Tuesday, April 26, 2011

A PR, a DNF and a ride around Sunapee all before Easter Dinner

This past weekend was supposed to be the last set of hard efforts on the bike, with a 64 mile bike race scheduled for Saturday around Quabbin Reservoir with a planned 5 mile tempo run to follow. Sunday I had intended to get in a 3-4 hour ride as well to get as prepared as possible for Ironman St. George. As is typical for me however, things didn't go exactly as planned. They do say something about "best laid plans" right?
The weekend actually started Friday night for me with the NHTI/Delta Dental 5k. It was the third race in the CARS series so brought out some of the fast guys like Jim Johnson and the CMS runners, Justin Freeman and Ryan Kelly both great x-c skiers,  and Tim Cox, the wolf in sheep's clothing, or the aR runner in CMS clothing. As is typical with this race, it started fast. My whole goal for this race was to just hang with the main pack of guys for as long as I could. JJ and Freeman tore away from the pack immediately but with Ryan leading the way, a group of six or seven guys ran together. Looking around I found myself surrounded by CMS runners Rod Viens, Dan Verrington, Sam Wood as well as Tim Cox and this guy running in Vibrams(Nick Rennie). We hung together for the first mile going through in 5:12 before Ryan decided he didn't want to break the wind for the pack anymore and took off pulling Rod with him. The group now slightly smaller we proceeded to run together with Tim leading for the next two miles. Ever the aR runner at heart, Tim could see I was struggling to keep up with him and would give me little pointers to stay close and move my arms more. I surprisingly held it together and after 2.9 miles of leading the way, chivalrously Tim let me by for the finishing kick which was good enough for 7th overall in a time of 16:43  about 30 seconds faster than my previous 5k PR. A good start to the weekend for sure.

The next stop of the weekend plans woke me up at 5am so that I could drive down to Ware, MA to compete in my first bike race ever: the Quabbin Reservoir Classic Road Race. In the 64 miles of roadway it touted over 5,000 feet of elevation gain which I thought would be a perfect training ride for the notoriously hilly St. George course. Driving down to the race, I noticed something interesting happening: it started to snow. And snow and snow. By the time I got to Ware, there was a couple inches of snow accumulated on the ground and it was now freezing rain. I only had cotton gloves and a thin wind-breaker but I typically run in less than that so I figured it would be fine. Plus, I had run the evening before in shorts and a singlet. I just assumed that it would warm up. You know what happens when you make an assumption? You make an ass out of you and umption. A
As I looked around at my fellow riders, I quickly realized that I was out of my league as almost all other riders were part of a team of cyclists and they all appeared most prepared clothing-wise than I was. And while all the other competitors were warming up on the bikes, I did my warm-up running up the Quabbin Water Tower.

