Friday, September 13, 2013

Harvest Moon 70.3 (and Lessons Learned from my First Long Course)

This past Sunday I raced the Harvest Moon long course 70.3 (1.2mi swim / 56mi bike / 13.1mi run). It was my first time at that distance and going in I was pretty excited as to how it was going to pan out. I had done the prep and was ready for the heat – but in all my years of racing, I’d never actually ‘raced’ for 5 hours. Sure I’ve done cycling events that were longer than 5 hours, but even in a road race you are not always working hard. Instead, long road races consist of mostly JRA (just riding along), interrupted by intense periods of break-aways, chases and attacks.
Here was a race that I was going to have to parse out energy (as well as take in nutrition) over the entire duration with the intent being to time the finish with the final kilo-joule of energy leaving my muscles.
At the start - fresh and ready to go. Got my hair cut short in anticipation of the heat.
Not quite a 'Crowie-cut' but pretty short for me.

This time I remembered my camera to catch the impressive sunrise.
Yeah, that's the sighting direction too !

Hustle of the morning in transition

To some of my inexperienced transition mates - this is all the room you need dude.
Stop slopping your crap all over the place.
The Good: I had a freakin’ blast and took 1st in my age group

The Bad: I missed going under 5 hours and it was brutally hot (more on that later).

The Ugly: My run literally imploded at mile 11 (more on that later)
More ‘Good’: I learned a lot and already know what I’d do differently to hopefully stave off the ‘Bad’ and the ‘Ugly’ next time. (more on that later too). I kind of equate the feeling to my first marathon I ever did. It was such an eye opener – as in; ohhh….. so *that’s* that that feels like.

Overall I loved this distance. It reminds me a lot of the marathon in that there are a lot of moving pieces (prep, pacing, nutrition, mental). And my first marathon result felt about the same a real eye opener where light bulbs start coming on moments after you cross the finish line. Happy with the effort, but really eager to do it better next time (prep, pacing and nutrition). The Olympic distance is fun too, but things change when you head north of 2 ½ hours in any event. And *that* is what makes both the marathon and the 70.3 interesting to me.

Nitty, Gritty Details
Swim: Course was a simple out and back. Very nice water, wetsuit legal and perfect water temp and calm surface. Sighting on the way out was directly into the sun, but not that big a deal. Just sight the big orange ball.

I had a great (for me) swim. Felt so psyched up standing in the water, waiting for my wave to start. My big goal for the year had been to feel ‘competitive’ in the swim. To toe the line and feel like I owned the swim rather than just trying to get through it. To enjoy it as much as the bike and run. If you had talked to me in early Spring, you’d have heard the doubt behind my ‘it will work out if I put in the work’. I was intimidated by the thought of swimming a couple thousand meters. But over the summer I stuck with it and just kept working that distance over and over again. By last Sunday, I didn’t even have any doubts. It was more a question of how straight I could swim and how fast I could go. The initial bumper cars with the other swimmers, followed by finding feet to draft off of, getting the occasional kick or arm smack by a passing or passed swimmer, navigating around others and the final push to the beach all felt so comfortable and so fun throughout. Yeah baby. This was more of “The Good”

T1: Came out of the water feeling great. No problem getting the wetsuit over the timing chip this time (normal sized timing chip this time helped). Decided to wear socks (Paige’s advice. Good call. It’s worth the 20 seconds trying to jam tight socks over wet feet). Out and on the bike in decent time.

Bike: The course has some decent hills in the starting 16 miles and the last 16 miles. I felt really, really great until right around mile 48. Then I just wanted to be off the bike. I’ve read that’s normal. I pulled my pacing back a bit because I started worrying about what I’d have for the run, but I think overall I paced the bike pretty well and as planned. Not much wind, but it definitely started to heat up out there. There were two moments I’d rather forget. The first was this 28 year old guy that would pass me and then just completely fade on any type of hill. He’d drop off not to be seen again for another 20 minutes or so. Then there he was again. Why do I want to forget this? Well, he was rockin’ a bright green Speedo, a.k.a. The Banana Hammock.  There were also a couple girls sporting the Speedo bikini, but I didn’t have to keep being reminded. Passed them. Done. Plus, they were girls. That being said, let me say this. I don’t care how booty-licious you think you are or even if you are. Nobody, and I mean nobody looks good in a Speedo… riding a bike… from behind.

