Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Spring Update and Rev3 Knoxville

What happened to the first five and a half months of the year? It was the winter that never ended, and all of a sudden its race season in Ontario as of this week, and it seems like summer has caught everyone by surprise. I haven't even done an open water swim workout yet!

For those who read this (are you still there?) I have to apologize as it seems like racing is my only impetus to write. Someday I may feel the need to write more on my thoughts and opinions of this funny sport, but for the most part my "story" these days is similar to most triathletes out there. The everyday balancing act of getting in my training around work and life...sometimes I hate it, wish I could just train full-time and race elite, other times I'm sick of putting all of my spare time and money into the sport and regret that I can't afford any far away exotic travels this year. But for the most part I love the daily challenge of balancing it all, and just seeing where it all takes me.

This weekend was my first tri of the year, Rev3 Knoxville. But to give the full story of the race I need to back up and recap my winter/spring (as briefly as possible).

I left off last season with Ironman 70.3 Muskoka, my big A race of the year where I set the goal of qualifying for 2015 70.3 Worlds Champs in Mont Tremblant this September. I was really happy with my preparation, effort, and result and got my qualifying spot with a full year to prepare for Worlds.

I finished that race on such a high that I wanted to keep racing every weekend until the snow started flying. Unfortunately I had a minor nagging injury that I had to take care of first, so I called it a season despite my motivation being extremely high. Coming off a good race, having good fitness and plenty of motivation proved to be a difficult way to start the off-season. I set some solid but realistic goals for 2014 and couldn't wait to get rolling.

By the time the holidays came around I was still water running, having 3 different diagnoses on my foot/achilles/calf, none of which I was satisfied with and no amount of rest was helping. My power numbers on my bike seemed to be going down by the day and in the pool I was swimming slower than I had in years. It seemed like the harder I worked, the slower I got. On top of that I changed jobs and at times was working 50+ hour weeks. It was tough, and I let it affect my consistency when I was sick of feeling like every workout was a failure. I seriously considered just taking the year to play on my mountain bike every day. It was a feeling of discouragement that I hadn't had in years, and after coming off one of my best seasons ever I felt like I had gone backwards on every level.

I guess I still haven't gotten the whole "off-season" thing figured out yet, trying to balance a lighter training load, working on skill and strength, and being ok with occasionally seeing the numbers drop off in the short term for longer term gains. I was reluctant to even go to LPC Florida Camp for a while but I knew I needed a week away from the grind and some quality time with Amanda and all of our LPC friends. Rather than think of training camp as a "test" of my early fitness or a chance to boost my training, I used it as a big, warm and sunny reset button for my training, motivation and attitude.

Florida was exactly what I needed...I had some surprisingly good workouts at the start, had a few moments of feeling completely discouraged again when the fast guys were leaving me in their dust, then got my s**t back together and finished the camp with some great workouts on the hardest and longest days. It was a huge mental victory to know that my fitness was in fact there somewhere and I can thrive when fatigue is at its highest. It was also a huge bonus to have Amanda there, this time as an official member of teamLPC :)

So I came back to Canada (and snow, and indoor riding) with the goal of letting go of any thoughts of a "bad" winter of training, and letting Florida be a springboard for a strong and consistent spring of training. And instead of pushing back my race season until I deemed myself "fit enough", I decided to add some forced motivation and sign up for Rev3 Knoxville Half on the May long weekend.

Whether it was the fear of being unprepared for a half, or a change in attitude and expectations, I managed to put together a really solid block of spring training. I decided to take my power meter off my bike and ride by feel for a month and take motivation from FEELING good vs. determining the success of my ride based on my output. My run fitness came together, and I even hit a swim PB (the day after running a half marathon). My original goal for Knoxville was strictly to break 1:30 in the run...something I know I am more than capable of, and have been getting a little closer to each time (on progressively harder courses). But I started to get really excited to race!

Ok now for the race report...

I hit the road down to Knoxville with my title sponsor (aka mom) on Friday, and got there on Saturday just in time for the practice swim. I had a mini spaz attack when my new wetsuit that I was really excited to use felt extremely uncomfortable during my 15 minute swim but luckily I brought my old suit as a backup and decided I would use that for race day, and spend more time fiddling with the fit of the new suit when I have more time and patience.

I got my gear together, put my Powertap wheel on for the first time in over a month (having no idea what my power would be, I'd use it as a pacing tool rather than basing my effort off of it), and drove the bike course....

On race morning I felt good, but really nervous. I knew training had been going well recently but in the back of my mind I still thought about my less than perfect winter of training. I guess there's no better way to see where you're at than race a challenging half ironman in May!

Swim: 30:17
I had plenty of clean water starting the swim, and likely took it out far too relaxed because of that. I saw a small group ahead of me within the first 400m but I seemed to be content to sit on some feet and chill. My stroke didn't feel great and I wasn't sighting all that well so I figured I might as well save some energy and draft. I wasn't thrilled with my time, but given that it was my first open water swim and first wetsuit swim I can live with it. More importantly I felt really good getting out of the water and likely made up all of the time I may have gained from swimming harder to gain 30 seconds.

