Friday, October 17, 2014

Racing Addiction, Learning Lessons in Triathlon, and What I Need to Work On. My races from the past month.

As mentioned in my Vineman race report, I hurt my leg at Vineman.  This caused me to pull out of my original plan of racing Ironman Lake Tahoe (which, ironically, was cancelled in of itself on race day).  Originally, this lead me to want to take some time off and make sure my leg was 100% ready for a late season race I had targeted (the inaugural Surf City 70.3 in Santa Cruz, Ca) and also get me ready and completely healthy going into next season.

However, I ran into a problem a lot of triathletes (and endurance racers in general) run into.

I'm ADDICTED to racing.

It's not a unique problem to me (most of the people on my tri teams and tri clubs race several times a year - some people race nearly every weekend) and I'm certainly not the only person who is so focused on racing and competition that they ultimately ignore things like getting the proper training in, listening to their body when it starts to break down, etc, etc.

I can't speak for other people, but I often question (and get questioned) as to why I do so many races.  What's the point of it?  A general point that I raise to myself is that the vast majority of these races that I enter - I won't win.  I might be "loosely competitive" in a lot of them - but it's not like I'm bringing home a ton of trophies and prize purses or anything of the sort.  I don't rely on racing for my livelihood.  I don't make a living from it.  In addition, the more I race - the less effective my training is - which, in turn, limits how successful I can be when I race.  So why race so much?

For me, I suppose, it's because I enjoy the rush of getting to the starting line and seeing how well I can do in a race.  I enjoy pushing myself to the best I can be and I like to see how that compares to other people pushing themselves to be the best they can be.  I enjoy the adrenaline rush of taking off at a starting line, of getting into a bad spot during a race and pushing through it, of crossing a finish line.  In fact, even in the races I win or place in - I always seem to enjoy the actual racing more than I do any podium celebrations or anything of that sort.

Because of that, it makes it very difficult for me to "concentrate solely on an 'A' race" or take time off between races.  Now, that's not always a bad thing.  Sometimes, it works out pretty well - sometimes it doesn't.  Sometimes it causes issues in training, sometimes racing can provide an extra boost of confidence leading into another event.  Sometimes you don't have the race you wanted to have and you NEED another race mentally to get back on your feet.

What this meant for me was - when I decided to pull out of Ironman Lake Tahoe to make sure I was complete ready for my 70.3 in November - I could NOT deal with taking a month or two "off from racing".  Once I was able to run without any major pain again - I immediately signed up for a race - the Los Angeles Triathlon (which happened to be in my backyard and also on the same day as Ironman Lake Tahoe).

Again, addicted to racing.

In any case - on to the LA Triathlon race report:


I mostly picked this race to do because it was in my backyard and because I was going to the Philippines on vacation the week after.  Originally, the plan was going to do Ironman Lake Tahoe and then recover while on vacation.  When Tahoe was cancelled, the new plan was to just relax and have a "mini break."  Unfortunately (or fortunately - depending on how you look at it, I suppose), that changed when I stopped feeling pain in my leg during training and when I had a fairly decent 5k time at the LA Galaxy 5k.  At that point, I figured I'd have enough fitness to put a solid effort into an Olympic/Standard distance race.  The Los Angeles Triathlon just happened to be near where I lived and the date lined up perfectly to coincide with my vacation schedule - so I signed up and went to do the race.

I DID have a few reservations about this race beforehand.  For one, the course was designed by someone who either was hitting the bottle way too hard when they mapped it out or just has no clue about triathlon and racing in general.  That's just my opinion, and may sound a bit harsh, but this wasn't a very good course.  My problems with it will be described in each specific section of my report - but I will say that when I previewed the bike and run courses the weeks prior to the event - I seriously considered pulling out of the race (again, addicted to racing - which is what ultimately prevented me).

All of my gear for the race.  Seems like a lot when you look at it like this.  Maybe I was ready for Ironman Lake Tahoe anyway.

Mandatory Transition Shot.

