Friday, June 29, 2012

A great transition video

We triathletes are always trying to figure out how to get from one sport to the next as quickly as possible. Often we do too much -- the key is simplify, simplify, simplify. Even for those who know what they're doing, though, sometimes it's helpful to see how the pros do it, and here's a great, clear video that explains the whole process.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The Alaska 600k: Traversing the Wilderness by Bicycle

For the last several years, my riding, running, and triathlon buddy Max has kept me company through countless endurance adventures.  In fact, he's been the driving force behind many of them.  It's because of him that I've dabbled in the ultracycling world, and the next step in that vein is a planned 1200k (750 mile) brevet next July.

This weekend, Max is attempting a 600k brevet in Alaska, where he grew up, and he posted to his blog a great narrative of the last time he embarked on a similar adventure.  The story was published in Randonneur Magazine in 2009, and it's well worth a read for anyone curious about this somewhat otherworldly pursuit.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

A Change of Seasons: Moving on from Team Z

"Remember, when God closes a door, he makes lemonade."  
-Servant of Two Masters, Shakespeare Theatre Co.

In late 2007, just a couple of years into my triathlon career, I was fortunate enough to join Team Z, an amazing community of triathletes of all levels of ability.  Back then, I think the team might have been 100-strong, but now it numbers well over 500 athletes, a glowing testament to the effectiveness of the training program, the welcoming atmosphere, and the way it's changed lives for the better.  Although it is not an Ironman-focused team, I believe that over 700 Team Z athletes have completed Ironman races since Ed founded the team around 2005.  Many of those Ironmen had no athletic background and could never have imagined what they were capable of with a little belief coupled with proper preparation.

I'm one of those success stories.  When I joined the team, I'd never done a Vo2-max test to establish training zones, nor had I trained in a group environment.  I had finished two Ironman races, but I lacked direction and felt as if I spent an inordinate amount of time on my bike, by myself, in the middle of nowhere.  The team changed all of that for the better.  I met some amazing people, started training according to scientifically proven principles, and improved markedly in all three disciplines.  

How the time has flown.  I've now been part of the team for approaching five years, and over that span, I progressed from being a relative neophyte to becoming a mentor to newer athletes and leader on the team.  I helped to design and lead several clinics that have been successfully incorporated into the team's remarkable educational structure, and I facilitated the creation of a periodic cycling time trial series that allowed athletes to test themselves in a consistent and relatively controlled environment.  I've also delighted in giving advice every now and then to athletes facing certain daunting events, such as the Mountains of Misery ride.  I'd like to think that, in some small way, these efforts have helped to repay the team for everything it's given me in the last few years.

In recent times, however, I've found myself being increasingly drawn to novel athletic challenges and approaches to training.  I've raced first-year Ironman races in places like Wales that haven't aligned with the team race calendar, and lately I've been dipping my toes into the ultracycling world, a discipline that requires its own type of training.  Moreover, as a self-coached athlete, I've treated myself as something of a physiology experiment with n=1, adopting different philosophies and approaches over time in the effort to keep things fresh and interesting.  The result has been that, in small increments that have added up to something larger, I've found myself becoming less active in the team's training and racing environment.  I've enjoyed leading clinics and providing guidance even while forging my own path athletically, but recently I've come to realize that I've had my feet in two different worlds that have been drifting apart.  I therefore made the difficult decision this week to separate from Team Z, and to chart a new direction.

I don't know what's next for me.  Regardless, though, much as one always remembers one's first love, I'll always think back on my time with Team Z with great fondness.  I'm a strong believer in the coaches, the mission, and, most important, the amazing athletes who drive each other to make the most of their talents.  I hope to keep in touch with the friends I've made, and to continue helping people in whatever way I can.  I'll always cheer for the green jerseys.   

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Epic Ride Recap: Fingerlakes 400k

"What am I training for?  I'm training for life."

