18 June 2016

A Tale of Two Races

Wow, so many things to catch up on here.  Last month I was lucky to take a huuuge road trip, covering 3,120 miles, 5 state parks, 4 breweries, 17 whale-sightings, and an embarrassing number of TRS Triathlon podcasts over the course of 12 days.  The trip was a smashing success, as I was able to tow the line at back-to-back races, but also get in some epic camping, eating, sleeping, cooking, sight-seeing, and all-around good clean living on the road.  Since that time it has been crazy here in Portland.  A couple weekend trips and some kick-ass elective time at a hospital here in town - on top of a pretty substantial training block leading up to 70.3 Victoria - kept the nose to the grindstone.  I actually started this post a few weeks back, when I had a "quiet" Saturday in town.  I was brewing beer, and trying to get some thoughts down between the mash in and batch sparge, but ultimately had to give up when things got real in the kitchen.

So thanks everyone for being patient.  Finally getting these race reports up.  Since it was a two-for-one sort of trip, you’re gonna get the same deal here.

Race #1 - Wildflower Long Course
I suppose Wildflower doesn’t really need an introduction on this blog.  It was my first pro race back in 2012, and I have been lucky to get there 4 of the last 5 years.  It is hands-down my favorite race in all the land.  But what made it beyond special this year was the company: 9 of my med school classmates make it down for the event.  For many of them it was their first half-iron distance race, which blows my mind.  True to form, Tri California hooked us up with their awesome hospitality and a great group campsite.

Would you believe all these fools are soon-to-be doctors?
The race itself went pretty well.  I had my usual “I’ve already been dropped, maybe I should just quit” moment about 300 meters into the swim.  But there was a group of maybe 4-6 dudes about 10 meters ahead of me.  I put in 20 hard strokes to try and make contact.  I looked up again and they were still 9 meters out.  So I put in another move and sighted again.  Still 10ish meters.  Damn.  I regrouped for a few strokes, then made another move.  Then another.  Then another.  I basically swam my little heart out, moving exactly the same speed as the second pack, which remained just out of my reach.  When we hit the first turn buoy - roughly half way through the swim - I had to reconcile that I wasn’t going to catch them, and back off to a more sustainable pace.  It was particularly disappointing, because I knew if I could just catch them I'd be able to back off considerably and maintain the same speed.  Need to be more attentive in the first few hundred meters.  So it goes.

Men's swim start.  I'm the tall gangly one in the center.
Photo props to Kaori Photo
I went hard on the 2 mile run over to the bikes.  Clipping on my helmet, I heard the announcer calling out Chris Bagg and Matt Lieto as they headed out on to the bike course, and was happy to be less than a minute down on those guys, who typically swim pretty well.

It was a particularly windy day in the saddle, but I was holding my own, and made up a few places before we hit the nasty grade climb.  I ended up converging with friend and fellow up-and-comer Yu Hsiao midway up the climb, and the two of us reeled in another guy up the road.  We were joined by Andrew Drobeck near the summit, and the four of us started the descent in close succession.  I was in second position behind Yu - who is a more fearless descender than I - and he began to pull away as we navigated the curling S-bends and cracked pavement.  The wind was still howling, and I was doing my best not to die.  I was relieved when the road bottomed out, but to my great surprise, a moto carrying one of the race officials slowly came abreast of me, signaling I needed to pull over…

Failure to stagger!?  Are you f***ing kidding me?  On that descent?  With those road and wind conditions?  I could not believe it.  I unclipped and stood there like a big idiot on the side of the road, watching in despair while the 3 guys I’d climbed with rode away from me.  My first penalty as a pro triathlete.  2 minutes of my life I’ll never get back.

Little did Andrew know, that just 30 minutes down the road,
a terrible penalty awaited him.
Kaori Photo, killing it again.
I rode with renewed energy for the 10 remaining miles into T2.  Could have been the sense of injustice, or the two minutes of unwanted recovery time, but I felt strong coming off the bike, having made up a couple more positions since the penalty.  I proceeded to unleash the best run of my career.  It all just came together, and it was an absolute blast.  The first 6 miles of the run are pretty beastly, but I regulated my effort and felt better and better as things progressed.  Miles 6-9 through the campground I felt like I was flying.  I was seeing a lot of 5:30-5:40 pace on my Garmin, and the effort felt very sustainable.  I started to run out of steam by mile 10, but then it was just a quick kick down the final hill and I hit the tape in 14th position.  Give me back those 2 minutes and I move up a few more places, knocking at the top 10 in arguably the strongest field I’ve seen at Wildflower during my tenure there.

