Thursday, August 5, 2010

Kiwanis

Kiwanis is a sprint triathlon with a pretty good sized turnout here in the small town of Medical Lake. It's a race that feels like it was thrown together despite being around for years. It has everything you need for a race save the clear cut rules and instructions and accurate posted leg lengths. On occasion, I get asked why I do this "beginner's race" that is annoyingly named a mini triathlon.
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1. It's 1200m by water from my house to the swim start or 1.08M on the trail. If you've never had the pleasure of living on a lake with three triathlons, then just know it's great to wake up in my own bed and be at the race as well. The only thing better is Trailblazer, which starts at the park 50' away. There's no packing or travel. If I forget something, I can go home and get it. It's low stress with little time investment and I love it.

2. Yes, it has a lot of new triathletes, but any time I'm in a race, I can crank it up regardless of how close or far the competition is. If I want to guarantee being pushed to the limit, I can travel to some other race on any other week. On the other hand, this race has had some great athletes toe the line. Roger Thompson and I were both chasing the old course record, missing it as a result of mysterious time being added to my time and a longer swim course for him and missing the record by seconds. Ben Greenfield has recently raced here too. There are more, but I don't know the stats and history of this race that well.

3. Racing a course that I train and race on all the time gives an easily comparable result. Other than the swim, which can be 500m or 200m depending on the year and how well or poorly they eyeball the mark, the bike can be compared with simple math because it starts 1.08M down the road from my usual start, which is basically the same as Trailblazer. The run is one lap minus .06M vs. minus .02M for Trailblazer or 2.86 and 2.90M respectively. I like data and knowing how my training and racing is going, so this is a course for me.

As for the race itself, I woke up on race morning and enjoyed being able to pack my things and head on down to the race well after most who stressed over their packing list, loaded up the car, double checked and were driving for a while. Part of the race is knowing transition and few understand or appreciate transition like I do. A little contention over one elite triathlete in Trailblazer made that clear. I'm all for competing head-to-head, but part of the race is strategy and investment. Show up late and get a bad spot ... too bad. I'm not going to give up my course strategies, tell you where to start, how to pick lines, tricky spots on the course, things to watch out for, give you my equipment if it's better, etc. So forgive me for being competitive in a competition people, but it's all part of the race, which is why I try to crush people in transition rather than wait for them so we are competing head-to-head in the swim, bike and run only. When I show up late, which has often happened for a variety of reasons, but most often because of military duties, I suck it up and take whatever spot is available and will do my best to make up for it with a great strategy. That's part of the race, like it or not.
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At Kiwanis, I showed up and many racks were full, but luckily for me, I got on what I felt was the best rack, but just a couple spots down from where I would have set up had I been there earlier. The others preferred the other racks I guess. Other than the usual prerace stuff, I got into my Piel wetsuit and did my warm-up, then headed up to ask the race director whether we were swimming clockwise or counter-clockwise (the usual). He said counter-clockwise, then went on gushing about me and following me and my course record of 34:14. What?! 34:14 for a 10 mile bike and 2.86 mile run, two transitions and a variable swim? After the race we debated it a bit, which has always been fruitless as this guy is always certain he's right. This time I was successful though. I said that no triathlete in the world could do that. Even my best TT bike and fastest lap around the lake without transitions or a swim would be well over 34:14 (roughly 39 minutes give or take). He then realized he must have been mistaken and must have transposed the numbers. It should have been 43:14, which is a bit faster than I recall, but it's at least reasonable. I'm thinking it was a high 43 to a low 44.

Anyway, I did another short swim to get warmed up, looked at my watch when I got close enough to touch and it was 9:56:38 and we start at 10. I heard something about Bergquist back on the beach that I couldn't hear well with water in my ears. Apparently he was still talking about me and joking about me giving others a chance. He must not be aware that I'm a LOT slower and still trying to get back INTO shape. Some people just don't believe that, but getting whooped nearly every time I race is a pretty good indication that I'm not 2008 Michael Bergquist. I'm the downgraded 2010 version. Then I heard a countdown start! Yikes! I never heard where we were supposed to start, how deep, shore or whatever. Some were near me and others were closer to shore, while some were on shore. I worked my way back for about 5 seconds, then stopped, prepared my watch and started it 2 seconds early and waited for the go!

I was crashing into the waves of the unusual northern wind, but I like short fast races. Not many had wet suits as it's usually so short that the time it takes to get it off gives them a slower net time than wearing one. The wetsuit gave me just enough speed to stay out front and breaking the waves with Warden on my toes (never touched them though). My only concern is hitting that turn in or near the front to avoid the absolute chaos that must ensue with a couple hundred people making a 180 degree turn 100m into a swim! I hit that turn and cranked it up on the way home. I exited first by quite a bit and began trying desperately to get my split. It was 3:04, but I didn't get it split until 3:08! Not bad for a 400 yard swim (accuracy?). The swim is the only thing that isn't consistent about this race, so I see it as a way for my intelligent approach to get me on the bike with a bit of a lead. The Piel wetsuit has breakaway zippers that go down to the ankles. Just pull to pop the zipper and peel it away like an NBA warm-up suit. I could have it off before I touched dry sand, but running with it on is faster than trying to carry it, so I waited until I got near my bike.
I hammered it up the hill and followed the route I did three or four times before the race to make sure I had the best lines and went straight to my bike. I dropped the wetsuit off right after arrival, threw on the helmet without glasses and was running out of T1 as the next person entered. It was like lightening! Too bad that wet suit is a terrible fit and not good for anything other than a sprint tri, but it's perfect for this race! T1 was 1:10.52, but I count that from the water's edge to the turn onto Salnave/Hwy 902 at the exit to the parking lot. This way I can compare my bike split to Trailblazer and my rides from home without the mess of climbing that hill and it's awkwardly short distance, etc.