Bike: 2:34 (35.1km/h)
There was a lot of talk about how challenging the bike course is in Knoxville...overall I would say it is comparable in difficulty to Muskoka, although Muskoka is 4k longer (edit: my average speed was identical to Muskoka last year, but my average power was about 3% very slightly more challenging I guess). I felt strong getting on my bike and was riding through the previous waves of athletes from the Championship distance race that went off 15 minutes prior.

About 5 minutes into the ride I was moving really well, and all of a sudden it sounded like I had a flat tire. I got out of my aerobars and heard my tire ticking on every revolution. Being paranoid of what happened in Mont Tremblant last year when my tire bead blew out and locked up my back wheel, I stopped thinking I had a flat. I checked out my tire and it was still full pressure but found a gel wrapper stuck to it, which was dragging through my frame each time around. I regretted stopping so quickly before being 100% sure I had to, but given my history with flat tires I guess you could say I was just being diligent. And hey, 30 seconds in a 4+ hour race really isn't the end of the world. So on I went.

I have to admit that on the challenging course, riding through less experienced athletes from earlier waves, I had to make some daredevil passes on some of the descents not only to maintain my speed, but to stay safe vs. hitting my brakes on a fast downhill. So to those athletes that I scared the crap out bad. There were a few times in the first and last 10 miles (ie. the technical sections) that I got stuck behind vehicles, that were stuck behind slower athletes. It was a little frustrating, but nothing you can do about it. I mostly managed to pass safely without doing anything too stupid. Mostly.

At 25k into the bike my average power was about 10W higher than in Muskoka last year. It didn't feel too bad but I wanted to stay conservative, after all my goal was on the run. Around this point in the half there is an out-and-back section, and its the only point of the race where you can see your competition without the other race distances on the road. I was in 4th place, with one athlete (in my age group) just up the road, and 2 more about 2 minutes ahead. I let my motivation get the better of my pacing for a while and made my way into third. I was riding well but from 40-60k I basically saw nobody, with plenty of wind and rollers but little opportunity to get out of the aerobars. My power dropped a little, partially because I knew the big climbs were at 70-80k, and partly because it was starting to hurt. But after mile 40 the end seemed to be in sight and I managed to ride really well over the last 15 miles. I came off the bike feeling better than I ever have...for the first time I felt like I actually raced a 90k bike, vs. simply surviving. My average power was a good boost from Muskoka last year, and I felt comfortable and aero throughout.

Run: 1:28:39 (4:12/km)
Out onto the run I felt pretty good, but also felt the fact that it was my first race of the year and my body wasn't really sure what was going on. My legs didn't feel great but I got into a rhythm for the first 3-4 miles, ticking off roughly 6:30/mile (just over 4:00/km). Conservative but also realistic.

It started to turn hilly right around mile 4, starting with a very long and steep hill to the championship-distance turnaround (about 4.5 miles in). The half marathon then continued into a neighbourhood that didn't have any crazy steep climbs, but you were either going up or down long rollers for the next 2 miles out and back. I figured my pace was going to fall off, not fulling realizing how challenging the run course was. But when the turnaround came in sight I was in good position and still on pace for a 1:28 half.

I certainly didn't feel good coming back through the hills, but I managed to maintain my pace fairly well. Last year the hills would have destroyed my legs and killed my pace. When we finally got out of the neighbourhood and back onto the paths I kept my mind occupied by obsessing over exactly what pace I needed to maintain to break 1:30. As with the bike, it hurt, but I didn't really slow down at all. At 18k it was back onto the road to head back to the race site, and my pace finally started to drop. I had to really bring up my effort to get close to my goal pace. But there was no way I was letting that damn sub-1:30 slip. I dragged my butt over the final uphill to the finish, and it turned out I really didn't slow down much through the whole race.

I finished in 4:36 which was good for 4th overall, 1st in my age group by a decent margin. I'm not typically one to "sportstats creep" but it looks like I was only beaten by athletes who routinely are first-overall age groupers at IM and 70.3s. The winner who was only 3-4 minutes ahead of me is a 9:00 Kona/sub-4:10 half IM athlete, which is where I would like to be in the not too distant future. Long story short, I was really happy with my race and it was a huge confidence boost to achieve my running goal on likely the hardest run course I've done so far. I can't wait to see how my fitness reflects in Mont Tremblant, which seems FAST in comparison to Knoxville and Muskoka.

I got some pretty good swag for winning my age group too! Overall I'm always impressed with Rev3 events, and this was a nice surprise. I wish there were more around to compete with WTC...I'd choose Rev3 over Ironman every time, but sometimes it comes down to the closest and most convenient events.

So its back to the grindstone, and I'm going to put my early season fitness to use and have a go at some shorter distance Ontario events through June and July. I'm really looking forward to getting back to basics and racing hard at the local races through the summer that I often miss when I'm training for 70.3s.