Monday, September 24, 2012

Am I MIA? What's been up.

Wow, it looks like it's been about six weeks since I last posted.  I haven't blogged for awhile because my mind simply has been elsewhere, and I never want triathlon, or the accompanying write-ups, to cross the line from an enthusiasm to an obligation.

Despite my lack of posts, though, a lot's been up, from injuries to races to founding a new triathlon team!  Here's the skinny.

I've been injured

In May, June, and July, I kept up kind of a ridiculous schedule.  Every other weekend I either ran a marathon or did a bike ride of 9+ hours, including the Boston Marathon, Big Sur Marathon, a 300k ride, a 400k ride, Mountains of Misery, 12 Hours of Cranky Monkey, and the Saratoga 12-Hour TT.  On my "off" weekends, I raced a couple of Olys.  It was all great fun, but I was left in mid July facing Ironman five weeks out, and I really hadn't done much in the way of consistent running.  So I started cranking up the running volume, and almost immediately got sidelined in a serious way.

It started out innocuously enough: an interval session on my trainer, followed by a 5-mile easy transition run.  Only, about three miles into the run, I felt a sudden stabbing pain in my right knee, and could barely put weight on it.  I had to gimp my way to a cab in order to get home.  This was not ideal.  It turned out that somehow I had completely trashed my IT band, an injury I've seen many times in others but never experienced myself.  My take-away is that it sucks in a very serious way.  In the five weeks before Ironman, I was not able to run a step, and I was getting massages 3-4x each week, foam rolling, and doing everything I possibly could simply to get to the starting line.  I also couldn't ride my bike; I had to bail after 30 minutes on an easy ride only two weeks out from Ironman.  Very, very bad.

As explained below, I did somehow make it through Ironman, but in doing so inflamed the injury again to such an extent that, once again, I couldn't do any real training.  So, at the moment, I'm almost 10 weeks out from the injury, and I've been unable to run or do serious riding for almost the entirety of that span.  Fortunately, I think I'm finally on the mend, but it has been an exceedingly discouraging process.

I've been racing, in the sense that I've participated in events known as races.

My seminal event for 2012 was Ironman Mont Tremblant, which I raced in August.  Readers of this blog will know that, after past Ironman events, I've written up pretty epic race reports.  After much consideration, I'm not going to do that for Tremblant.  It's been a very discouraging time athletically, what with the injury and all, and I've found that, with triathlon, I'm either "all in" or kind of unplugged.  In a time of discouragement and inability to train or race to my ability, it's been hard to imagine putting 8 or 9 hours into drafting a race report.  So, I'll simply provide a short recap.

It doesn't get more convenient than this.  I stayed at the Marriot.
The short and the long of Ironman Mont Tremblant is this: it's the best race I've ever done by a considerable margin.  It was simply spectacular from beginning to end -- gorgeous swim, bike, and run courses, the most convenient race staging I've ever seen, and flawless execution. One really can't ask for more.  Here's the view of the top of the finishing area from my hotel room balcony:

The finishing area itself was a Disney-esque festival scene:

And the village was pedestrian-friendly:

Here's a video taken from the free gondola, which soars over the village from the finish line/transition area at the bottom to the alpine slide at the top.

In the days before the race, the village really put on a show.  And, by that, I mean that they literally put on a show.  Specifically, a rock concert followed by fireworks.

The Friday night concert.  It was surprisingly outstanding.

You might think that fireworks before a triathlon would consist of a dude lighting off bottle rockets that fizzled into a vague M-Dot shape.  But this was an actual, honest-to-God show.  There were three songs -- care to guess?  Survivor, Journey, and U2.

Lake Tremblant.  Not suck.
As for the race, well.  I had a moderately crappy swim (1:05, compared to 1:00-1:02 for my last few races at this distance), but I'm not sure quite what I did wrong.  I simply found myself boxed in behind people swimming very slowly, and I couldn't make any meaningful progress for large stretches.  Eventually I just decided to take it easy and relax, so I moseyed on out in 1:04 or so and made a run for the timing mats, which were some distance away.