I've been working hard at improving and was looking for something better than my 23.55 MPH average in Trailblazer. It's shorter at 10.05M vs. 12.17M, but that means less time for working out the time loss from starting and stopping and makes the harder parts of the course a greater slowing percentage of the race. In all, I'd consider whichever had a faster average a better ride as the beginning and end of Trailblazer are relatively flat and fast. My time to and from Clear Lake Rd. always varies a bit due to wind and how well I start, but the time around the lake is my real gauge. My best lap (around Clear Lake) was 17:50 during Kiwanis 2008 when I set the Kiwanis course record with the short swim, which was disappointing as I would have beaten the old record anyhow. The 17:50 was my best time around the lake for any TT or race. On this day, I made it around in about 18:40 or 18:50. I can't recall exactly, but I was still in front with only one person in sight about a minut back. It pays to know a course so well that you can catch a glimpse of a rider in the distance behind and know about how far it is! After the lap, I dropped the effort a bit and tried to recover a bit for the run. I thougt there was a team there with a good runner, so I wanted to make sure I had my best overall performance vs. trying to gap the #2 guy by enough that he ran for #2 instead of #1. My bike leg was 24:47 for 10.05M (24.33 MPH). Knowing that sub 25:00 would be my best pace of the year, I felt pleased that I'm making good progress and was substantially faster than my Trailblazer ride.
T2 was fairly flawless, but in an unorganized race without clear rules on where to go, I did what I have always done and entered the wide open, unmarked transition area the way I left it ... for years now. As I was off my bike and running at about 15 MPH toward my T2 spot and about to step on the grass, I heard someone say that I had to go through the trail entrance to my left. A quick look revealed that a crowd of about 2 or 3 deep was scattered about across the path and everywhere; moreover, it was a bit late for an added bit of organization from a random voice in the crowd. I just kept going. I racked my bike, dropped the helmet, threw on the shoes, synched them, grabbed my belt and was on my way in just 32.10 seconds from the top of the park driveway. I don't know how it compares to other years, but it didn't matter as I was on my way and the run was going to be the one way to seal the deal. I looked to my right as I was about to turn left out of Waterfront Park to see if there were any bikers coming. Nope, I was in the clear for the moment. A spectator told me a moment later that he saw the next biker coming in and I did a rough, but slightly generous estimate that I had about a minute lead.
The trail has 5 different markers from faded old stars to newer quarter mile markings. I also have points that I run past regularly and can gauge my performance on splits in various different places. It seems I settled into a 6:08 pace during the first mile. I kept it nice and steady and ran 1:32 for each quarter. When I got to the mile mark, I decided to crank it up. I was only able to drop to 6:00 pace for the next mile, but entering north park, I looked back and figured there was still at least a minute lead. I had no idea if someone was coming from back in third or fourth, so I pushed the pace even more and held on with my rubber legs to cross the line with a run time of 17:14.98, which is good for a 6:01.88 pace. It's not a fast course with all the constant grade changes (around 28!) on the final stretch, but I ran better than I did at the Trailblazer.

My finish time was 46:49.80. Oddly enough, I had a posted time of 46:15. Second place was some person I didn't know from a local club who posted a time of 48:50. Third place was 49:40. I'd guess that the time must have started about 35 seconds late, which wouldn't surprise me. It had started to rain lightly, which was great for the racers, but bad for the timing, which got jammed up paper swelling from the rain drops, which ruined many of the later racer's "official" finish times.

I'm pleased with my race as it shows a marked improvement over Trailblazer just about 5 weeks ago. Although the swim can't be compared, I rode .78 MPH faster and ran 12.6 seconds/mile faster. I always have a jump in improvement after a hard race effort like that, so I did a Trailblazer bike TT from my house (.04M longer at 12.21M) and hoped to ride a sub 30:00. To my surprise, I managed to break 29:00 with a 28:58.39 (25.29 MPH). It's my first time over 25 MPH since 2008 when I broke 26 MPH on this course. Maybe this training more than 50 miles/week on the bike has it's merrits. There's still a long time to go and a lot of ground to make up to get into better shape than I was before. At least I'm closing in.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Ted Finegold ... 21 July, 2010 RIP

I've always liked writing. It's a challenge to find the right words to tell a story in just the right way. I don't always get it right, which goes without saying. This time, I know I can't find the right words. I want to so badly, but how do you write about the sudden end to a life that seemed so strong. A couple days ago I found out Ted was sick and today I got the terrible news that Ted was gone. Being a father myself, I can't get past the thought of what it would be like for my little boy Mercury to grow up without me or my selfish thoughts of getting to watch him grow.

Wenatchee World

Many of you have probably heard of Ted or his wife, two great athletes and far better people. I first met the Finegolds in Wenatchee years ago during the first Apple Capital. Lynda outbiked me if I remember correctly, despite it being a breakthrough race for me. Yes, I was outsplit by a girl! A few years later they started the Wenatchee Marathon, half marathon and 10K event that Amanda and I travel to every year around our anniversary. The event was started to raise funds and awareness for cancer. In an unfortunate twist of fate, Ted was diagnosed the following year, but like so many others, I never knew. He and Lynda recently did Boise 70.3. I saw them shortly before that at the marathon. He was great enough that I always made it a point to tell him how much what he did was appreciated and how I looked forward to seeing him later at Apple Capital or at the subsequent marathon. It's one of just two events (Clear Lake Triathlon being the other) I have done every time it was contested, which says quite a lot given my propensity for the shorter races.