Now imagine sitting on a bike saddle, leaning forward and stretching out to the aero bars....
Also in florescent green......
thaaaaat's right. Just say no to crack.
By mile 45 or so I was getting grumpy and so when ‘green speedo’ pulled into my view finder again, I decided this would be the last time I’d drop him and burned a match to pass him once and for all. Was it worth it? Go look again at the above picture.

The second thing I’d like to forget is two guys (I’m guessing in the 30-39 age zone) blatantly working together from mile 45 or so on in. One would pull for a while with the other guy clearly tucked into the draft. Then he’d rotate out. I watched them pulling this garbage until they rode out of sight. I honestly don’t know why you cheat in an age group race. And I’m sure these guys bragged all up and down about their rocking fast bike split. And it wasn’t just a misunderstanding. I’ve raced bikes for a big part of my adult life. After 25+ years in the saddle, I can identify a draft out of the corner of my eye. And this one was staring me in the face. Whatever dudes.

Anyway – they were gone and forgotten, and I kept reminding myself that everyone else I had seen out there was displaying great sportsmanship.

T2: I was so freakin’ happy to be off the bike. Part of me wanted to see what was going to be there in the run. I knew it would feel sucky, but over the years of running I’ve learned that how I feel has little to do with how well I can run. It was also starting to really heat up. Just wanted to get on the run and let the suck-fest begin. Not in a bad way, in kind of like a ‘bring it’ way.  Anyway – T2 actually went pretty flawlessly. I almost was wishing I could maybe hang out there for a while.. take a nap…. Hah!

Run: There was almost some solace in how sucky I felt when I headed out on the run because I was still running at a decent pace. It wasn’t anywhere near what I had planned for, but over the years I’ve developed a good feel for what a pace (given any distance) should feel like and even could factor in the heat and hard bike. I quickly settled into that within the first mile or so. At about the 1.5mi mark the legs came and I got a good feel for what I thought I’d be able to do for the rest of the race.  I felt like crap, but in a ‘yeah –you’re racing, that’s why you feel crappy’ kind of way. The miles ticked off.

I knew there’d be a steady loss of pace due to the heat. And that was happening. No problem. I was losing about 5-7s per mile pace every mile after mile 4. I can live with that if I can stem the loss at mile 8 or so. It was now in the upper 80’s or low 90’s. There was a big hot sun, no shade, no breeze. My stomach had shut down. I kept throwing water at it and it felt like it would start working again (again – I know what that feels like in a race too from years of running). At mile 7 or 8 I started walking the aid stations to ensure I was getting in enough water and dousing 1-2 cups of ice water over my head trying to get my body temp down enough to mile-repeat to the next aid station.

And then it happened. Between mile marker 10 and 11 the wheels fell off. I’ve been running competitively for about 9 years. I know what the difference is between something you just have to push through vs. what it feels like when things go sideways. At mile 11 I knew that things had gone to the outhouse. It wasn’t that I couldn’t run faster – it was that I was consciously worried about what might happen if I ran faster. I mean – if money were on this race, I could have held pace for those last 2 miles. But I also knew that I’d end up crossing the finish line and then be carried to the medical tent. Or worse, I’d pass out on the course and wake up to being carried off the course in blurry protest. I tried a couple times to pick it up and instantly felt that tunnel vision forming; You know, the effect of blood being shunted from your brain? Your body's way of saying,

"Ok dufas, it looks like I'm going to have to knock you unconscious to protect you from yourself." 

I knew at that moment that I wasn’t racing anymore. I was just in survival mode.

Time-line of the carnage.
In the middle of this downward spiral, a guy with what I hallucinated to be a ‘51’ (age) on his leg ran by.

<internal dialog> “Ahhhh crap.. there goes first place…. Can I go with him… let me try…. Nope…. No freakin’ way….Ahhh crap…”

In the end, it turns out later he was either a relay guy or the age said 31 and was just faded.

In the last mile, a lady that I had passed back at mile 6, passed me back. She was wearing a Mark Allen Online kit which is how I recognized her. I was walking and she shouted some encouragement. I was so happy to see someone and promised to hook in and stay with her pace – which I did. I could hear and see the finish line. It was manageable now. At ½ mile I must have looked better. The lady told me I should run faster and pass her on the way in. I told her I’d try.