Danny at top of Quabbin Water Tower
The cat 5 riders started almost an hour after the pro's so I had plenty of time to change, run, and still get soaked before my ride. I tried to stay as long in my car as possible, getting to the start line as the gun went off. It was a neutral start so it went out slowly, which probably was my downfall as I was saturated within minutes and wasn't working hard enough to warm up. In addition, the first few miles were downhill so the wind made it even colder. Suffice it to say, I was shivering within the first fifteen minute. However, the climbing soon started and the pack picked it up a bit and I started feeling a bit better. Within the first hour or so, we had dropped all but 10 or so of the riders and I was feeling like I was riding well within my means which meant if I could just finish I would be getting prize money. Unfortunately the descents started. At this point my fingers were already pretty much frozen but wasn't too much of an issue going up hill. However, descending without finger control to brake is a very scary prospect and it didn't take long for me to wish I hadn't started. But the descending just kept on coming, and soon thereafter so did my uncontrollable shivering. You know when you're biking weaving across the road that you probably shouldn't be riding. Not that I had much choice. I had been looking for places to stop but barring riding back the 20+miles to my car, there didn't seem like any other option then going on. Right on cue, the pack passes a convenience store and as we zip on by I notice about 15 bikes placed outside. I start the next descent, nearly hit a rider who braked erratically ahead of me and decided that I had had enough for the day. I turned around and biked back to the store.
  Stepping into the store, I saw riders of all categories in various stages of hypothermia huddled together in one small corner of the store conveniently located next to all the liquor. After having two pro riders help me take off my soaking wet outer layers, I spent the next ten minutes doing jumping jacks to stay warm. After warming up a bit, I discovered that several of them had been waiting over an hour, unsuccessfully, for a ride back to their cars.
  After about another hour had passed, one of the neutral wheel support cars came by and offered rides to some of us. Unfortunately there was only room for two. But as I looked(and probably felt) the worst, they gave me the ride. Getting back to my car about 45 minutes later, I changed into dry clothes blasted the heat and went back to the store. Sure enough, half the riders were still there. I was able to fit a few in my car(some declined because they didn't want to leave their bikes behind) and brought them back to the start. So all in all. I drove 2:30 to the race, raced for about 75 minutes, waited an hour for a ride, drove to/from the store to the start twice for about 2 hours then started my trip home... what fun.
 I quickly decided I could mope and complain or try to look at the bright side. The day was still young so I figured I could find a park somewhere that I had never been and explore a bit. Sure enough, I came across a sign for Greenfield State Park and took the turn. As I pulled in, it looked like a glorified KOA but after changing into my running gear I quickly found some cool single track skirting the edge of a good sized pond. It actually reminded me of a uninhabited Walden Pond. Or the Walden Pond that Thoreau wrote about before tourists started coming. It was great. Had a blast and put me in a far better mood for the rest of my ride home.

The next day I determined I wanted to spend the morning with my family as I hadn't seen my older brother Matt or sister Marilyn for a while, so I decided to defer the bike road and see if I could sneak it in when I got to my parents. Sure enough, Matt wasn't there, Andrew wasn't up and Marilyn was just getting up. Perfect. Hit the road with the goal to circumnavigate Lake Sunapee. It's about 25 miles around so I was shooting for a 75 minute ride, did it in 80 but was pretty happy with that with all the scenery I had taken in rather than pushing it. What a lesson in contrasts. Friday: shorts weather, Saturday: snow; Sunday: shorts riding with the sun shining on the lake. I had such a fun ride, getting home and showered as Matty came in the door. Spent some time with Andrew mapping out a trail run he's planning on organizing this summer over at Knight's Hill and had some great food and time with the family. All in all a great weekend and a lot of fun.

UP NEXT: New Orleans Jazz Fest- Can't think of a better way to taper.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Paradise Found

After a disappointing Gansett Marathon due to GI issues on Saturday and a frustrating Sunday morning driving around Charlestown, Rhode Island looking for a criterium I never could find, on my way back up to NH I happened upon the town of Milton. I don't think it actually has any connection to John Milton but it was probably the closest thing to a triathlete's Eden that can be found nearby Boston. After giving up on finding the race I decided that I'd try to find a place to bike on my drive back up to Concord. Not being familiar with the area, I was looking to find a park or something that could afford me some safe biking. As I merged on to 93 from 95, I happened upon a sign for Blue Hills Reservation.

Taking the exit, I went from one of thousands of cars navigating their way through Boston's traffic, to be one of only a few cars on a pristinely paved road. That is not to say it was isolated, for there were multitudes of people: running, hiking or biking. I found a parking lot grabbed my road bike(I already had my new aR bike kit on for the race I never could find) and went for a ride. And what a ride! Weaving through several towns, Blue Hills Parkway was nearly untraveled by motor vehicles as the predominance of people chose a bipedal form of locomotion. Twisting turning, tortuous serpentine roadways with nary a pothole made the riding far more fun. If I had had more time and my quads hadn't been trashed from the previous day's marathon, I would have definitely gone for a long trail run in the woods that this roadway enveloped. As it was, it certainly brightened my morning, and definitely gave me a good option for a place to train if I'm ever down in the Boston area.