With Coach Bagg after the race.  Don't know why I was hiding my face.
Kaori Photo, doing what they do.
The med school crew all killed it.  The feeling of accomplishment after finishing this race is something you carry with you for the rest of your life.  Special thanks to Elena, Steve, Nate, Brook, Maura, Mari, Heidi, Steph and Will for making this a great trip.

Race #2 - 70.3 St. George
St. George has been a bucket list race for a lot of years.  I remember it’s debut year - when it was a full distance Ironman - and the characteristically unpredictable spring weather in southern Utah had half the field dropping out.  I wanted in on that deal.  The treacherous weather, unsurpassed natural beauty, and notoriety of this race keep the fastest people in the world coming back.  This event has served as the North American Pro Champs for awhile now, and recent winners include Jan Frodeno and Tim Don (neither of whom are North American, ha!)  Trouble is, it has always coincided with the Wildflower weekend, which as previously discussed, is the best race in all the land.  So when I discovered that the two events were going to be on consecutive weekends this year, it was a no-brainer.  Plus, racing back-to-back… yeah, deal me in.  I want in.

As a quick aside, the week in between these two events was an absolute blast.  I won’t go into too much detail, but highlights included chasing whales around Santa Cruz harbor in a sailboat, camping in the Valley of Fire State Park, and hitting it big on the Strip in Vegas.  Included a few pictures below.

Just when we thought things couldn’t get any more beautiful, we rolled into St. George the morning before race day, and set up shop in one of the “primitive” campsites on the south shore of the swim venue.  

"Primitive" = no tap water, which seems like a small price to pay
Some hellacious wind the evening before gave everyone a scare during bike check-in, but things quieted down and there were high hopes for a clear race day.  I executed on my pre-race routine, feeling relaxed and reasonably recovered.  I was excited to race again, on this spectacular new course, against the best in the world.  Unfortunately, my tummy had other plans.  In the cold and blustery pre-dawn aura, I took my first gel 15 minutes before the swim start... and felt my stomach cringe.

This was a trip of “firsts” for me.  First time seeing a whale.  First time making it to the Firestone Walker Brewery.  First bike penalty at Wildflower.  Here’s another one - for the first time ever, the swim was actually the best part of the race for me.  I lined up far left, got off strong, found a great rhythm, and before long was swimming comfortably in a nice little pack.  As we approached the swim exit, I actually thought “Damn, I wish I could keep swimming for a bit.”  I braced myself for a chilly bike ride.  I was pretty happy to exit the water in a pack with Nicholas Chase, Dylan Gleeson, Jeff Manson and eventual winner Lionel Sanders (more on him later).

Doing a reasonable job in T1.
Even though it boasts 3300 ft of climbing, the bike course at St. George feels waaaay easier than Wildflower.  Much of that climbing comes in the form of short little rollers, most of which you can carry speed into and is very big-ringable.  The hardest climb, in my opinion, is a steep little effort that comes in the first few miles and takes about 5 minutes.  The one everyone talks about is a sustained, cat 3 climb through Snow Canyon State Park that averages 4% and gains about 800 feet over 4 miles.  Then it’s a bomber 10 miles and 1400 ft back down to T2, where you hardly need to pedal to carry 30 mph.

My legs actually felt surprisingly great.  The cooler temps weren’t a problem at first, and I was cruising along in my target zone, making up a few places here and there.  Sadly, my stomach wasn’t fully cooperating.  I knew I wasn’t getting the necessary calories in, and things were slowly progressing from “hmmm, I’m not really hungry” to “I couldn’t possibly eat that.”  I was less and less able to eat and drink, feeling like if I forced things down they’d just come right back up.  I told myself just to get to T2, then I could use the port-a-john and that would sort things out.

Suddenly it was raining.  Then it was a downpour.  Then the rain turned to sleet.  I have the courage to admit that I don't race well in the cold.  The first thing that seems to go is my vision; I get all cross-eyed and have trouble focusing.  So the second half of the bike became a bit of a blur.  I do remember looking sideways at one point, to stretch out my neck, and catching a break in the clouds and fog, through which I glimpsed one the most dramatic, towering red cliff bands I’d ever seen.  I just had to forget about the weather, and my tummy, and the daunting run course ahead, and laugh at the privilege of racing on this ridiculous day in this spectacular place.