When I got the news that Ted was ill, I had decided that next year I was going to say thank you by doing something I haven't ever done, which is to really race a marathon. I always hold back in favor of faster recovery, less pain and better performances in events within a week or two of Wenatchee. Somehow I've managed to win five of six events while saving myself for a marathon two weeks later. Oddly enough, I was in my best marathon shape the one year I didn't win, but could have. I really don't know what all that means as so many memories swirl around in my mind. Perhaps the point is that something that really breaks my heart doesn't make any sense. All I'm left with is those reflections of a great person and the great memories I have as a result. I don't know how he would have felt about my gesture, or if it mattered any more than any other performance paid for to fund cancer research. Unfortunately, I will never know as the heartbreaking news came right on the heels of the announcement and my subsequent decision.

My plan for this post was to detail my next stage in my injury comeback. Instead, I find the e-mail that makes it all seem irrelevant and life sometimes unfair. I'm an extremely competitive guy, so writing about races can rub some people wrong and/or be easily misunderstood. It seems that the times I create the most friction are the times when I'm sticking up for others rather than my own best interests. To avoid any of that, I'll just say that my race was a hard fought win to end a long drought.

Should things not go awry between now and then, I'll be in Wenatchee next year, to "race" for the first time the marathon I've won five times. I don't know if I've every really raced in honor of, or to honor, someone else, but I will do it next year. I'm not sure what else to do or how to express my feelings. Perhaps next April you can join me in Wenatchee for the 10K, half marathon or the marathon. It's all for a good cause that can't have a more vivid reminder of what we're raising the funds for. Like so many others, I sure will miss that guy and my heart goes out to his family and friends.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Competition ...

Two weeks ago, for the first time in my life, I completed 100% of my training plan for a week. Either life would take time from training that I didn't make more time for or I talked my way out of training because of one excuse or another (too easy, filler training, injury worries, too difficult, doing something different, etc.). Many have been surprised to hear that from me, but it's true. What's more is that it wasn't just a transition or recovery week. This was a serious, kick-my-bootay training week that tested my physical and mental limits on a daily basis.

That week included roughly 4 times my weekly swim average, twice my bike average and more than double my weekly run miles. I had just taken another beating in a sprint triathlon, which is a distance I've twice placed second in nationals, being the first American in one of them. I still have plenty of injury rehab to do, but am far enough along that I don't need to continue with my weak training schedule. I was also fired up about some stupid crap that only adds to my desire to get back into shape. Virtually all of my injuries were accident related or some freak occurence rather than from pushing my body hard in training. In fact, outside of last year, it was only a shattered collar bone that took me out in about a decade or more of being injury free.

Last week, I had another good week of training. I met my bike and run goals, but missed out on one swim workout due to allergies and swimmer's ear related to more than 18K of lake swimming and nearly the same in the pool the previous week. Although it eats at me, I think I made the right choice. In these two weeks, I've been lucky to have had Evan Sims come out and do intervals with me twice. I can't even recall my last intervals, but suspect it was in February of '09 or sooner! Marathon John came out and ran with me twice at night. If not for him in these last couple weeks, I would have had lousy unmotivated runs that I might not have managed to complete. Josh Hadway came out and did a lake interval workout with me. 7 sets of 350m easy with 350m hard in a lake is not my idea of fun, so having someone not only there to do it with me, but make me give it my very best really helped. I hate to say it, but I got whooped and I'm sure it would have been that way (for now) without the heavy training week.

Now I'm on week 3 of 41 that leads me to the Armed Forces Championships. Should I stay committed, this will be the most consistent and intense training I've ever done for a significant amount more time than I've ever trained. It's always been laziness in the past that derails me. Right now though, I'm fired up and have something to prove to myself.

Speaking of Evan, he is fresh off a 31:41 10K in which he went out too hard and blew up. That's 5:06/mile for those of you keeping score at home. He was preparing for a half marathon and hoping to break 1:11, but was going out at a sub 1:10 pace. He stepped up big time and ran a certified half at 1:09:05, which GPS measured 13.16 miles. That's 5:16 per mile!

As for that other crap, I guess to each his own. Triathlon is also about comraderie for me. One local triathlete said she isn't going to "pay to have friends or people to train with." Unfortunately, with some of the athletes around here, that's what you have to do to be included in anything they do whether you've known them for years or not. Some will invite me to train with them when they come to town. I am one of very few to live in this training hot spot, so it's great to be included in the workouts when I have time. Others don't want out "outsider" triathletes to be seen among their ranks or something weird like that. So to those who choose to be that way, leave me out of your blogs, pictures, training and whatever else you wish. I need motivation people. Keep telling me how great you are so I can be inspired to start whoopin' all y'all like I used to. If you're beating me now and continue to do so, then good on 'ya for keeping it real.

Well, it's time for me to continue week 3 of 41. I guess if I put myself through hell enough times that when I drag you there on race day I'll be out of there and on my way while you're still trying to escape. Yes, I'm competitive like that.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Armed Forces, Post Falls and Trailblazer

So there I was, hunched over, exhausted, on the verge of collapse. I'd been there before. In fact, it's the 8th time. This is the annual scene at the Armed Forces Triathlon Championships at Pt. Mugu Naval Air Base in California. It's just 10 miles west of Malibu, which is near LA (for reference). As I always do, I gave everything I have to help in the team competition. As usual, they'd drag me off to the medical tent for my post race recovery as I was unable to make it there on my own.

This would match my worst performance ever, but frankly, I'm pleased. Just a couple months earlier, I was seriously contemplating giving up my spot to someone else. It just didn't seem I would be ready in time. Although my 24th place finish was my worst, I was still in a solid 9th place for the USAF, which won the men's team competition for the first time. The women always seem to win. I've often speculated that the USAF women were so dominant that it lead to the separation of combined team into men's and women's divisions to give other teams a shot at winning. We also had the top overall male and female: Dr. James Bales and Kathy Rakel the legend.