The swim course was a 1500 meter open water swim in some light surf.  Nothing too incredibly special or different about it.  You swam out to a buoy, made a right hand turn, swam to the next buoy, made a right hand turn, swam to another buoy, made a right hand turn, then swam near the original buoy and made a left to come back in.  Pretty standard stuff.  What exactly could be wrong with it?  Well, for starters, after the third right turn, the path that the swim was in was right where the surf was breaking.  What this caused was a mishap and some mayhem for some people not that experienced in open water swimming and there was more than a handful of people who just swam in before the turn and walked along the shoreline.  That's not a major deal, but that's something that probably should have been thought out a little better.  I ended up swimming past the break and going that route - but a lot of people did not.  The other big thing (and this comes up again) was that there was a gigantic freaking bluff that separated the swim start from the transition area.  So when you exited the swim, you had to run up a huge hill to get to the transition area before hopping on your bike.  Now, that's not a big deal - but it comes into play later in the run as well.

For me, I had a rough swim.  A gigantic mistake I made in training leading up to this event was concentrating too much on my run and bike (in an effort to get my leg injury overcome) and I all but ignored my swim fitness and training during that period.  What this equated to was a very bad swim time (worse than usual) and a lot of difficulty (fitness wise) coming out of the swim.  I wasn't gassed from it, but I was pretty close.  It's disappointing because I felt like I was getting through to a pretty decent level of swimming (I was 1:14 for a full distance at Vineman), so this was kind of a step back.  However, there's not much to expect when you don't train your swim.  Like anything else in life, if you don't put the effort in - you can't expect the results and that was definitely the case for me here.

After getting up the monstrosity of a hill, I hopped on my bike and came to what I think is the biggest complaint of the course.
The bike course was a 22 mile course that was made of several loops (depending on which you race you did - the Olympic/Standard race was 5 loops) of a small 4 mile course.  The course made a sharp left turn, up a hill, steeply down the hill on the other side, a sharp right at the bottom of that hill, back up another hill, down a hill, sharp left, then up a hill to a turn-around and then back and rinse and repeat.
If it sounds convoluted, it's because it IS convoluted.  Not only is it convoluted, but it's outright dangerous.  When I rode the course as a preview ride, the only thing I could think of was "Someone is going to get killed doing this race."  The bike course, while incredibly challenging and tough, just wasn't safe for a group event.  It would be a good course for maybe 15 or so so riders who were drafting each other and super experienced professional bike riders - but it wouldn't be able to withstand the scrutiny of 1500 people riding the course with a "no draft" rule in effect (not that drafting would have made it anymore safe but it spaced people out where there is simply no space).
On race day, I laughed when I saw that they put up hay bails at the bottom of both of the sharp turns and at the turnarounds.  Maybe that was a smart safety measure, maybe someone woke up and thought "Oh shit, we're going to get sued when someone breaks their neck", or maybe that was the plan all along - but it was ridiculous to see that kind of thing on a triathlon course.  In addition to the hay bails were a small army of volunteers telling people to slow down at nearly every portion of the race.  I was told several times to slow down on the bike - often when I was going uphill!  In addition to the haybails, there was somehow puddles of water at the base of both hills.  So it was wet and slippery by both of the sharp turns.  How this happened and why it wasn't immediately cleaned up and stopped is beyond me - but it presented a real and dangerous hazard.
The course got extremely crowded, extremely fast.  Several people were walking their bikes up the hill, a handful were walking their bikes DOWN the hill (assumingly out of fear that they would crash on such a steep downhill section).  I saw three wrecks, one of them pretty bad (where there was visible blood).  I myself took a skid and went down (but was able to get up pretty quickly).
The hills made the course slow, the conditions made it slow, the layout made it slow, the crowd made it slow - it wasn't the type of course you could hammer through.
It was also a course that really required a road bike to get your best time at it.  Handling trumped aerodynamics this time around and if you had a bike where you could get a good tuck on the downhill sections, then I think a bike that climbed a bit better than a triathlon bike was probably the way to go.  I was on my tri bike, but it was probably the least of my worries.
Now, with all that negative out of the way - the one thing this race did right was the spectators and volunteers.  Everyone was excited and there was lots of energy to cheer people on.  It was great.  There were hordes of people wherever you were on the bike course always giving support and keeping spirits high.  It helped me a lot and I really appreciated it.
Another thing that they got right were the timing mats.  One thought I had when I previewed the course was that there would be a ton of people who would cut the course or ride short and not do all the loops.  I think that problem was alleviated with the timing mats they had on the course - which practically made it impossible to not do all 5 loops and register a legitimate time.  They had the same timing set up on the run too, and I think that's the best way to do it to prevent course cutting.
I managed to put together a decent bike split before making it in to T2 and getting ready to head out on the run.  I felt really good coming off of the bike and the legs felt super fresh.