Background to the Brevet

For years I've been drawn to epic events, particularly those involving bicycles.  There's something viscerally compelling about cruising across the landscape under one's own power, conquering whatever terrain and weather the world throws one's way.  It's no exaggeration to say that my love of cycling has been the factor driving my continued participation in triathlons; for me, swimming is something between "okay" and "a necessary evil," whereas running presents a satisfying challenge without quite engaging my psyche the way cycling does.  Long rides carry one from city to city and state to state, allowing one to chart progress not by yards or neighborhoods, but on Google Maps.  One has to earn every mile, and when the rides become sufficiently long, they become meditations on meaning and progress.

In years past, I've ridden several Ironman bike legs and 200ks, each of which has been in the 110-140 mile range.  These qualify as endurance marathons in their own right, particularly Mountains of Misery (6 finishes) and the Diabolical Double at Garrett County Gran Fondo (finishes in the beta and first years of the event), each of which flings riders up some of the steepest paved roads in the region -- and in the case of the Diabolical Double, at least one of the steepest unpaved roads.  Intermixed have been 200ks with various randonneuring groups, which are dedicated to ultracycling as a discipline.  The conventional rando distances are 200k (125 mile), 300k (190 mile), 400k (250 mile), and 600k (375 mile) rides, known as "brevets" (bruh-VAYs).  The brevets aren't races, although there are time limits.  What they are is minimalist, unsupported rides through spectacular, and usually quite hilly, countryside.  They are rides for the joy and challenge of riding.  If one completes a 200k, 300k, 400k, and 600k brevet in the course of a calendar year, one qualifies to attempt one of a handful of 1200k (750 mile) rides put on around the country each year.  Like the shorter rides, the time limits are not onerous -- 90 hours for a 1200k ride -- but that nonetheless requires traveling about 200 miles a day for four days on end.

A critical fact about brevets that bears repeating is that they are unsupported.  There is no car to pick you up if your bike breaks down, no ambulance following you around in case you get into trouble, and no aid stations.  All that's offered is a cue sheet, a map, and a card that lists several "control points" along the route.  Control points are often gas stations or restaurants, and there you must get someone to initial and time-stamp the card to prove that you covered the distance at an acceptable speed.  Other times, the control points designate signs or landmarks about which you must answer a question.  Everything else is up to you to figure out and handle as need dictates: nutrition, bike repair, and the fortitude simply to keep moving.  There certainly are no cheering crowds at any point.  Heck, sometimes there are only a handful of riders.  Philosophically and atmospherically, brevets are to Ironman races what Montana is to Manhattan.

Heading into this year, I'd ridden several 200k brevets in addition to the Mountains of Misery and Diabolical Double rides of that same distance.  This year, though, I've pushed the envelope a little bit, first with a 300k (190 mile) ride on May 12 in Maryland, and then this past weekend with a 400k (250 mile) ride in the Fingerlakes region of New York.  My riding companion, who previously had finished rides of this length and longer, suggested to me that the 400k distance is arguably the hardest because the time cutoff of 27 hours doesn't easily allow one to get a solid night's rest at any point.  Instead, one must start at daybreak, ride all day, and finish sometime between midnight and breakfast time the following day after riding for hours under a canopy of stars.

Braving the Brevet

Because none of the local randonneuring groups was hosting a 400k ride on a feasible weekend, we headed up to Ontario, New York, for a ride through the Fingerlakes with the Western New York Randonneurs. After a 7-hour drive on Friday, we awoke "Ironman early" -- 3:30, in our case -- for the ride, which started at 5:00.  After a breakfast of rice cakes with peanut butter, banana, salt, and honey, along with a Clif Bar, we headed to the ride start, which was not exactly a bustling transition area with U2's "Beautiful Day" blaring over the loudspeakers.  Instead, it was a guy's house that lay in the woods at the end of a 200-meter gravel driveway. We pulled in at 4:30 and were surprised to find the lights in the house were off, only to realize after some head-scratching that the ride began at 6:00, not 5:00.  So off we went in search of coffee, which we did not find, because nothing in Ontario, NY is open at 5:00 on Saturday morning.

When we returned to the house at 5:30, things were in better order.  It turned out that there were to be a total of six -- yes, six -- riders that day, including the host/organizer.  Max and I paid our $20 fee, got our cue sheets and brevet cards, posed for the traditional group picture, and rolled out into the breaking dawn.