Gansett Marathon, formally Exeter, was again exceptionally well run and organized. For such a small race, it had a good amount of spectators and aid stations were efficient. Far more scenic than last year, this year's race spent several miles right along the water which was good and bad because it also exposed us to the high winds that Rhode Island had been experiencing all weekend. Despite the winds, Dave Principe of Tuesday Night Turtles and I run together for the first 19 miles or so, going through 10 miles in 60 minutes, the half-way mark in a little over 1:19 , before I started experiencing severe GI issues that forced a port-a-potty stop at mile 21. After that, those last five miles were painfully slow and I dropped from 6th place down to 14th. Oh well, I wanted this to be a good last long run before Ironman St. George and for the most part it was. And it got me down to Rhode Island where I had a nice weekend spent on Goat Island.

UP NEXT: Quabbin Reservoir Classic Bike Race(if I can find it) then TAPER!

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Ironman Texas 70.3

This past weekend Amber and I went down to Galveston, Texas for the Hermann Memorial Ironman 70.3. This would be the first test to my Ironman training plan. It would also be Amber's first race as a professional triathlete. We both knew that the race didn't favor our race styles. Not only was this race the US Championships bringing out the best competition, but the weather was hot and humid, the bike course was flat and fast(no hills so had to stay in aero the whole time), and the run was a four loop course with multiple turns making getting into a rhythm challenging. However, a challenge was what we were looking for.

We got down to Galveston Thursday morning so we had plenty of time to explore and enjoy the great seafood cuisine that seaside towns have to offer. We found many similar eats to New Orleans but also had some things you may find in the Mid-West like Frickles(fried pickles). All in all we only had one meal that we weren't pleased with and that was an ill-advised stop at a deli. Stuffed and tapering would be how I'd be describe the days leading up to Sundays' race. Neither of us could think of the last time we had such a relaxing vacation.

Sunday morning came and everything changed. Am was in the second wave and I was in the 4th, 10 minutes behind. After quick introduction to the multitudes of recording breaking swimmers, runners and cyclists that they had competing at the race, the gun went off. The excitation was palpable. A little over 10 minutes later however, it had turned to nervousness. Now it was my turn with my first deep water start, looking around at over a hundred fellow 25-29 racers.
It started out as I had planned: to latch on to a faster swimmer and hang on for dear life. That worked for all about 150 yards until he had pulled away and I was left to swim on my own. On my own is a bit melodramatic, but definitely without the aid of having someone to look forward to keep going straight. Over the next 1.1 miles of supposed swimming, I would estimate that I did something closer to 1.4 with all the zig-zagging that I did.

Coming out of the water, it occurred to me that my once tight tri shorts where now sagging like a full diaper. Oh yes. I thought it would be a good idea to wear the Rock On Reed shorts that caused me so much grief at the Exeter Swim Meet. While not drooping to my ankles, they certainly were increasing my drag on the bike.

The bike: Need I say more? It took all of about ten miles to remember why I had stopped biking a couple years ago in the first place. It's painfully repetitive without the competition of a run. I'd pass someone or someone would pass me and that would be it. Very little back and forth or much strategy of any sort. Pretty much hammer for as long as you can then do it longer. Fun. At the turn-around, I looked at my watch and was pleased to find I was only a few minutes off my scheduled plan to break 5 hours( the out was a lot windier and I had planned for a slower out than the back). As I turned the corner to re-trace my steps so to speak, I felt the wind on my back and looked down at my speedometer, saw 24 mph, felt comfortable and started thinking about 4:40. I kept up that pace and train of thought for about 10 miles until I all of a sudden felt very sluggish. Bonk? Nope-flat rear tire. As Am will lovingly chime in, I am not so mechanically inclined and adamantly avoid getting my hands dirty. The combination of the two lead to a nearly 15 minute flat tire change. Crud. The rest of the bike went uneventful but knew without some sort of miracle I wouldn't be getting under 5 hours today.