At 400m the sounds and sights of the finish banner injected happiness into me and a second (?)… ok, may be a 58th wind. I felt light and fast again. My legs just started turning over. Crap – had that been there all along? How much had been mental? One thing I learned by my second marathon years ago was how crappy you were ‘supposed’ to feel around mile 23 / 24 if you were racing at the right pace. Good to know. I literally thought about this in the final 400m. Lesson learned – run harder in those last two miles next time / feel suckier. It’s OK.

I crossed the line actually feeling pretty good. Happy to be done. As I stood there, hands on my knees, letting the volunteer remove the timing chip, I thought to myself, “You know – you should revel in this moment – because the next 70.3 won’t be as dramatic. By the third one it will be ‘old hat’ – the elation you feel when you do something for the first time only happens the first time. I just let that simmer. I allowed myself to feel that giddiness that I knew was special for us ‘first timers’ in this race. Who cares if I was second, or third, or whatever… I had put in a solid effort, mentally worked through the bonk, and completed my first 70.3. How cool was that?! I also found the lady in the Mark Allen shirt and thanked her - she did the same. She said she was feeling it too and it was nice to have someone to joke with in the last few hundred meters.

Post Finish Line: I immediately grabbed  a water and walked down to the lake. Took off my shoes and just laid in the cool water. I could feel my body temp coming back down to the semi-normal range. When I got out, I actually felt pretty spry. One benefit of heat is that you really can’t run yourself into the ground like you can when it’s cool out. The same is true of altitude. The biggest holes I’ve ever dug have been in cool temps at sea level. Whether it’s a race or just a workout, you can hurt yourself more. So there’s that.
I ate some food in near comatose state. Lesson learned #2 – you didn’t take on enough nutrition and had some glucose issues there champ. That explains the wobbliness since mile 11.

After that I wandered up to the results board. I had to look 2-3 times to really process that I had taken first in my division. There it was. Maybe it’s a mistake? Or maybe everyone felt crappy out there in the heat? My time was 5:12 and change. 2nd place guy was 8 minutes behind me. Wow – my happiness went up another notch!

I had thought I had a good chance at breaking 5 hours before the race. Well, that’s what I had out there. I now know I can break it. Just need to a get some puzzle pieces more ‘right’ next time.
Caught up with my EMC team-mate, Amy. She had taken first in her division. I had seen her on the run at the turn around. She told me that when she saw me, she felt sure she’d see me again since she knew my background was running. I told her about the debacle at mile 11. We were all glad to be done.

Awards table. The good - bottle of wine for the winners. The ugly... uhh... it's sitting in the sun for a few hours on the award table. We'll see what happens when we open it!

Went up and go my award. Nice plaque and a bottle of wine. I was on cloud nine, running up there and hopping on the top step of the podium. Shaking the hands of the other guys and telling them with all sincerity how much of a pleasure it had been to race with them today. Imagine that, nearly 50 years old and you can feel like a little kid, just by doing something new – and killing off a few brain cells of sanity in the process. Oh well – those were probably the ‘grumpy’ / ‘cynical’ brain cells anyway based on how elated I felt. Good riddance grumpy brain cells! (hmm… I wonder if I needed those? Ah well.)

OK - Lessons Learned:

  1. The last few miles of the run should feel really, REALLY crappy. Deal with it. Run faster. It will be ok. Think mile 23 / 24 of the marathon – only worse. Embrace the suck.
  2. More calories (UCAN a bit before the gun. Another Honey stinger waffle or chews on the bike).
  3. Don’t skip the water station near the end. I did this with 44oz in and regretted it 2 miles later. Might have given me a few more calories to get me another mile or so through the run.
  4. Put those 16mi bread and butter runs back into the training. They are the heart of finishing 13mi strong. Run the last 4mi at stand-alone ½ marathon pace rather than ½ ironman run pace. Make it harder that way. I did a lot of 12-14 milers – but need to get back to what’s worked in the past. Click off the 16’s like a metronome and the 13 will come easier.
  5. Do some longer Z2/Z3 rides in hills that routinely hit 3 hrs. Push the bike miles up a bit. Not a ton needed here, just want to feel better coming off the bike. Also – if the bike course has hills at the end, then train hills at the end of the long ride. Duh.


Anonymous said...

Great job Kevin!

Vernon said...

OK. So I the more recent blog entry did pop up on my reader, as should have. Not sure why this one didn't.

Anyway CONGRATULATIONS. 1st place is awesome!