But dawn wasn't the only thing breaking that morning.'s prediction algorithm was also busted beyond repair.  It had called for a 50% chance of showers during the day, mainly in the afternoon, but as soon as we hit the road, the rain began to pound us steadily.  The temperatures were in the high 50s, but with rain, wind, and the constant motion inherent to cycling, we got very cold very quickly.  Neither one of us had really prepared correctly for this; instead, we'd both shown up decked-out in heat-repellant gear.  Thankfully I'd brought a windbreaker vest, but it was a distinctly miserable and exhausting morning, as the rain did not relent for nearly six hours, and at times it was truly a downpour.  On at least one occasion, we stopped for hot coffee and huddled inside, just trying to keep from shivering.  In a race situation, these conditions would have been less problematic, simply due to the fact that it's possible to stay warm by sheer effort.  In a 250-mile ride, however, the name of the game is conservation of energy, so it simply won't do to sprint up climbs in an effort to warm up.  In all, it was a truly inauspicious beginning to what already looked to be a long day.

The saving grace was that the first 70 miles of the ride or so were pretty flat, as they headed east right along the shore of Lake Ontario before turning south toward the Fingerlakes.   As noon approached, the rain finally stopped, but it turned out to be a case of one difficulty replacing another, as the flat ground gave way to fairly challenging rolling hills for about 40 miles as we rode along the western edge of Lake Owasco.  I recall looking at my bike computer at about mile 80 and thinking, "Ok, only 170 miles to go.  Wait, 170 miles?  Crap."


As we kept rolling onward, I focused heavily on nutrition.  I've found that in endurance rides it's crucial never to get in a hole; achieve that goal, and it's just a matter of time until you finish, not a question of whether you'll do so.  I set my watch to beep every 30 minutes, at which time I'd alternate between taking a gel (Chocolate Number 9 or Gu Roctane) and munching a bar (Dr. Will, Bonk Breaker, Clif, or Lara, depending on my mood).  At rest stops I'd frequently have a packet of trail mix that included M&M's, and I also brought along some random treats like licorice.  Finally, I had a sandwich bag full of raw pitted dates, the only food with a higher glycemic index than glucose itself, and another bag full of Cashew Pumpkinseed Clusters, which I think are just about the perfect endurance food -- and they're available in bulk at Costco!  All of this was stashed in a moderately sized pannier bag behind my saddle, and it was delicious.  As has become my practice, I drank nothing but water, and I also took it easy on the caffeine.  The name of the game was eating "real" food and staying ahead of the calorie curve.

Feet Hurt?  Maybe You Don't Have A Sole.

As much as I enjoy ultracycling, I've had one perennial problem that has caused excruciating amounts of pain over the years.  The issue is colloquially known as "hot foot," and it involves a numbness, tingling, and ultimately debilitating pain in one's forefeet during cycling.  There are many causes for this common cycling malady, but in my case, the issue is the shape of my feet, which have arches higher than most bike fitters have ever seen.  At least one extremely well-known fitter has actually taken pictures of my arches for his records. The problem is that cycling shoes simply aren't built for people like me.  Soles are made to accommodate the widest selection of riders possible, which means that they tend to be almost flat.  I've had custom shoes and custom soles made -- high-end, in each case -- but the impact has always been to slightly reduce and postpone the pain.  Usually, after about 80 miles, it gets to the point where I'm pulling up on the pedals in an effort simply to take any pressure off of my aching forefeet, and at rest stops, I'll frequently take my shoes off entirely and rub my feet vigorously.  It has been a constant source of agony and frustration, and after the 300k ride I completed in May, I knew that I simply had to try to find a solution.

It turns out that I think I may have solved the problem in one fell swoop using a miraculous product called E-Soles, which have been worn by the likes of George Hincapie.  I got the "Supportive" model, which is designed for cycling.  They cost $50 or so, which is not bargain-basement, but it's far less than custom shoes or orthotics, and the genius is that the soles are modular.  You buy a size appropriate for your shoe, and it comes with four different "arch" inserts and two different "metatarsal buttons."  Each attaches to the sole by velcro, meaning that you can easily switch them out to find the right solution.  I went with the "high" arches (there's one higher still), and the larger metatarsal button.  The metatarsal button is a slightly raised area that sits just behind the ball of your foot, under the metatarsals, and spreads the metatarsals slightly while dissipating the pressure on them.