The run course is a doozy.  Once out of transition, you head up on a street up to the first turnaround and then back down to transition.  Then you run right by transition and down the aforementioned steep sand bluff onto the beach - where you run about 3/4 mile in the sand down to a turnaround, along the tideline, back up the steep sand bluff - then repeat.  On the last of three laps - you head straight along the beach to the finish line (so you only go up the sand bluff twice).  It was a beast of a 10k and an extremely challenging run.
Coming out of transition, I was averaging a 5:45 pace going up the hill and I felt extremely strong.  That changed coming down into the sand.  I'm not a sand runner and I don't really run in the beach unless I'm just screwing around after a surf or open water swim or something.  So it's a bit different and something I wasn't used to.  Obviously this ultimately equaled me going slower than I would on a typical road 10k - and the two climbs up the sand dunes certainly slowed things down a bit, but I still felt strong and put in a good effort.
I ended up with the second fastest run split of the day - with the only guy ahead of me being someone who was on a relay team (meaning all he did was the run).

A mini collage as I didn't order pictures from this event.
I finished with a 2:38 and some change - which was good enough for 5th in my age group - which I'm satisfied with.  With my swim as bad as it is, I simply can't compete at a race like this - so the fact that I was 5th is a victory in my mind.  With an improved swim (I figure I'm giving up 15 minutes in that race to the faster swimmers), I think I can be more competitive.  Obviously, however, it'll take a lot of work.
I didn't really stick around for the awards, mainly because as soon as I finished - they gave you your medal, snapped a picture, gave you a water bottle, and then you were swarmed with Herbalife sales reps (at least I think they're reps?) trying to get you involved with their product.  It left a bad taste in my mouth so I just grabbed my stuff and headed home.  
Suffice to say - I will not be doing that triathlon again if the course remains the same.

Pretty sweet medal that was hard earned at this race.


I left for the Philippines shortly after the L.A. Triathlon and, while there, signed up for the Bonelli Olympic Distance Triathlon put on by Tri Series Events.  This was mainly because friends and teammates from the A Runner's Circle Tri Team were doing the event and, while I had no expectations of doing well (I was to fly in the night before the race), I figured it would be a great test for my fitness and a good way to race with the team.

The morning of the race, I was feeling pretty jet lagged - and, to top it off, I hadn't done much training while on vacation (hence why it's called "vacation").  I managed to get in a few swims (and a lot of surfing and snorkeling), and two runs and that was it.

Had a pool all to myself for one swim workout - which was awesome.

Ok, I lied.  I did manage to get one bike session in.  I took my niece, nephew, and son around for a bit in this bike cab.
The BOD (Bonelli Olympic Distance) went alongside their Steamboat triathlon (sprint equivalent), and was held in Bonelli Park in San Dimas, Ca - where several triathlons are held and on roads I'm pretty familiar with.  I had a decent showing at the Turkey Tri of last year on practically the same course - so I was hoping not to embarrass myself too badly here.

The swim is basically as easy as it gets.  It goes out to one buoy and then you take a left to another, and come back in.  Some people were claiming that the swim was long after the event was done, but I don't think that was the case.  I haven't looked at my data from the race yet, but my time was about on par with what it would have been.
It took awhile to get going because of a fog that kind of hung around a little longer than anyone expected (which killed the visibility from the shoreline), which gave plenty of time for the team to take some pictures.
ARC Tri Team and friends getting ready to go before the race start.
Once we got started, the swim went about what I expected.  It was a mass start that didn't have a timing mat at the beginning, so any time you waited beyond your wave's start counted against you.  Because of this, I lined up in the front and just took off as fast I could in an effort to get clear and not be in anyone's way.  Well, that didn't work.  I swam pretty slow - though it wasn't for a lack of effort.  The lack of sleep, lack of concentrated swim training, and just general weariness got to me in the swim - but I worked my way out of that in the last 500 or so meters, and felt pretty good coming out of the water.  I have no idea where my swim split ranked, but it had to be back of the back - as I was passed by people in two different waves.  All of that said, I was pleased again with the performance of my Zone 3 wetsuit.  While I didn't have the swim I wanted, the suit performed well for me and was extremely comfortable.  I plan to do a review of it in a later blog post.

