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.