What luck? As I come running off my bike to start my first of four laps around Moody Gardens-an aquarium/water park, I spot Amber ahead starting her third lap(yes that's right-with only a ten minute head start). I quickly caught up with her partially due to me sprinting and partially due to her slowing down when she saw me coming. We then ran the next 6.5 miles together and had a blast. It was so much fun running with her passing hundreds of people(most of which she was lapping while I was still a lap behind). The hardest part of this run course was the constant turning. If you can picture hosting a half marathon all within a modestly sized amusement park with a half dozen small out and backs that would at least give you a rough idea of what it was like. You could never get a rhythm going because you'd then have to do a 180 degree turn blocked by three middle-aged triathletes on the walk portion of their walk-run strategy. Nevertheless, we ran those first two laps in about 44 minutes before parting ways.

There are very few things that stink more than seeing the finish line and knowing you still have two more laps to go. A few of those things are: 1)no longer having Am to run with, 2)having nearly twice as many runners blocking your way, 3) seeing your age-group peers at various distances ahead of you but not knowing what lap they are on, and 4) the sun coming out and burning any and all exposed skin.

Despite all those pleasant things, I finished up with about a 30 second negative split for the second half to finish in a 5:08. Not quite the sub-5 I was planning for, or the 4:40 I was hoping for but, with all the things I learned I need to improve upon, a good(and fun) experience nonetheless.

Amber finished up with a 4:36, a two minute PR finishing well within the top 100 overall and 18th female pro. A great start to what I expect to be a very illustrious triathlon career!

UP NEXT: Gansett Marathon this weekend for me on Saturday and my first criterium race on Sunday. Then only two more weeks until St. George!

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Ironman or Stupid-Dan Training- Yet to be Determined

Since right after Christmas, I have been training for Ironman St. George. Although definitely not on a typical training plan, I had done my research on optimal training regimes, ideal hours per week, periodization, and the like. It has been suggested that what I have been doing, however, is not Ironman training but rather Stupid-Dan training. As Amber likes to put it- it appears that I like to research training more than actually participate in it. It has definitely been true.
   I have read numerous articles that you need to be swimming, at interval pace, 3-4 days a week for neuromuscular adaptations to begin to take place. And yet, I am swimming 1-2/week at a meandering(at best) pace.
   For every extra pound of body weight, your body has to absorb substantially more shock on the run, produce more force on the bike, and requires increased capillarization to get blood to your muscles. And yet, as I am typing, I am chowing down on my second cupcake of the day.
  Biking is, by far, the largest portion of the race and oftentimes where it is either won or lost. It is also my weakest link, so I knew I needed to devote HOURS a week to this end. And yet, I bought rollers and spend a couple thirty minute sessions a week on them. At the start of my training plan, I had planned on getting six 6+hour rides, and six to eight 4+hour rides in. I have gotten exactly one 4 hour ride and nothing longer than that.
  I started out planning to do every run as a transition run(meaning that I would bike first and then run after). I was fairly successful with this goal until the weather got so cold that I'd get off the spin bike and not go out. I did get in a 25 mile(less than a quarter of the distance I need to cover at St. George) ride before this weekend's SEA 5K and then threw down a 17:51. Yes that's right 5:45's. Yes, that is the same pace that I did for 13.1 miles at a much windier and hilly New Bedford. That result was so daunting to me that I scratched my plans for biking to Newmarket the next day for the Great Bay Half Marathon. I would have been much more pleased with my time there, if I had biked before.

It seems that the hardest part for me of this Ironman Training, really is the commitment to drop all other things from your life. I should have skipped a lot of the races that I have done this winter/early spring and replaced them with long rides. I should have gone to bed without staying up to watch that movie so I could get an extra half hour in the pool. I should have skipped Hurling practice and gone for a ride. I should have done this or not done that so that I could have been better prepared. And yet, I look at where I am now compared to last year and realize that although my training has been a bit unorthodox and that I have probably missed out on optimizing my fitness, I am still getting stronger and finding a comfortable balance between training and life. Because training isn't, and shouldn't, be life but rather one facet that melds seamlessly together to form a good life without regret. I know I may not produce the best times or even qualify for Kona, but I will go into the race without regret and plan to have a blast. And as Old Blue Eyes once said, I did it my way.

The first test of Danny's Training plan is this weekend in Galveston Texas at Ironman Texas 70.3.