I ran up the hill to transition and got on the bike pretty quickly.

The bike course is pretty standard with two short climbs and a medium climb.  It's a three looped course, but spread out enough that it doesn't get too crowded.
I came out of the bike going pretty hard and decided within the first mile that I would push as hard as I possibly could on the bike and see if I could hang on afterwards for the run.  This meant a full blown 40k time trial effort and I'd let the cards fall where they may.  
I didn't quite go that fast (despite what my splits say - I think they messed up the splits between the bike, transitions, and swim for me - as my run is the only thing that matched what I remember my GPS said) but I was cooking pretty good.  I passed a multitude of people until the last 1/3 of the last lap - where I kind of hit a wall.  I took a moment (about half a mile) of easy spinning to let myself cool down a bit and then kicked it up again all the way in to transition.  
Cruising along on the bike.
Sometime during the bike, one of my armrests popped off (one of the bolts sheered off at the base and I guess the pressure I was putting on it caused it to pop off).  I simply stuffed it down my shirt and kept riding.  I didn't notice an incredible amount of difference (other than the obvious) just resting my arm in the area where the pad would have been, so it didn't effect my biking at all - but was still pretty sketchy.
Coming into T2, I was feeling it in my legs and knew I was in for a tough run.

I took off on the run feeling it a bit, but still able to hold my normal 10k pace (which was surprising).  About a mile in, I started to falter but was still holding a pretty decent pace.  Then I was passed.  I kicked it up a notch in an attempt to catch the guy who passed me, and started to just get slower and slower and slower and watching the pace on my watch get higher and higher and higher.  I was almost at 8:30/mile by the time I finished - but I came across the line in 4th place - and no one from a later wave managed to beat that time - so that's where I finished.
Coming across the finish line and completely beat.
I ended up with 2nd in my age group and 4th overall, and I don't think anything (other than being a better swimmer and being faster in the water or just being a faster triathlete in general) would have changed that.  I went as hard as I could on the bike, but I don't think I made up too much from what I lost on the run.  The jet lag had somewhat of an effect, but I was pretty much over that by the time I was racing and don't think my end time went up much because of that.  In addition to that, the guys ahead of me were just plain faster than me - even if I was 100% ready for this race.
With my finishing medal and getting photobombed shortly after the finish.
I thought the event was incredibly well run, and really enjoyed myself.  The support was great and it seemed like there were 20 aid stations on the run.  There were a lot of people there, and most everyone seemed to have a great time.  I will definitely add another Tri Series Event to my calendar for next year.
The team in transition post race (or maybe pre-race, I'm not sure)
The ARC Tri Team had a few people on the division podium, including 2 people in the BOD, 1 in the Steamboat, and one on the relay team.  Pretty awesome - considering that it was some people's first triathlon ever!

A Runner's Circle podium finishers.

Second place on the age group podium.  Apparently the first place guy had other things to do.

Really digging the podium medal - which is made of balsa.
So that was that.  Basically, I need to work on my swim and put more effort into my swim training to get better.  I won't be competitive at most races with my swim the way it is now - and it's only going to get worse.  The effort has to be put in and the work has to be done - or else I should just start doing duathlons (where I'm not fast enough to be competitive anyway).  So I'll work on that.  Also, I need to get my race strategies in line with where my training is at and execute better during a race.  That will come with time and practice.

In any case, all in all they were a couple of positive races and I'm happy with that.  Hopefully they can help springboard me to a good performance in Santa Cruz, Ca come November.  We'll see.  In the meantime, here's a picture of my son playing with his best friend at the surf resort in the Philippines.
He was pretending he was asleep next to the dog.

The entire time we were there, this dog followed my son and they become attached at the hip.