Watching the video of the race, it seemed that Army had it wrapped up with Navy in second. It would take a bunch of men coming in at one time to move up to second. We did one better and had so many come in at one time, myself included, that we moved into first. Although they only score the top 8 men per team, my place and those on the team behind me bumped other teams' athletes down into a lower scoring position (XC scoring).

The swim was brutal, but my usual fast T1 (tops in the race I think) helped me bridge a little gap and get with a group that had the fastest biker in the race. I was immediately dropped. What was perhaps the second best biker in the race in Kidd Poteet and another team mate came up and allowed me to get on their train and ride to a top 15 bike split. It felt like an all out time trial as coming out of the 21 90 degee turns left me with a gap to make up. I nearly let them go as it was so draining, but I stuck to it.

The run leg was terribly hard. My bike legs are so weak that it left me with nothing for the run. Still, this is a competition that matters. Other teams' athletes were encouraging me along and helping me when possible. It took half of the run to start loosening up a bit. I started my charge and was moving up a little, but not enough to catch my team mate for 8th on the team. It wouldn't have changed anything other than an individual stat, so it's all good.

There is no world championship this year, which is a relief as I would have missed the cut for the first time in five years. Next year is the Military World Games in Brazil. I competed in the first ever triathlon in the MWG in India in 2007. It was absolutely amazing and I would definitely like to qualify for this race. We have our championship on April 3rd, so my training has already begun. It's almost like my training start from April 1st to 4th was for next year. Every race is a training race and I certainly get worked over quite a bit.

Last week I raced in the Post Falls Duathlon for the first time in years. I trained through it, so my legs were shot. As I ran in the lead group with 6:00 pace, I couldn't believe nobody was breaking away. In previous years, that would be slow. Once on the bike, I did OK until I started climbing. I held it together pretty well until I descended the other side. Fearful of crashing and uncomfortable on a bike that I rarely ride any more, I rode the breaks a lot and lost a lot of time and a good two or three places. I moved back up on the flats, but lost one more spot to a team on the return climb. No biggie. I rode the breaks a bit on the next descent, but that was because I didn't feel like going 50 MPH for the remote possibility of flatting = crashing = another long-term set back. I need to keep my wheels on the ground and keep my body safe until late July 2011. I don't want to crash after the MWG, but it's better if I do it after than before. Anyhow, when on the run, I did my best to negative split. I sucked it up and did just that. I came in third, but Royce Hogue (spelling?) was on a team and did all three legs for training and still beat me the day after racing a 10 mile run. Nice work there! I feel like I was 4th place. It was good training, so I'm OK with it.

Two days ago, I raced the Trailblazer. I love this race. It's close to home ... as it's basically at my home. I swim from my dock to the start line and the transition area is 50' from my property line. This would be a good test and gauge in many ways. First, Kalen Darling was racing. This dude can swim with the best triathletes in the world. I was hoping he would break 4 minutes. He did and was the first to do so in 27 years ... at least that's my belief as I don't have hard evidence in a race that doesn't keep splits for the 350m swim.

I also had a good racing friend in Josh Hadway coming. He's been working hard on the swim for a while now and has really stepped up his biking. His run is always strong, but he's coming off an injury. The bike leg is key though. I also had Greg Gallagher there. He stretched me out in the Iron Eagle swim, I gapped at the end, got passed on the bike, took over again in T2, then got passed for the final time on the run. He would be my gauge for the race. This one plays more to his strengths over me right now being a faster biker and runner vs. me being a faster swimmer and transitioner. The swim is a much smaller percentage, the bike is a larger percentage and the run is nearly the same.

Anyhow, Kalen lead all athletes in the swim with a few athletes coming out a good gap behind him. I was out in 5:00 to 5:02. It's easily my fastest time on the course this year. Josh beat me out, so good on him. Steve Anderson was right there in front of us too, which was cool to see ... in video. I blazed through T1 with my Piel for a :38 T1 and left in 3rd place behind Kalen and a team. Roger Thompson passed me at such an incredible rate at the beginning that it felt like he was sprinting to the finish line of a TT and I was still picking up speed. He rode a 26:40 by the way! Fastest time I've ever heard of was his 27:00. Josh went by me and I held on until the bottom of the hill a t Lakeland.

At that point, it was just me and a course I know so well. I worked hard using every bit of familiarity advantage I could while I tried to calculate just when Greg would pass me. Mathematically, if things were similar to the Iron Eagle, the pass would happen somewhere around mile 6.25 ... roughly the halfway point. It's a right hand turn, but with the trees, it's not a good spot to check to see how close the competition was. A couple miles later, I was listening to the cheers as I went through a picture point. It's funny how people who are your "friends" stop taking digital pictures the moment you and anyone else rolls through not wearing the same colors they are. I didn't hear any cheers right away, so I figured I had a decent gap, but still expected to get caught. Somehow, I made it back to T2 with a lead of around :50. My bike time of right around 31:00 was my fastest pace of the year at 23.55 MPH for 12.17M. My previous best pace was 23.01.

I made a bit of an error in T2 in racking my bike that cost me a couple seconds, but it didn't make a difference in the end. My :17 T2 let me start the run around :51 ahead of Greg and slightly ahead of Kalen whom I passed in T2. Kalen went blazing away as my legs felt like they've never run off the bike before and certainly didn't wan to. Every step was a physical challenge to try another and a mental challenge to avoid not trying another. As I turned into North Park at around .7 miles, I saw Greg was clearly closing the gap. I was going so slowly that I thought I should draw a line to see if I were still moving. Walking seemed like a better idea, but I kept plodding away. At the halfway point, I saw Kalen through the trees and knew he was far closer than he should have been! I gave chase and that was just enough to hold my 3rd place position. My run time was 18:07, which is well off my off-the-bike run best of 16:08! It's just 6:12 pace for the 2.92 miles.