These things are simply amazing.  At no point on the 255-mile ride, which included 16 hours in the saddle, did I experience any foot discomfort at all.  Zero, zilch, nada.  The arch insert rested snugly against the arch of my foot, and when combined with the metatarsal button, it felt like my entire foot was a platform, rather than just a small strip along the bottom of my forefoot.  I'll never ride long distances again without a product like this.  They're just that good.

There's only one problem: the Supportive Esoles are being redesigned, and won't be available again until about September.  I bought mine new off of eBay.  But if you can find them in your size, beg, borrow, or steal them.  Otherwise, keep your eyes peeled, or maybe try a pair of the Specialized BG footbeds, which also have different arch and metatarsal button features.  It is incredible what a world of difference they can make.

Rollin' On, But Off the Record

It wouldn't be a brevet if everything went quite according to plan.  In my case, misfortune struck twice in quick succession. First, five miles after the control around mile 90, I noticed that my helmet was even more comfortable than usual.  In fact, it felt like I wasn't wearing one at all.  And I wasn't.  So, while Max got a coffee, I turned around and plowed back to the control point, adding unwelcome miles to the day.  I'm just glad I noticed before we got too much further down the road.

Second, at precisely the halfway mark (mile 125), we had a turn-around at the control at Jamestown, just south of Syracuse.  I went to pull my brevet card out of the cue sheet holder, but found that it was gone.  Somehow, amidst the rain and riding, it had slid out without my noticing, and the result was that I couldn't get it initialed and stamped at the controls.  The rules of randonneuring are pretty clear on what happens in this instance: you don't get credit for officially completing the ride, meaning that it can't count toward end-of-season awards or serve to qualify you for a 1200k.  Sigh.  Well, I had no one to blame but myself, and this was a relatively painless way to learn an important lesson.  It's something about which I'll be paranoid in the future, and rightly so, I suspect.

Perhaps sensing my annoyance, the cycling gods decided to comfort me with a series of morale-crushing climbs and steep rollers, all on an exceedingly rough chip-seal road.  This continued from miles 125 through about 150, and it was by far the toughest part of the day.  Milers will tell you that the third lap is the hardest: you're exhausted and in pain, but you're not yet in the final stage of the event, when the gravitational pull of the finish line carries you onward.  In our case, we had ridden the length of Mountains of Misery over the course of 9 hours, weathering cold, rain, and hills, but we still had 130 miles to go.  It's pretty ridiculous when you think about it, and you'll drive yourself nuts if you do it too often.  So we just concentrated on "next control, next control, next control."

Finally, as dusk approached, we found ourselves cruising back north along the eastern shore of Skaneateles Lake, and it was simply awe-inspiring.  The day remained cloudy, but the clouds were breaking up to the west, and a flood of sunbeams illuminated the lake in a way that put postcards to shame.  It was the sort of sight that makes you forget you've been riding for 175 miles, and just revel in the splendor of nature.  It's why one rides a bicycle, and why these adventures are worth undertaking.  You can never tell when you'll encounter something that just takes your breath away.

Unfortunately, toward the end of this section, Max encountered his fourth flat tire of the day, all on the same wheel.  He'd used the three tubes that he brought with him, and he'd inspected the tire and rim tape repeatedly, all to no avail.  There was just something in the tire or wheel that was causing slow leaks in whatever tube was installed, and the two of us were faced with a problem.  I had one tube left, and he had none.  I could give him my tube, but the evidence suggested that it would likely flat again before too long, because the underlying problem hadn't been fixed.  What's more, his hand pump broke, which meant that he couldn't use his patch kit.  Fortunately, Max had come overly prepared, and had brought with him an entire spare tire.  I therefore gave him my remaining tube and Co2 cartridge, and he carefully installed the tube into it, and it held.  If it hadn't, I'm not sure what we would have done -- we were approaching dark on Saturday night in a very rural area, and there was no mechanical support to call.  It just emphasizes that the difference between success and failure is sometimes overpreparation.  Who'd have thought to bring three spare tubes and a spare tire?  I will, from now on, for one.  (Although I've yet to flat on my tubeless tires, with which I'm rapidly falling in love.)

