Sunday, June 5, 2016

I Feel It Happening

I hadn’t raced in seven years. I felt intimidated, as I looked around at all the fit triathletes nervously attending to their ultra expensive bicycles and wetsuits. I wheeled my, newly Ebay acquired, 2003 Aluminum Cervelo P3 up to the transition rack, pulled my old QR wetsuit, that I bought in the mid 1990’s, out of my backpack and took a deep breath.  I assumed that I would finish mid-pack at best but I was fine with that. It had been a long time since I had raced and I “let myself go” for years. My main goal was to finish Ironman Florida in November later in that year and be done with this crazy sport forever. I was using this race to see how I measured up against the sports’ best athletes after just five months of training.

The dawn sun gently rose above Edmond Orgill Lake as the 2005 Memphis in May Triathlon crew assembled the athletes for it’s unique time trial start format. Each of the 1600 athletes was sent off at eight-second intervals according to their race number. I was sent off in the middle of the pack, which meant I had to navigate around quite a few slower athletes during my entire race.
As I stood on the shore of that muddy lake and made my way closer to my send off, I looked down at my heart rate monitor. It was now reading over 100 beats per minute in anticipation my start… Go!!! I punched the start button on my watch and I was off……...

I had been in and out of the sport of Triathlon since the mid 1980’s. For some reason Triathlon suited me.  I grew up as a swimmer and in college I learned that I could run. I had immediate success winning the first triathlon I ever attempted by a large margin. There was always some life event that took me out of the sport that made me quit. I was reluctant to get back into it because I knew with my addictive and competitive personality it would consume too much of my time. I had a demanding job as an Anesthesiologist and three small children who needed my attention. However, there was still an allure. I had unfinished business. I was drawn back into it and that force had a power over me like a Greek Siren. I had yet to compete in or complete an Ironman. My medical partner, Rick Smarinsky, had done Ironman Florida, and the top 10 age group finish of my friend, Lynne Smith, in the Ironman World Championships in Hawaii in 2004 got me motivated. I could do this! I signed up for Ironman Florida as soon as it opened up for registration in the fall of 2004. I would finish this race and then hang it up forever. I could cross this event off my bucket list.

The training started immediately. I had a Polar heart rate monitor and an old Avocet two button click bike computer that just gave me speed and time. I didn’t have a coach. I just trained by feel. If I felt good one day I would do a hard workout. If I felt crappy, I would take it easy or just take the day off. I kept track of my training in a loose-leaf notebook writing each entry in pencil. My emphasis was on quality and my average training time was around eight hours a week.  I made sure every hard workout had a goal and I stayed consistent and rarely was injured.  My progression was slow but deliberate. I did some long rides in preparation for the Ironman that winter. My first 100-mile ride was exhausting. I was so drained. I remember thinking how would it be possible to run a marathon after that?!

By January my buddy Rick was off the back a lot on the bike during our training rides. I would ask him. What’s wrong? He replied,  “ You’re just getting faster!” Whatever I was doing was working. I was getting fitter and I could feel it.  My motivation began to build. Maybe I could do much more than just finish this Ironman. Maybe I could qualify for the big dance; The Hawaii Ironman……..

The swim in Edmond Orgill Lake was like a churning washing machine. I found myself bumping into, swimming over, and being punched by slower swimmers as I passed. The constant sighting in order to navigate the course avoid others made the swim very uncomfortable and energy consuming. I’m used to getting into a rhythm and gliding.  As I excited the water I looked at my watch. It was low 21 minutes for the 1500 meters. I had no idea where I was at that point in my age group but the time was far from the 19 minutes I used to do these swims in so I was a little disappointed. (I was just 4 seconds off the lead in my age group)

I remember getting my bike legs as a painful experience. I was stiff but I let it rip. I had rested well for this race and I felt the energy surge into my legs as loosened up. I kept the cadence high and was amazed that I was able to hold 28 to 29 miles per hour on the flats. I was flying by people who had gone out in front of me.  When I pulled into T2 I realized I had ridden the 40K course in 57 minutes! (58:37officially).  It was like I never got fat and out of shape or left the sport for 7 years.  I was on a pace to possibly break 2 hours for this! I was surprised!

The run brought me back to reality. I suppose the fast bike split had taken the gas out of my legs and I was just able to manage to tuck in under 42 minutes for that 10k. My final finish time was 2:04:46 for a masters overall win and 29th overall. It was my first race as a master athlete. Andy Potts, an Olympian, won the race.

I was shocked by my result. I just couldn’t believe it. How did I do that? I was so intimidated by all these people at the start of the race and I throttled them! It was a shocking start to my journey back as a Triathlete.  I experienced some great races and experiences from that point until 2009 when I was forced out of the sport once more.  

Fast forward to 2016.  I have toyed around with Obstacle Course Racing, Aquathons and Beer runs for the past few years.  I haven’t really trained for them. I just show up and race. This has been a painful way to race but I’ve had fun.  After the Spartan and OCR World Championships I swore that I would train next time but never was consistent, motivated, or would acquire some type of injury.

For the past month, I have been able to put in some progressive training and I’m seeing results. My times are getting faster and I’m feeling more comfortable running again. I’m using the same principles that I used for that 2005 Memphis in May race that got the ball rolling for me.  I’m training by feel.  I reflected back on that time and found a method remembered that method that worked for me.

I have set some goals for myself this year. I qualified for the 2016 ITU Aquathon World Championships in Cozumel Mexico in September.  The race is a 2.5K run/1K swim/2.5K run. To perform well, I will need to focus my training on power in the water and speed on the run.  To do this type of race fast, it will require optimizing VO2max. The risk of injury is much higher. I think this format suits me and I believe that I can perform well in this race. The result just depends on who shows up.

I’m bringing the blog back to document my progress and commit to this goal.  Hopefully, I can surprise myself like I did eleven years ago back in Millington Tennessee on that magical day in May 2005.

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