Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Let the Run-Up to Xterra USA Championships Begin!

Well, it actually begun quite a while ago, but now with Ogden out of the way, I have the next challenge to focus on, Xterra USA Championships. See, Ogden, the Xterra Mountain Championships, was a designed to be not only be a guide to my current level of fitness, but to test the various types of training, tapering, racing strategies etc I've been exploring. A lot can be learned over the course a triathlon season and I encourage everyone to never stop building, learning, evaluating, testing and improving. To be more accurate, I will be employing the growth over the past three Xterra seasons towards the remaining two races of the year, Nationals and Worlds. This is always true, the employing learning part, but I feel like significant growth has occured of late.

After Ogden's race two weekends back, I jetted over to Colorado Springs to catch a friend's wedding and to hang with my sister for the week. Great times. I use to live in Colorado Springs and was super happy to be back. For this trip I only had my mountain bike with me, but that was all I needed. I didn't exactly follow my prescribed training plan and erred on the side of biking more, which was ok. One thing that I had forgotten about Colorado Springs was that every ride has lots of fairly steep uphill....and lots of pretty sick downhill. I mean I get my fair share of climbing here in AZ, but it is not really comparable, not even close. From a power perspective I am able to accomplish my workouts and get "enough" climbing where I live now, but.....not the same level of climbing quality as if I were to live in Colorado. Needless to say, I miss the place.

I wasn't able to fully diagnose my altitude experiment with flying into the race last minute and racing within 18hrs of being at altitude immediately post-race. But after spending time in Colorado Springs at altitude, I definitely noticed the elevation and its impact on my performance 3, 4, 5 etc days after being "up there." So...I will re-create the fly-in last minute for Tahoe. I thiking it works(ed).

While being in Colorado was nice, I did realize how mechanical I've become with life here in AZ and how good I have it. All my training needs are easily met and I have settled into a nice schedule. I now exactly where to complete each and every workout that coach Grasky can throw at me. I highly recommend checking out AZ if your are a multi-sport athlete. Maybe I'll formalize an early season Xterra camp or two....hmmm.

On training this week, the most noteworthy tough workouts are in the pool. I mean everything looks pretty tough, but, since I struggled a bit in the pool today, the remainder of the swims seem hard. It's in my head, of course. I did get to do a good workout with Tom Obrien this morning on the Hawes trails near Red Mountain (Northeast Mesa). We did a short ride with 4x10min at race pace with 2min recoveries followed by a 30min transition run at 10k race pace. If you recall, I lost some time on some of the rolling and techie sections at Ogden. Well, today Tom taught me a simple thing how to improve my mountain bike riding. He was riding behind me during the intervals above and noticed (and corrected) a couple of shifting/pedalling inefficiencies. Tom is a great mountain biker and some of the stuff he showed me today should help my performance significantly on certain parts of Xterra courses...and even more at mountain bike races.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Xterra Mountain Championship Results

2nd place age group
5th place overall amateur

One word summary of results: Pleased
One word summary of how I feel: Wrecked

To set the table for the race replay, it's important to let you know my travel schedule. Initially, I was set to arrive in Ogden on Thursday in order to have plenty of time to pre-ride, register etc. As I am in experimentation mode, I decided to sample a "racing at altitude" recommendation made by Trevor Glavin . Basically it goes like this: Fly in as close as possible to the race time. Get the race done within 18hrs of arrival. So, I switched my ticket and did this. It has been a whirlwind, let me tell you.
5:30 - I flew out of Phoenix
8:00 - Landed in Utah around 8:00 (lost an hour in transit)
8:30 - Rented my car and got my bags
8:45 - Stopped by Subway for a super nutritious pre-race meal (yeah right)
9:15 - Arrived in Ogden
9:30 - Put my bike together by 9:30 (turbo) in the hotel parking lot.
9:45 - Realized I was at the wrong hotel and then went to the correct hotel.
9:50 - Met up with the crew from Cody Waite's EPC Multisport team
10:00 - Watched Dara Torres smoke the 50m prelims at the Olympics
11:00pm - Head in the fold out bed
5:00am - Head out of bed
5:30 - IHOP for another healthy meal
6:30 - Race venue for packet pick-up

Wow. I am tired just writing/reading this. So....how did the altitude thing work?? I will say that I didn't necessarily notice altitude all that much, but I am raced much differently this go around. I knew there was a glass ceiling that if exceeded would blow my race. I know, no explicit answer, I think it worked. Will I do it for Nationals at Tahoe? I don't know. It is all about the value equation, right?

Slightly better performance - stress from frantic travel - not being able to pre-ride the course = ?

Alright, onto the race. The 1500m, 2 lap swim was at Pineview Reservoir at the base of Snow Basin Ski Resort. Water temp was 71 degrees. Wetsuits were "optional" for amateurs. Pros were in "no wetsuit" mode. The pro water temp cut-off is 68. Not sure where this rule came from. I opted to NOT wear a wetsuit. Am I crazy? Well, I hate to drop another equation on you, but check this out.