After dinner at the locally famous fish and chips shop in Skaneateles, the exceedingly quaint resort town on the northern tip of the lake, we turned on our headlights, donned our reflective vests, and headed west for the last 70 miles of our journey.  It had been nearly a year since I'd done any riding after dark on my road bike, and facing at least four hours of it, after having already ridden 185 miles, was pretty daunting.  Nonetheless, the hills were largely behind us, so it was just a question of keeping moving and staying safe.  The last 70 miles, though, turned out to be some of the nicest I've ever ridden.  The temperatures were in the low 70s, and though the roads we traveled had a moderate amount of traffic, the shoulders were as wide as the roads themselves and were perfectly maintained.  My cycling computer was running out of batteries, so I turned it off in case I needed its routing down the road, and the result was that we each found ourselves largely alone with our thoughts in the wilderness of rural New York, with nothing but the hypnotic whir of our tires to disturb us.

After the last control point, we had only 40 miles left to go (having ridden 215!), and the evening turned spectacular.  We turned onto a quiet road that lead back along the edge of Lake Ontario, and as we passed the 240-mile marker, we noticed that the clouds had finally given way, and the stars above were dazzling and brilliant.  In fact, both of our primary headlights gave out about this point, leaving us to cover the last hour on lower-powered backups, but the glass-like tarmac, lack of any cars, and starlight made it pretty magical.  We were so close to lake Ontario, just off to our right, that I was constantly entranced by the bits of waves catching the moonlight for brief instants; the overall effect was one of a vast sea of fireflies amidst the darkness.  It's an image I'll carry with me for a very long time.

Triumph and No Fanfare Whatever

Finally, just before 1:00 a.m., our odometers ticked over to 255.1 miles, and we turned back onto the long gravel driveway through the woods.  I remarked to Max that I'd never ridden a road bike down a gravel road at night before, and he had nothing reassuring to say.  Still, we made it, and rolled up to the host's house, where we were told that his wife would greet us.  But the lights were off.  She did not respond to the bell.  Indeed, it looked like no one was home.  So Max signed his brevet card, slid it under the door, and we packed up our things and rode back to the hotel, pausing only to order some delivery dinner to meet us there.

That's the thing about randonneuring: it is resolutely anti-glory.  There is no finish line and there are no crowds.  There's no t-shirt to buy, and even if there were, no one would be impressed or even understand what you're talking about.  In fact, the last thing you'd want to do is explain it because that would simply cement your status as a weirdo.  But precisely because it's so anti-corporatist and anti-glory, randonneuring manages to be purely about the journey in a way that too few things are.  It's about covering the distance through any means necessary, and hopefully along the way you learn something about yourself.  It's a wonderful thing.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Rockin' the Hall

It's easy to beat guys, like the one on the right, who are three feet tall.
After six years of racing triathlons, I finally managed to win my AG an event, the Rock Hall Olympic-distance. It's somewhat of a baffling outcome, as I had no reason to be optimistic going into it.  I'd ridden the Mountains of Misery Double Metric the Sunday before, which had left me unable to do any running or riding of note on Monday or Tuesday.  I did, however, put in 90 minutes of swimming on Tuesday morning, and then ramped things up to a fairly absurd level midweek.  On Wednesday, I swam for 60 minutes, commuted by Elliptigo for 75 minutes, attended yoga, ran an hour of hard hill repeats, and then hit the Team Z boot camp. Then, on Thursday, I was up early for 90 minutes of swimming, and the rest of the day comprised 90 minutes of Elliptigo, 60 minutes of yoga, an hour of Computrainer intervals, and an hour of TRX work.

The end result was that, on Friday, I was more sore than I'd been in years and could barely walk -- not quite the standard preparation for an Olympic-distance triathlon, which is raced at a very high intensity from the moment the gun goes off.  When my alarm went off at 3:30 a.m. on Saturday morning, walking up the stairs was difficult, and I simply hoped that somewhere along the line my legs would loosen up and allow me to get some work done.