In the end, Josh finished with a 50:57 after running around a 16:35. Look out when he gets his legs back. Kalen, who is in heavy training and working his bike legs back into shape, finished with a 54:33. I came in at 55:01, which was somewhere between 1 and 2 minutes behind last year's time when I swam with one arm, but hadn't gotten out of shape just yet (bike and run). This apple fell a long way from the tree. My bike and run really cost me, but I'm improving a lot and today was a good result. Greg came in at 50:17, so he made up a good :35 on the run, which might be slightly more than the Iron Eagle run. If not for my transition speed, I clearly would have been back in fourth. Knowing the course as well as a person can probably saved me a few seconds too.

Next up is probably some local run, then the Clear Lake Triathlon at the Clear Lake Military Resort here in Medical Lake. It's about as low cost as a triathlon can get. We will have a very accurate Olympic Distance race through Medical Lake, into the wheat fields of Cheney with the loop returning on Salnave to Clear Lake. The run will be a very scenic one on a course I train on regularly.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Comeback Kid

On my last update, I recounted a large time gap between my injury and the Wenatchee Marathon. Repeated injuries, weight gain lead to a frustration that kept me away from competition. After finally getting myself some specific treatment, I found myself on the road to recovery, which I suspect is somehow different from recovery simply due to time. I think I really found myself again in that marathon and have been doing my best to get myself ready for the next big test: The Armed Forces Triathlon Championship.

On May 1st, I competed in the Whitman College Triathlon. It would be my first racing as an able bodied athlete since last year's Armed Forces Triathlon. Michael Gordon was there, so I knew I'd get a good gauge of where I was. I have never lost this race, but I knew a handful of athletes would probably finish ahead of me. I don't like to lose, but this was an important part of the healing process, so I was really OK with it.

My goals for the race were to swim a 6:45 for 500y (about a 7:27 equivalent for 500m). My recent best from early in the week was a 7:34. I figured I'd be holding back as I really expected a race performance and better fitness would get me through. For the bike, I wanted to average 21. It was better than my recent best 12.25M solo TT, but again ... better fitness and race performance. The bike leg was 10 miles on a similar "speed" course (flat with a gradual hill into the wind at the turnaround). My goal for the run was to go sub 6:30. That seemed possible, despite beating my swim and bike's recent bests back-to-back.

An interesting note is that Gordon didn't seem to buy any of the injury stuff or doubts about my performance. I've always been what I believe to be "real" or "more honest" regarding my fitness than nearly all I race. I don't really hide anything. All too often athletes hold back as if the psychological advantage out there on the race course will limit his/her opponent's fitness. My advantage is in being able to lie through the pain and do what doesn't seem my body can do. Even after I finished the race well behind him, he didn't seem convinced. I'm guessing too many times people focus on all the other good races to think that I was that out of shape. I proved myself right, but wish I hadn't :0).

So, I managed to swim a 6:31.98. This is the equivalent to about a 7:13 500m swim. That's well beyond what I expected considering I held back a bit. Gordon was about 13 seconds slower, but he swam in a heat ahead of me (pool swim) and I'd be virtually left in the dust from there. Transition was weak, but finding my rythm and routine was more important.

On the bike, I rode with a GPS, but with stop signs and lights, I kept bleeding time. I could factor it out, but I wanted my 21 without saying I technically rode it if you factor in this and that. Stopping and starting immediately costs 15 seconds and I hit that 3 or 4 times. I managed to get through the bike leg in 28:31.75, which works out to 21.03 MPH. Another goal down. It's been a REALLY long time since I was excited about riding over 21 MPH in a sprint, but here I am being jazzed about it. Progress is what it's all about.

On the run, I started out feeling that old familiar feeling and had to hold back. I ran a 6:12, then when I thought fatigue was making me fade, I ran a 6:10. Unfortunately, I got a bit disoriented zig zagging through Walla Walla and got lost. I knew I wasn't going to win, so no big deal, but I was running a 5K and didn't know how long I'd be runnning until I found the course again. Well, I found it after running an extra .41 miles. The blessing in disguise is that I found my legs out there and ran the third mile in 6:01 and finished the final .48 miles in 5:41 pace. I would have never seen that if I stayed on course. My overall average was 6:04 for the run. In all, I'd say it was a good day having met my goals in all three areas and was way ahead of goal on the swim and run.

Since then, I managed to improve my swim from that 7:13 equivalent to having done a 6:52 500m swim 4 days before the Iron Eagle. In 52 days, I went from 8:46 to 6:52! On the bike, riding my road bike (not TT bike) I managed to get my best pace over 22 MPH. On the run, I've dropped my best recent 3 mile to 5:41 pace. The last test before the big race was the Iron Eagle ... look at me blogging about it within 1 day!

I was in heat two with Greg Gallagher (hope I spelled that correctly). Like with Gordon, this would be a calibrated test. Again, although I don't like to lose, this is something I needed as a final test. My goal was to break 55, which would be a big jump from the Whitman College Triathlon. My swim goal was 7:00, bike goal to average 23 and run goal was to run hard ... yes, it was that simple this time.

Starting out, I had to hold myself back as the swim always sucks people in. Today was no different. I still went through the first 100m too fast, but didn't start making my move until about 200m. I pushed hard, but held back about what a triathlete should. Despite having trouble stopping my watch, I think my swim was around 7:00 ... I stopped it after several failed attempts at 7:04, so I'm good with calling it 7:00.