My 2XU Super Elite Endurance race suit, although not really a true speed suit, in my opinion, is pretty fast. Is it faster than my Zoot Zenith wetsuit? All else being equal the wetsuit is "faster." But, I have not swam in my wetsuit since June. The wetsuit, although it's as good as it gets, is still not as flexible as speed suit and leads to muscle fatigue. Also, at altitude, breathing comes at a premium and a tight wetsuit might hinder freedom of the inhale/exhale action. So, I love open water swimming and had my mind made up to not wear a wetsuit before I showed up. After a quick survey of the shoreline pre-race, I was probably the one of the only amateurs without a wetsuit on.

The gun sounding set the flurry in motion. My strategy was to "chill" and ease into the swim. I've been working on some specific aspects of my stroke (and brain) to make this work. Right away, I noticed I was not executing my strategy, but was quickly able to adjust. My brain power during a race is getting much better. All-in-all, the first 300m or so was brutal. there were over 300 athletes in this race all charging full steam for one lone buoy in the middle of the lake's cove. Bedlam. I typically don't get beat down during swim starts, but today was different. I can't remember the sequence, but I definitely got a swift blow to my throat followed by my goggles being ripped off my face from the other side. I had to stop for a second. Super dangerous as one could get malled. I quickly fixed the problem and, actually, the incident enhanced my focus. It didn't piss me off or get my adrenaline going, I kind of laughed and thought to myself, "this sport is supposed to hard." I settled into a nice pace early on and not once found feet to draft off of. I was constantly looking ahead to the next person or next group to catch up to. I certainly negative split the thing and finished roughly 3min faster than last year.

Key takeaways: My swim training is dialed. 4x swims per week, longer distance intervals and more open water swimming paid big dividends. Looking towards Tahoe, I will keep similar training in motion while spending more time in my wetsuit (Lake Tahoe is pretty much always 56 degrees).

Once on the bike, I used the first stretch of road to get de-funked from the water before hitting the trails for the upcoming 3500ft of climbing. With the exception of two very fast pros (both top-10 at worlds last year), I was doing all of the passing. I would settle in, check-in with my body, then pick it up some more. I more or less eased into the bike too. My goal was to get in a good spot prior to a long stretch of single track where passing would be difficult. The middle section of the course was twisty single track that trended upwards. While I didn't loose focus in this section, I think I was not very efficient and lost time. I kept passing people, but I did get passed by one other pro and....my biggest competition in my age group, Luke Jay. I stayed with Luke for a while, but slowly but surely lost ground. A big no-no on a course where you can't see too far ahead; out of sight out of mind. I kept riding my own pace thinking I would run him down. Looking at the times, I wasn't close. Luke had a great day. Congrats to him.

The bike course was different from the 2007 edition and lost a bit of climbing that once took us way up near the top of Snow Basin. This year, the supplement was a serious of serious steep, loose climbs followed by some really fun, twisty, rocky single track that was a little up and a little down. On the steep stuff, I was in my smallest chain ring combination and just tried to spin up the climbs without grinding to a stop or blowing up my legs. The other fun stuff was a bit concerning (along with other downhill sections of the course) because I had -0- rear brake the entire race. Bummer, but not the end of the world. I had to be a little more cautious than normal. Some disc brake issue...not sure what yet though.

Key takeaways: My long gradual hill climbing power was solid, but my ability to pace on varied terrain left a bit to be desired. My muscle endurance and endurance in general were good and I appreciated the long Mt Lemon days. Tahoe has a number of good climbs, but does have some sections in the middle where I need to be able to switch from "climb" mode to "roller/technical" mode while maintaining pace. Training will need to be modified, not in intensity or duration, to include more hard stuff on varied terrain.

Onto the run. Uphill grind to start with. My strategy was to ease into this too (see a theme?). Once topping out, I opened up my legs and started to put down a good pace. Not blistering as I would have liked, but fairly fast. The course has a bunch of different sections from tree covered single track to rocky trail exposed on the side of the mountain that required fast feet. Fun. I passed a couple of people, but no one of consequence. Looking back, I had more in the tank and should have really hammered more.

Key takeaways: I will have to look at race times before really knowing how I performed, but I need to be fully aware and confident that I can run people down. There are three legs to this sport of triathlon, all of which can be significant factors to determining the winner. Tahoe is basically a flat run course with a number of little twists, creek crossings etc. Leg turnover and a high top end speed will be critical. I have already been hitting the track for top end speed and I feel it is working to this end, but I think my training will need to include some longer really fast runs.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Value of a Great Bike Shop: Focus Cyclery

There are so many moving pieces and parts to being a triathlete that it's a wonder to me how everything gets accomplished. It seems like it's "enough" for me to simply eat, sleep, go to work, get in workouts...and...barely hang out with my wife. So, what happens when something gets out of sync or something pops up that wasn't planned? Chaos is not an answer. This is were a solid support team steps in. No, I don't mean like a crew similar to the one that roles around with the Garmin/Chipotle boys , but in reality, they serve the same purpose; to keep you going strong towards your goals.