The bike course was a thing of wonder and joy.  I'd been riding well all summer, so I thought I could move pretty well on this course even with my 5-week injury layoff.  The course was a wonderful balance of long flats, long climbs, and steep rollers; in all, the elevation gain was pretty close to Lake Placid.  Fully 70% of the course had been repaved in the months before the race, so it was glass-like tarmac as far as the eye could see.  I touched my brakes all of 6 times in 112 miles, and 4 of those times were to do 180-degree turns around cones.  I executed exactly as I wanted to, turning in a split of 5:11, with the second half 5 minutes slower than the first due to easing off at the end in order to save something for the run.  This was a pretty big personal-best on an Ironman bike leg, but it was not an all-out effort by any stretch.  I thought I could have gone sub-5 if I'd been willing to leave it all out there.

One odd thing was that I basically had a personal draft marshal for about 30 miles straight -- he was never more than 100 yards from me in that entire 1.5-hour stretch.  I'd pass him, waive, and he'd stare at me in a vaguely Canadian way.  Occasionally he'd suggest that I drop back from 6.98 meters to 7.0 meters behind the person in front of me.  Annoyingly, though, the fact that he was right there all the time interfered with my pacing strategy on the climbs, which I tend to ride more slowly than comparable cyclists.  I take it easy up 'em, which means that people pass me routinely.  My normal approach is to mind my own business and keep chugging at my designated pace, and allow them to pull away -- they're going faster, after all.  But you can't do that with a best-buddy draft marshal next to you, or you risk getting flagged for not respecting the rules on being overtaken since you might not drop back quite quickly enough.  So I'd have to let off the gas substantially, thus causing more people to pass, and the cycle would repeat itself until I was doing little more than trying to coast up 1/2-mile-long climbs.  This is not awesome for average speed.  On a couple of occasions I probably made a poor decision by getting fed up with it and just blowing up the climbs at 450 watts for a minute or so, but it's what I felt like was the just and moral thing to do.   Dammit.

The run wasn't much to write home about, but I suspected it wouldn't be, given my complete lack of running.  The first and last miles of each run loop are quite hilly, and I was both injured and under-trained (as a result of the injury).  The constant up-and-down caused my ITBS to flare up pretty quickly, which meant the last 20 miles was a gimpfest.  All told, a 4:22, well off of what I'd have liked.

Despite a poor swim and run, I chalked up a 10:47, which was a 40-minute PR, so I can't be too upset about it.  The only tragic thing about Ironman Tremblant is that I'm not racing it next year.  What a race.

After Tremblant, my leg was once again in limp mode, and training was out of the question even if I'd had the motivation to do it, which, immediately post-IM, I clearly did not.  I was already signed up for Nations and Savageman Olys, so I raced to the extent of putting up a pair of rather lame 2:23's (I was sub-2:10 in June), but they were enjoyable anyway.  One thing that's clear to me is that success at shorter distance races requires an enthusiasm for suffering; without it, one simply can't do well.  It's never a good thing for achievement when, in an Oly, I find myself thinking that various competing riders look solid as I'm cheerfully getting dropped without protest.  On the other hand, though, this is all about fun at the end of the day, and I'll get 'em once I get back into competition mode.  There's nothing wrong with actually enjoying the scenery every now and then.  Maybe my injury was life's way of telling me to do more of that.

What's on the horizon

Lots of exciting stuff!

The biggest piece of news is that, in July, together with a group of longtime friends and training partners, I founded a new tri team, Ignite Endurance: Sparked by Tri360.  I'll have a lot more to say about the team in a separate post, but suffice it to say that things are going very well -- we have a terrific roster of down-to-earth athletes, and we're thrilled to be working with a great new shop with a refreshingly welcoming attitude toward athletes of all levels of experience.  We'll be leading regular rides and runs for athletes of all ability levels, and also doing our level best to make a splash on race day.

Beyond that, this week I've been able to start running and riding again, and I'm delighted to be on comeback road.  Tragically, my scale has reminded me that there's a little too much of me going around at the moment, so I have some work to do.  But I'm not rushing myself to get back into it -- I do my best racing and training when I let my body and brain decide when it's the right priority to have.  My next race will probably be the Waterman's half-Ironman in September.

More soon!