T1 went fairly well, but there were a few kinks I can work out to save a few seconds. I apparently passed someone else in T1 that I didn't know was there. On the bike, I was chilled by the winds, but thankful to have my Speedo FSII on to help me warm up after it dried a bit. My legs did not feel good on the bike and I wasn't wearing GPS, so I didn't know how fast I was going other than projections based on time from mile markers. I was battling a head wind, but my legs just felt a bit dead. I don't know if it's related, but I've got a big swollen bite of some sort on the outside of my left lower leg ... about the size of the palm. It's tender, but I just don't know that is a factor. I just know I wasn't feeling like I should. Still, I hit the turn in first with Gallagher closing in. The wind on the way back was nice, but he passed me at about mile 9 with such speed that it startled me a bit. Heading up the hill to EWU, I kept it reasonably close. My time was 26:10, which is good for 22.93 MPH. Normally the course is 10.1 to 10.2M, but I'm factoring it at 10 since I didn't care to go measure it. This is still a recent best for me, so I am pleased. It's also the first time I've been on my TT bike since Walla Walla and the 2nd time since last year. Armed Forces is draft legal, so my road bike has been the one of choice.

T2 was good, but not great. I made a few simple errors that disrupted the flow of T2. Still, I managed to get out onto the run in first. My legs felt unusually dead again. I know I biked hard ... probably too hard, but I just couldn't open it up. It's probably a good thing though because I started to get a bit of a gut/side ache. Running faster makes those get a lot worse and slows me down probably even more ... so it's probably a wash. At mile 1, Gallagher went by me and I thought ... I'm out of transitions so there is no passing him again. I don't like getting passed on the run, so I tried harder and it seemed to help, but not a lot. At the turn, I saw someone else was chasing me down, so I had everything I needed. Someone to chase for the overall and someone to flee for fear of being passed by some guy I don't even know! My run time was a bit disappointing for me with a 20:01. That's 6:26 pace, which is not good if the course was accurate. I may go measure it today to make sure I have the right distance, but I doubt I'll feel much better about my performance even if the course is a bit long.

In the end, I went somewhere around 54:43 (my clocking). I met my goal for overall, was close on the bike and right on with the swim. I know where I am now and what I need to do to keep improving. Speed is coming back very quickly. I sort of trained through this one with a focus on next week's race. It's a weak-minded plan, but I figure my swim should be right where I need it to be to get me out of the water in front of the likely fastest biker in the race, Mike McCoy who has been hitting the bike very hard for the last year. If we can get organized in what is usually the largest pack in the race, then I can sit on the back (shame on me) and save my legs for the run. I honestly don't think I can ride with them otherwise and be a productive helper in the group. Fortunately, he's on the USAF Team and should be willing to let me be a leach for a day. When I get to the run, then as long as my legs don't perform like yesterday, I am hopeful that with a taper I should be able to run about 5:40 pace for the 10K. It's flat, which will help me out since I've got weak hill legs right now and this race is what I've been building myself for through the last 2 months to the day.

Last year's race was my last magic trick. Perhaps it will be my first one for this year as I continue rebuilding the broken athlete that I used to be. Hopefully I will get back to where I was in the beginning of 2009 ... looking to be faster than I've ever been. Speed comes back quickly, but there's still a long way to go. Now I've just got to hope that my probable spider bite doesn't turn out to be a big problem like they sometimes are. I hate spiders and always fear things like this will turn into a chunk of rotting flesh ... sorry for the graphic remark.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Where in the World is Michael Bergquist?

This is a long read, but I’ve been missing for a while and a lot of catching up is left to do.

On February 22, 2009, I set out for an early season test. It was a 25K in Birch Bay, Washington. The test was not just to see if I was in my best run shape ever, let alone early season. It was to see if I could shave four minutes off my best 25K at a time of year that was a few months before any previous year would have allowed me to set an all-time PR. Somewhere around halfway through, it seems that I got lost in an injury and never made it to the finish line. Instead, some guy that looked just like me came limping across the line in what would be an all-time PR, but by only about half of the four minutes I was looking for. As the days turned into weeks and into months, it became apparent that the athlete that I was got lost out there in extreme northwest, Washington in Birch Bay and never came back.

2009 was to be my banner year after taking a giant leap forward in 2008. I worked so hard to get ready to improve on a 19 win, 12 course record year that it seemed like a sure thing. Instead, injury after injury left me scrambling from race to race like a person hurting for money lives paycheck to paycheck. If I’m really good at one thing, it’s finding a way to milk the absolute best out of my body in a short period of time. Despite injuries to my right calf, both quads and a hamstring on different occasions, I tweaked things well enough to pull off a 3rd consecutive win at Wenatchee. A couple weeks later, I suffered for my team in Lincoln for a respectable finish on aggravated injuries. In late May I felt like I pulled off a magic trick laced with good luck at the Armed Forces Triathlon Championship. Then on June 1st, my luck ran out and I suffered a set-back about as tough as my shattered collar bone a few years ago. Later I would break a toe, reinjure my back, neck arm, calf, etc.

Despite my poor run of luck, I gave it my best shot to pull out of this nose dive. I swam one-armed in two triathlons, giving up an enormous amount of time. I missed the UberMan Triathlon, which I was going to skip my annual trip to USAT Sprint Nationals to do. I kept trying within the limitations of my injuries, but my form and fitness continued to fall apart. It seems that perfect races under less than ideal fitness saved me some embarrassment.

One race was the Spokane Half Marathon, which I don’t know if I wrote about. I had won that half twice, the marathon once and have competed in both on a few other years that I didn’t win. I knew the course well and knew what I felt were my limits, so despite my pride, I did exactly what I thought I could do and with nearly perfect pacing, I came in 2nd overall with a time that would normally not be 2nd, but why beat myself any more while I’m down.

