rum Runners had breakfast, then went on a half day snorkeling excursion. A catamaran took us out to Buck Island. It would have been great if it weren’t for some obnoxious, beer-drinking, wife beater t-shirt wearing hillbillies that were lighting up their next cigarette before they finished their last one. They were told not to smoke but did it anyway. Smelling cigarette smoke really bothers me and they poisoned the smell of the fresh sea breeze for all of us. An interesting note is that they had the smoker’s version of the Bento box around their necks. A clear plastic box necklace with a case of Marlboros inside…. I’ll see you folks on the table for your lung lobectomy in a few years.

Saturday morning Dana and I were up early, drove to the Buccaneer for a run and a ride. We ran the golf course loop with a few race-paced efforts then rode the lowery loop, also with a few race-paced efforts. We were back at the inn before 8 am for our breakfast and some down time for the rest of the day.

Wondering around town, I have seen a lot of fast people. I don’t think the recession is slowing down the fast folks travel plans. It looks like the field will be stacked in both the pros and age groups tomorrow. Dana and I are just going to race our own races and let the rest take care of itself. I keep in mind that that in a race like this, hot and humid conditions, one needs to pace appropriately for optimum outcome. The best result here will depend on who runs the quickest.

In my age group, I think it’s going to take a 4:45 or better to make the top three. I was 4:53 here in 2007. I don’t think that’s going to cut it this year, unless the conditions are poor. If I can equal or better what I did a few years ago, I will be happy. Thanks for reading… I will post a race report sometime following the race whenever I find some free time.