The Rock Hall Olympic is one of the newer and smaller races on the calendar.  My AG had 30-something guys in it, and I think the entire field was in the upper 200's.  It's a race that should grow considerably in the coming years: it's an easy drive, run very well, and is located in a quaint resort community that's very supportive of the event.  The course itself is built for PR's: largely flat (although not quite as flat as Eagleman), and although one has to negotiate the blustery winds that are ubiquitous along the shore, it's very possible to build up a head of steam and barrel down the course.

One thing I learned at last year's D.C. Tri -- during which I spent about 30 seconds a mile on the side of the run course doubled over in stomach pain -- is that the morning meal for an Olympic is in some ways trickier than for an Ironman, simply because it's raced at such intensity.  In an IM, you start off and kinda just mosey along, but in an Oly, you have to be ready to pull the trigger from the get-go.  I've adapted this year by eating my morning meal at least four hours before the start of the race.  This time, that meant three rice cakes with light peanut butter, chopped up banana, honey, and salt, along with a couple of capsules of beet powder.  Then, on the drive to the race, I had two Honey Stinger Waffles, and finally took in a gel just before I got into the water.

(24:42, 28th overall)

The Rock Hall swim course was a bit of an I.Q. test, and apparently I'm not very good at those.  As far as I can tell, it was a triangular course with four sides, and there were yellow buoys at every turn except those at which there weren't yellow buoys.  Also, many of the buoys are tethered to large wooden poles -- think telephone poles -- that are emphatically bad to swim into.  On the upside, it's in a marina, which means that it's largely sheltered from the waves due to its being protected by sea walls.  On the downside, however, it's in a marina, which means that there are certain sections in which it's pretty clear that you're swimming through gasoline.

I think I swam a pretty straight course, but my time was again mediocre.  I've started really ramping up my swim volume recently, hitting the water 4-5 days a week, and I've signed up for a morning masters group that swims M-F, 90 minutes a day, in a 50-meter outdoor pool.  This past week was my first of those sessions, and I suppose it's possible that the sudden surge in volume, combined with my TRX work, meant that my shoulders and lats were fatigued heading into the race.  More realistically, though, I just have work to do.  It won't be as big of a problem at the Iron distance, where the swim is really little more than a warmup to the main event, but I gave up fully six minutes on the swim to the guys at the front of the pack, and that's just debilitating at the shorter distances.  In fact, I'd have comfortably won this race overall if I swam anything close to their times.  I'm hoping that the consistent work will pay dividends, and I may look into some individual lessons a bit down the road if I continue in this rut.

(58:00, 1st overall, 25.2 mph) (PR) (CR)

I'd had a strong race on the bike at Columbia, a much hillier course, two weeks earlier, as well as a good ride at Mountains of Misery, so I knew that I had the ability to do well here.  The problem is that, as I mentioned earlier, my legs felt utterly dead due to the thrashing I'd given them midweek (not to mention the residual MoM fatigue), so I thought I could probably be competitive on the bike, but I wasn't expecting miracles.  Somehow, though, I got a miracle, going a full MPH faster than at the flat D.C. Triathlon course last year.  I had the fastest bike split in the race field by 54 seconds.  Objectively, my time is slightly flattered by the fact that the course was about 1/2 mile short, but even were it correct, I'd have ridden a sub-60 40k for the first time in my life.  (Previous best: 1:02:00 at D.C. Tri.)  Honestly, I didn't think I was capable of such a time, even in a standalone 40k TT on fresh legs, so this performance ranks as something of a shock. What I can say is that I got on the bike in 35th place overall, and got off it a close 3rd.  Thinking objectively about it, I've identified a few factors that I think contributed to this performance.