After Spokane, I basically disappeared. It just wasn’t fun to read or write about something that was such a great source of frustration. I was gaining weight, terribly stressed at work and was struggling from one injury to the next. I kept trying to find that guy that got lost at Birch Bay, but the further I got from that day, the more impossible it seemed to rediscover myself.

Finally, in December, things started to improve. My right arm was healing so slowly that it was over six months from the injury until I could use my right arm to put on my seat belt. Circulation was very poor, which caused a constant ache in the winter. Oddly enough, it was another bother that seemed to bring me to a place where I could see the light at the end of the dark tunnel. I suffered a stiff neck at work that was so bad that I nearly parked my SUV and laid out on the tarmac at Fairchild. A visit to the chiropractor revealed an unexpected result. The shoulder injury I suffered in June was a torn right bicep tendon! I don’t know if there were other factors involved, or if it was just that, but I was finally able to be treated for something specific.

Fast forward to April 1st and I was released from restrictions and allowed to swim and bike again. On top of that, I was finally free of my job at Fairchild. I would have left at the end of last September, but wanted to make sure Amanda and I were fully covered for our baby in May. With leave (vacation days) built up to last me through the baby’s birth (late May), along with 6 months of transitional insurance, I knew we’d be covered medically and financially as I transition into new work.

The future was looking better, but there was still the Wenatchee Marathon on April 17th. I had been running, but hadn’t been “training.” In all, I put on about 29 pounds on my race weight of 151 pounds. I was barely able to run sub 6:00 pace for 3 miles, a pace I used to be able to handle possibly for 30 miles. Running a marathon seemed like a stupid thing to do, but this is more than just a performance test. It’s something Amanda and I do as a fitness getaway every year near our anniversary. It’s the only race I’ve done every year since it’s beginning. I was the three-time defending champion, won 4 of the event’s five years and on that off year (running easy for Lincoln) I finished 3rd when capable of winning. I had no illusions about winning this year. I just didn’t want to have an ultimate suffer-fest and embarrass myself by barely finishing the thing.

So, with the one talent that an injury (unless it’s a brain injury) can’t take away from me, I put a plan together to have me as ready as could be in 21 days. Actually having the time to run more than a few miles, I went for a 15-miler to see where I was. Unfortunately, I was fried at mile nine. I kept telling myself that the next mile would be my last and I could walk home. I never did walk, but I was going about that fast. I was hurting and barely made it!

Fast forward three weeks and I was at Wenatchee and people were talking about a four-peat. I was too proud to tell them it just wasn’t going to happen. I believed a sub 3-hour was possible, despite not having run over 20 miles once and that pace being faster than all but one recent run over 10 miles. My goal was to lock onto a 6:49, ignore the world and run that pace mile after mile. Unfortunately, I programmed my data fields with the last split pace instead of current split pace, so I had to rely on cumulative race pace, which is a lot less specific about what I’d be doing at the time.

Despite the slowing and constant holding back that takes place early in every marathon, I was running a 6:43 average. It’s not much faster, but if you run a marathon even a couple seconds per mile too fast then you will probably blow up. Very few people even split or negative split their marathons, but it’s something I pride myself on. I figured I was going to ruin my race since my limits were so much more fragile under my current conditions. At mile 6, the 10K runners split off and the leader (2 actually, but I thought it was one) was out of sight. I began the mental battle of telling myself that I could hold for 16 miles since I had done that recently and this was a supported race, not a training run.

At mile 16, Amanda (1 month to due date) and some other guy shortly after told me that I was 3:00 down. I said it was too much and it just wasn’t happening. Then I started to think about the difference between winning and losing. I started to think about my streak. I thought about all the times when I’ve lied to myself for long enough that I won a race instead of giving up.

I can’t be sure, but I think somewhere out there between mile 16 and 18, I found the Michael Bergquist that got lost 14 months ago in Birch Bay. I was charging hard in a race that I respect so much that I treat it with a delicate balance when in much better condition. I was pushing 5 or 6 miles before I normally do, but doing so on a day when I didn’t even know if I could run the entire distance.

Before mile 20, I caught the leader. That three minutes evaporated quickly and I felt like the race was mine to lose. I kept pressing as my goal was to get to mile 22 and then cruise on in. As I approached mile 22 on my tired legs that were ready to ease up and cruise on in, I saw what appeared to be a lead biker (at the bottom of the bridge switch back) with a guy sporting the red marathon bib numbers! Mile 23 was my fastest of the race as I gave chase not knowing if there was enough time to reel this guy in. I caught him before mile 24 as he was cramping terribly, which is usually the end of any quick miles for anyone. As a point of pride, I tried to hold sub 7 pace for mile 24, and made it through 25. Mile 26 was my first over 7 pace, but it was OK, I was safe and managed to run on in to break the tape. My average for what I measured 26.38 was 6:43 for a 2:57:22, the same pace I started out with. My hard charge dropped me below that, but I slowed again.

Since then, I’ve continued to rediscover the athlete that got lost such a long time ago. I’m down 20 pounds, but still 9 pounds over race weight and a lot less lean than the athlete of early 2009. I’m swimming and biking again. My swim improvement for 500m short course is as follows:
April 4th - 8:46
April 12th - 8:00
April 25th – 7:34

I’ve been on my bike a few times, but have only worked up to 12.25 miles. I started out without testing myself, like I did in the swim, but would have been lucky to ride 18 MPH. On my last ride, I went 12.25M at over 20 MPH … barely!