Not a joke: this is actually where the bike course goes.
I made it up the Snow Canyon climb in pretty good shape.  I resolved to chug a bottle of fluids on the descent and get myself ready to run.  But what actually happened is I basically froze to death, and mentally quit on the race.  Sad.  I made a real mess of things in T2.  I had a lot of trouble getting my helmet off and socks on.  Never a good sign when you have to actually sit down.  This picture pretty much sums up how things were going for me.

I seem to be scolding my sock.
I did some quick mental massage: At least I was off my bike, and I hadn't actually frozen to death.  Plus, this was a new run venue for me, which are always fun to explore.  And at the very least, it would be a well-catered affair.  So I set out on the run course... half-heartedly.  Hanging in the back of my mind was the knowledge that I had only gotten about half my calories in on the bike, and it was only a matter of time until things went south.  I was being realistic about the whole thing.  I set a pace I thought would be sustainable.

Long story short: it wasn't.  The wheels came off around mile 7, at which point I straight up suffered my way to the finish.  It was good for me, though.  Good to have gained the experience, to have seen that run course, to have swallowed my pride when I got passed by the the first place female, to have earned every mile on the road to the finish.

Suffering in a beautiful place.
Last comment: Lionel Sanders is the real deal.  Was pretty humbling to come out of the water with him, get beaten by 20 seconds coming through T1, and then watch him ride away.  The guy out-biked me by a solid 20 minutes.  That's more than Lance Armstrong did when I raced him down in Florida.  And I'm a better cyclist now than I was then.  I saw him dominate the field at Oceanside as well.  He seems pretty much unbeatable this year, and I won't be surprised if he wins 70.3 Worlds.  Great story though, and his write-up on his win here at St. George is worth a read.

Next Steps
I’m currently riding a BC ferry from Vancouver to Victoria for tomorrow’s 70.3 (at least I was when I wrote most of this post).  I haven’t raced in 5 weeks and I’m eager to get back out there.  I'm working through a bit of a nagging knee issue though, so unclear how the run is going to play out.  But I'm going to give it a go and see how things hold up.  I've gained some great fitness this spring, and am building towards IM Whistler at the end end of July.  Hoping to peak for that race, then am going to need to take a few weeks off and focus on school for a bit.

Thanks for following along!


08 April 2016

Oceanside Race Report

What’s up everyone?  Good times, good times.  Recently back from southern Cal, where I got my ass beat by a bunch of really fast guys.  But I did achieve my standard goal at any race I enter: not to get beat by any other med student pro triathletes.  So I got that going for me.  Want to know how it went down?  Read on.  First race report of the year coming at ya!

Pre-Race: Am I even fit?

This is the earliest in the season I’ve ever tried to race.  In the pro field, I should say.  I’m a long-time veteran of the Boise Family YMCA Spring Sprint, which is usually in held sometime in March.  It’s a spring classic and I love it.  But that race takes an hour.  This was a 70.3, and it was on April 2nd (my birthday, incidentally).  It is also the “official” start to the American triathlon season, and the “unofficial” early season world championship (I made that last part up, but I think most pros would agree with me).  There always a TON of big names at O-side, and this year’s running featured Andy Potts, Sebastian Kienle, Lionel Sanders, Maik Twelsiek, Jesse Thomas, Joe Gambles, Tim Reed, Andreas Dreitz, Trevor Wurtele, Jordan Rapp, etc. (that may have even been the top-10, although not in that order).

Not a bad place for a race
I certainly had my doubts about my fitness.  For one thing, it’s hard to spend much time outside on a tri bike during the Oregon winter.  Well, not so much hard as it is annoying, soggy, and mediocre.  More significantly, this race is just plain early.  But as I described a few weeks ago, this event has been on my bucket list.  It’s beautiful, and the local community loves it, and spectators line most of the run course, and you can hear the waves crashing, and you can get tan lines, and all that happy fairy tale stuff.  I wanted to see how I’d measure up to the world champions, and get an early season benchmark.  Despite what I will rate as average fitness (thanks to the lucidity of hindsight), it was definitely worth the trip.

Swim: Oh so that was the gun then?  Rats.

I swam a lot this fall and winter, and I am definitely faster.  So I was eager to see if I could make that second pack.  Of course, every swim that Andy Potts shows up for takes on a different dynamic.  He goes out incredibly strong, and the fastest swimmers in the field see how long they can hang on before blowing up, which has the effect of stringing people out in the water.  I wasn’t going to even try to stay with him, but I was hoping to find some of those guys who’d been spit off the back and form a faster group.