Today, in particular, I would like to pay special tribute to Mike, Jessie, Cale and Jack at Focus Cyclery located in Gilbert, Arizona. Focus Cyclery plays a big role in my support crew network. Case in point: I showed up to the shop a couple of days ago after a mtb ride with a leaky fork that wouldn't lock-out. Within a couple of hours, after Focus moved my issue to the front of the line without me asking, as I never would ask, I learned that, for lack of the technical part name, my fork's insides were blown. Big problemo considering 1) I have a big race in next weekend, 2) Cannondale's Lefty SL fork ain't cheap to fix or replace and 3) sometimes parts take a while to find there way to the local bike store. So, what now? Mike, Focus' owner, said no problem we'll get you rolling ASAP. I didn't really know what this meant until I actually saw the bike today. Was I going to get an older or different version of a Lefty as a loaner? Not so much. I rolled into the shop to find a brand spanking new Lefty SL on my bike. Word up! I'll say that again. Word up!

I mean, without Focus Cyclery having my back in a huge way, where would I be? Apart from being mountain bike less, I would not be able to race next weekend at the Xterra Mountain Championships in Ogden, a critical step in my approach towards Xterra Nationals and Worlds. I'll say this, if you live in Phoenix Metro or are ever in Phoenix Metro and are looking for a bike shop, please stop by Focus Cyclery and check them out. They even sell triathlon gear too. If you don't live in Phoenix, please cruise down to your local shop and buy the guys behind the counter a round of coffees and don't ask them for a single thing, not a deal, not a freebie...nothing....just be cool. You never now when you will need your support crew.

After the thoughts above, training updates seem tiny, but...here we go...post crash week I am not feeling 100% in both mind and body, but still able to put down some seriously intense workouts without cracking. I have been in "crush every record mode" for a little while and have been fairly successful, so it is hard to feel good with just maintaining status quo. As if cranking out 15%-20% more wattage on the bike than earlier in the season is no good. Gimmie a break! Graksy, my Xterra triathlon coach, knows what he is doing. I have been more of a head case over the last 5 days than I have ever been. Not in a bad way, but I am questioning and evaluating everything because my plan is non-standard and the stakes are high. The positive thing is that I feel in no one over trained. I know exactly what that feels like and I am not there. Actually knowing that I am not there gives me motivation and confidence to keep on chugging.

One critical element of my plan that has kept me healthy is that I brought my volume down to accommodate the increase in intensity. Sounds simple right? Well, not so fast. Apart from overcoming the mental hurdle I call the "volume" dilemma that many endurance athletes face (more is better), I am in the process of striking a balance between keeping up enough volume for this phase of training (still 2.5mths away from Worlds) and nailing the intensity in a way that actually pushes me to the limit, but not over. Do you know exactly where that point is with yourself? I don't but I am finding it. Another little piece to this whole equation is a "what works for you" unknown variable. What my coach wisely deduced is that I literally need an above average amount of intense workouts. What works for you?

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Keep On Pushing

I have taken a new interest in seeing how my body responds to being pushed. It is funny, in hind-sight, that I use to take every single race so seriously and truly expected to be in top form for every single one. Inexperience I suppose. Now, I genuinely relish the opportunity to try new things with not only specific workouts, but with larger blocks of training, race day strategy etc. The whole enchilada.....everything is fair game. What this really means, with respect to being in top form for race day, is that you kind of have to be willing to accept the results of a failed experiment...or be prepared to reap the rewards of the increased risk. Enough with being vague!

What all this specifically means today is that I am trying some new workouts that push me well beyond my typical comfort zone, or ordinary intense training. For example, today's workout consisted of roughly 2hr mtb ride of which 40mins where intervals going up some gnarly climbs at a threshold pace followed by a transition treadmill run where I set the pace for 6:15 miles and simply held on for as long as I could. No warm-up or easing-in, just set it and went. I lasted for 30 minutes. This might not sound considerable to you, but with the fatigue that has set in as the result of the cumulative effects of intense training over the past number of weeks....this was tough. I physically cracked after about 20mins and then put the brain on cruise control for the last 10mins. I will keep forging ahead tomorrow with a 3.5hr road bike ride and a 2500m open water swim to stay true to my "crash" week. Not big, but, trust me, enough at this point. Looking back, pretty much all of my intensity workouts in each sport are not the "norm" that you typically see or that I hear others doing. This is great and might be the answer to how to not leave potential fitness on the table come race day.