Fitness comes back quickly (you’re right Haley), but I still have a lot of rehab to do on a terribly weak right arm. My bike legs have a long way to go as well. Although I can always seem to calculate the very best my body will do out there on a run, I’ve still got a lot of catching up to do there as well. I was picked up for the Armed Forces Championship Triathlon once again. Swim and run are essential, so I’ll put myself through hell to get ready.

After that, I will be focusing on my marathon. I was left off the National Guard Team due to my lost entry and the guard coordinator deciding to not let me run even though the Lincoln Marathon was going to get me in. That means I will not be on the National Guard Team for the first time in six years, despite being faster than about half of the runners in my current condition. The Air Guard is a part of the USAF, so it’s always a point of contention when the USAF tries to take the top Air Guard runners to compete in the Air Force marathon. Since we both field our own teams, it’s never been fair for them to take our top runners, then compete against us. Well, this year, I will not be one of “us.” I’m really not trying to be spiteful, so much as I am being competitive. I want to show them that they made a mistake in leaving me off the team. I know I’m not an elite, even like some of our local runners; however, I’ve done well enough in the past that free entries and invitations have not been unusual. Someone who is supposed to look out for me, but denies the race my entry only fires me up even more.

It feels a lot more like I’m the Michael Bergquist that got lost at Birch Bay. That’s a refreshing change from the guy who went out there and jogged 3 miles to keep my consecutive running streak alive. It’s now at 2,313 days … and counting. See you out there …

Oh, and a few cool facts that I’ve learned since immersing myself into training again …

Haley Cooper ran a sub 3-hour marathon! Very impressive!

Roger Thompson is still super fit and doing things that I projected for myself, if not even faster!

My friend and first World Military Championship room mate, Tim O’Donnell, is now the 70.3 world champion! I always said his strength was biking, which is negated in ITU racing. 70.3 doesn’t hold the same prestige as the Olympics, which Tim just barely missed the alternate spot for. On the other hand, being world champion at anything, especially a more legitimate triathlon than a draft-legal one, is more impressive in my opinion.

Monday, February 22, 2010

The Road to Recovery

So last year was a disaster. It's not exactly fun to write about disaster. I felt like the fireman. I was always putting out flames. One injury to the next derailed what was certain to be a great year. If you've been reading my irregular posting, then you're aware of the many injuries and my making the best of it every time.

I kind of finished the year off with the Spokane Half Marathon. I ran a very well-paced run, so for that I am thankful. I'd have to say my time was fair, but certainly better than what I expected. Injuries didn't stop there, but it's about where I stopped writing.

Since then, I discovered that my nagging shoulder injury was a torn right bicep tendon in the shoulder area. Part of the recovery/treatment is breaking up the fibrous adhesions. Apparently our body produces these for a temporary fix, like a temporary fix of a pot hole. It works for a short while, but it's usefulness runs out and is as much of a problem as the problem itself. So, I get the chiropractor leaning over me, putting all his weight onto one knuckle and supported by the other hand to make sure all the weight/pressure transfer goes right into that bicep tendon. It's then rubbed, like a noogie, over the the bones in the shoulder for a pain that will bring tears to a glass eye!

My other problem is a muscle in my left ankle is terribly flared up, sore and inflexible. It's been giving me grief for a couple months, but after having it worked on, it became worse. It's just starting to get back to a comfortable pain ... whatever that means.

The shoulder problem has eliminated biking since sometime last fall. I'm still not swimming either. On a bright note, I will be able to start again in two weeks. My overall weight gain went upwards of 15 poinds. My run slowed to the point that I was unable to run my previous marathon pace (sub 6:00/mile) for even 2.925 miles. My baseline test on 01 January was 6:10/mile. Still, as bad as it was and how frustrating it is, I'm thankful to have the ability to run. I can still run faster when in terrible shape than some who train. On the other hand, years of training and constant effort to maintain what I can come into play as well.

In my mind, I have one more hurdle to overcome as my body finishes up it's recovery from about 54 weeks of injuries. I have an oral surgery where my wisedom tooth will be removed to get bone from my jaw in the lower right (bone from the hip was out of the question). This bone will be used to do a bone graft in my sinus cavity on #3 (upper right) where a tooth broke years ago and had to be pulled due to the way it broke. The bone eroded away, so the bone graft will be used to strengthen the area for a post to put a crown on. To get to the sinus, they have to cut my gums, lift it up, drill above and to the side of the bone where the tooth root goes, then they will pack it in, sew it up and then do a bone graft on the bottom side as well.

I'm not going to lie. Like most of the rest of the world, I'm not a fan of the dentist. I haven't had any work done for a long time, but it only takes one time to know I don't like it. This will be about as bad as it gets in my mind. They'll put me mostly under and I always wonder if I'll wake up.

After this procedure is done, I'm not supposed to run for about a week. So, I'll get up tomorrow morning, run before the procedure, then sleep all day, night and most of tomorrow. Then I will get up and run an easy mile, despite the doctors advice. I'm guessing that will be around 10:00 pace. I doubt my heart rate will get over 110 to 115 to cause me to throw a clot. I also should be able to maintain an efficient enough stride that I shouldn't have any terrible jarring. I got a lot of practice when running with a shattered collar bone and broken ribs. I've run for 6 years, 1 month and 24 days as of tomorrow morning's run. I will not break my streak and choose to not put myself into the typical patient category. Perhaps a sedentary person shouldn't run. Heck, it would probably be better if I didn't, but the difference between those two types of people is totally different and most doctors aren't able to account for it. I've worked too hard for this and it keeps me going when I should be going, but otherwise would not.

Anyhow, my run pace going into this mess is almost sub 6 for 3 miles now. I'll try it today. I've also biked a few times recently. It feels great to be on the road, even if it is a struggle to go over 20 MPH. I clearly have a lot of work to do to get back into shape, but I will keep trying.