First, and most obvious, is bike fit.  I've tuned it over the years in every small way I can, down to changing over to inwardly-rotated S-bend aerobar extensions this year that bring my hands completely together to fair my computer and water bottle.  I have 18.5 cm of drop from saddle to armpads, which is exceedingly aggressive, I race in a one-piece skinsuit, and I use insoles that keep my knees tracking correctly so as to get all of the possible power out of my legs.  I don't wear a number on me during the bike leg, and I only went out of the aerobars once during the entire ride, that to power up the single hill on the course.  In short, I did everything possible to punch the smallest hole possible, and I think I got more speed per watt than just about anyone out there.

Second, I had the right equipment.  The Speed Concept 9-series is an absurdly fast bike, and the Di2 shifters allow me to have zero movement in my upper body while shifting at will.  I use the Bontrager R4 Aero tires, which are low-mileage but also very low rolling resistance, and inside them are latex tubes, which also minimize rolling resistance.  Finally, I had an 11-23 cassette on the bike, which meant that the gaps between gears were very small, a crucial feature on a flat course like Rock Hall.  My strategy throughout the entire bike leg was "One more gear."  I'd spin up to 95-100 rpm, then force myself to shift up just one gear and bring my cadence back up.  Then one more gear.  Then another.  Surprisingly often, I was able to hold 2-3 mph faster without working too much harder, but that wouldn't have been possible if I were goofing around with an 11-28 cassette.

Third, my mindset was exactly right for the bike leg, which was: "Acquire target, track down, and kill."  My mediocre swim had the salutary effect of putting a bunch of people in front of me to serve as rabbits, and I made it my mission to track them down, one by one, and then to accelerate past them in ostentatious fashion in order to prevent them from getting any ideas about drafting.  Then there would be another guy or two in the distance, and the whole process would repeat.  Frankly, that approach really, really hurts.  I was about ready to be done after only 5 miles, but I found that the pain didn't really get worse as the miles ticked off, it just held at a barely tolerable level.  Flat and windy courses can be fast, but they're also difficult because one gets no rest at all.  They're just straight-up about who is willing to endure the most pain, and I decided on the day that I was going to kill anyone out there and deal with the consequences when the run came around.  I guess it worked.

Despite this result, the wattages I'm putting up in training still aren't anywhere near what I've put up in past years -- I simply wasn't working much on the bike in the winter or spring.  So, although I'm ecstatic about the performance, I also know that I have a lot more in me if I continue to train the way I need to, which includes twice-weekly full-body strength work, running and riding hills, thrice-weekly yoga, hitting the pool, and watching my diet.  Nothing motivates like success.

(40:44, 19th overall, 6:33/mi) (PR)

I came off the bike in third place overall, but I was so toasted that I nearly fell over in T2 trying to put my shoes on.  As I rolled out of the transition area in 4th (due to the slow transition), I yelled to a friend of mine, "I think the hill repeats two days ago were a f*cking mistake!"  Man did I feel done.  Surprisingly, though, I quickly ran past the guy who'd exited T2 in front of me -- last year's overall winner.  I continued to pull away from him over the first 5k as my legs came around a bit.  I finished the first loop in about 19:50, but I just couldn't hold it together in the second half.  My legs just had nothing more to give, and I was experiencing massive GI distress that threatened to be disastrous unless I backed it off.  One guy caught me and I stayed with him through mile four, but in the last couple of miles I was forced to walk for 30 seconds or so on three different occasions simply to get my stomach under control, and I lost two spots overall.  I finally rolled it home in 40:44, which was a 2:42 P.R. over my D.C. Tri time of 43:26.  I'm happy with the PR, but I'd have finished 4th overall instead of 6th if I'd simply managed to hold it together for another two miles.  I'm optimistic that I'd have been able to dig deeper if I'd been rested and truly prepared for the race, and I'm confident that I have another minute or two in me if I get everything right.


Going into this race, my P.R. was 2:15:19, and in this race I'd hoped to improve on that to something in the 2:10-2:12 range.  My 2:06:25 was like a bolt out of the blue; even if the bike course had been correct, I'd have been in the high 2:07's.  The bottom line is that I'm riding the hell out of my bike right now, so I'm pretty excited about the remainder of the season, and I'm even more motivated to put in the time on the swim and run.  I know I can ride, but now I want to ensure that I'm swimming closer to the big boys, and to start running like I know I can.

Bring it on.