New kit from Chris Bagg Coaching Group!
That’s not exactly what happened.  Thanks primarily to a gentle current leaving Oceanside harbor – and secondarily to not getting any manner of a countdown past the two minute mark – the pro field had drifted out onto the swim course while waiting for the gun.  A few of us were treading in place at the line, thinking they’d pull everyone back before the start.  But all of a sudden the gun went and I was 10 yards off the back, literally before the race had even started.  Bummer.

I went off reasonably hard and ended up swimming the first 500 meters with a couple other guys.  One of them gapped us and I didn’t respond in time, which was disappointing.  He ended up swimming about 60 seconds quicker than I did, so I think he would have been a decent mark for me.  I swam a 27:45, which seemed slow until I looked at my GPS file and realized my errant steering had taken me on nice little tour of the harbor, measuring in about 160 meters longer than was required.  I actually held my new threshold pace, which I’m pumped about!  But goes to show you that swim fitness in the pool doesn’t necessarily translate to improved open water performance.

Bike: I have no idea how hard I’m really working, but this sure is nice.

Before talking about the bike, I have to quickly describe what was for me the coolest part of the race: T1.  After coming up the boat ramp, you proceeded to run down a narrow lane pushed up against the transition area, all the way down to the far end before entering and finding your bike.  Best part was that this lane – at most 6 feet wide – was lined by spectators on the outside, and the waves of age group participants on the inside.  They were packed inside the fences, lined up single file, watching and waiting to funnel down into the water for their own swim.  The net effect was a 60” run through hundreds and hundreds of wetsuited-bodies, crowned by eager faces with bright swim caps, so close they could have easily slapped me on the ass and told me to get going.  I could feel their enthusiasm, and was totally charged up as I rounded the final corner and sprinted to find my bike.

The bike ended up being an exercise in patience, more than anything.  Patience and smiling.  The course features the kind of riding you dream about: ocean winds and open roads at first, before turning inland and tucking behind the coastal range, working your way back south over rolling hills with a few steep climbs.  There were also marines everywhere, as much of the route is on Camp Pendleton.  Was pretty cool to ride past “TANK CROSSING” signs, and see young men in full military attire directing traffic.  It was a windier ride than in years past, and times were a bit slower, but on the whole it was pretty much perfect.

I had some equipment failures, and ended up basically riding blind.  Which was kind of fun, I guess.  It’s the way I started out in this sport, riding by feel alone.  But I have really come to rely on my heart rate data, in particular, which wasn’t functioning.  So I erred on the conservative side, especially for the first 40 or so miles, and the effort was definitely below where it probably should have been.  For whatever reason I also had a real bottle-cage utility problem, and ejected a few much-needed bottles of sports drink.  I got off the bike feeling pretty fresh – probably too fresh – and decidedly behind the caloric 8-ball.  I would definitely suffer for that on the back half of the run.

Run: I think I might be in heaven.  But heaven isn’t supposed to feel this bad, or move this slow.

The run was offensively pleasant.  I think I was off the bike around 9:35 am, and it was a radiant fricking morning at the beach.  The 2-loop, out-and-back run course has you criss-crossing your way down the coastline, mostly running along the strand, at times jumping up short, steep inclines to paralleling Pacific Street.  Not 50 yards off your shoulder, the cool blue waters of the ocean are crashing onto a perfect sandy beach, creating a soothing background soundtrack and the most refreshing breeze you’ve ever felt on a run.  Just ridiculous.

That's where we had to run.
As usual, I started out controlled and smooth, to get my running legs under me.  At 3 miles I felt good, so I pushed on the throttle a bit, easing my way up to goal pace.  But around mile 6 things didn’t feel so good, and I had to back off again to 6:00 pace or so, and even that I couldn’t manage to hold for more than a mile or two.  Definitely not ideal to run your fastest mile in the first loop.  The last 5 miles deescalated into a laboring, damage-controlling trot.  I’m sure my heart rate had tanked, but at that point I was thankful my HR monitor wasn’t working.  This was pretty much textbook nutritional failure.  And it never feels good.  Struggled home in 1:20:something, not great running, but good enough to crack into the top-20 on the day.  And given the caliber of the 40+ dudes I’d seen at the start line, I can definitely live with that.

When things were still feeling good.  This is literally 600 yards into the run, though.
Take homes: I got to race on my 29th birthday, and my dad was there.

After a couple beers at nearby Stone Brewing with my dad,
I was able to focus on the positive.
It’s important to be constructive and appropriately critical when reviewing a race.  It’s how we improve and grow in the sport.  This race highlighted the importance of nutrition, open-water tactics, and appropriate pacing on the bike (for which I basically require data).

But sometimes, when I overanalyze the actual race day performance, I lose track of what an absolute privilege and joy it was to make this trip.  Such fun to explore a new area, get to a bucket list race (that more than lived up to the hype, mainly due to the awesome course), have a go this early in the season, and to do it all with my dad.  Was a pretty memorable way to spend a birthday weekend.  So I’ll sign off with that.

Huge thanks to the Mathios family for the generous hospitality.  The home stay in the days leading up to the race really made this trip possible for me.  And of course, thanks Daddy-oh!  You totally made this trip.  Love ya.

Thanks everyone for reading.  Next up is the One and Only Wildflower, in a little over 3 weeks.  Until then, keep your stick on the ice!


07 March 2016

2016 Race Schedule

So I’ve been taking this “year out” of med school to work as a student fellow in the pathology department here at OHSU (I probably already wrote too much about this).  Basically, it’s been a lot of handling bodily organs, tumors, and surgical specimens, cutting them up, then looking at them under a microscope.  Really cool stuff.  But scientific enlightenment and the furthering of my medical career aside, the best thing about this “normal job” has been a return to a more “normal lifestyle.”  Which has meant more consistent training.  I’m carrying arguably the best fitness I ever have out of the winter months, and am looking forward to a busy season of racing.

So I’m pretty excited to announce the race schedule for 2016.  Been a ton of fun to plan and scheme about.  Several new events – including a couple bucket list races – and of course, my two all-time favorites, that I go back to year after year.  Give me a shout if you’re at any of these bad boys, and hope to see you at the races!

70.3 Oceanside

A lot of pros use this early season race as a shake-out/test event, to see how they wintered, and the racing is usually crazy fast.  To win, seems like you either have to be a world champion, or Andy Potts (seriously, look that up).  I have wanted to get to this event for several years now.  Spring in Portland is… damp.  Spring in San Diego is warm, dry and sunny.  Plus, that city holds a special place in the triathlon world.

The real reason I'm going down there...

Wildflower Long Course

This race needs no introduction.  Hands down my favorite event, year after year.  Unfortunately, med school kept me away last May.  But, while school may have jammed me in the past, this year it’s making up for it, as no less than 7 of my classmates are making the trip for this race!  And contrary to my usual hyperbole, that is not an exaggeration.  No joke: 7 of my classmates are going to do this race this year.  Going to be a fitness-chasing, caravan-driving, beer-drinking, post-race-surfing, med school-shirking, rollicking good time.  My previous three showings at this race have been 24th, 17th, 11th.  Hoping that trend continues this year.

No season is complete without a quick jaunt up Nasty Grade.
My favorite 10 minutes on a bike all year.

70.3 St. George

This is another bucket-list event.  To understand why, just look at this fricking place.

I should mention that it’s the North American Pro Championship, although I don't really care about that.  Also, it’s only a week after Wildflower, and I'm excited to try racing back-to-back weekends.

70.3 Victoria

I really need no excuse to go to Vancouver Island.  Pristine wooded lakes, foggy coastal forests, and crisp Pacific temperatures.  This race will likely feature all three.  Plus, doing this bad boy with one of the Seans (Wildflower 2014 baby!).  Sean Haffey, to be exact.  Racing with a friend amplifies the fun factor by 1,832x (that’s an experimentally derived figure), so really looking forward to this trip up north.

IM Vineman

It's finally happening: taking another crack at a full this summer.  And to be honest, it's kind of hard to find one in June or July within driving distance of Portland.  Especially when WTC does things like it did up in Coeur d'Alene this year (which I'm sure made a lot of business sense).  Don’t know much about this race, but if it's anything like the Vineman half it promises to be a beautiful and community-supported event.  The timing and the location work pretty well.  We’ll see how it goes.

Challenge Penticton

Even when I’m out of shape (as I proved last year), I love racing in Penticton.  And over the next couple years, this little city with tremendous triathlon history has got something special in the works.  In 2017, the ITU Long Course World Championships will be coming to town, and they’re giving that unique course and distance a trial run this August.  Plus, I get to do this one with the other Sean (in case you didn't click on the first one).  Sean Moran, to be exact this time, who similarly has a fun factor amplification score of 1,832x.

I head back into med school year 4 mid-summer, thus the busier than usual early season.  We’ll see how things shake out, and if I’m able to hold form into August.  Hoping to add an event or two in the fall when the schedule lightens up again, so stay tuned.  But really looking forward to the journey this season, thanks for following along!