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!


02 February 2016

Slave to the CTL

I have been engaged in an epic battle with this little number for months now.  Since starting med school, really.  I make slow progress, week by week, edging it up, little by little.  Then I rotate off the VA pathology serviced, back to OHSU and 60 hour work weeks, and it plummets like a rock.  It doesn't care at all about my work schedule, or traveling home for the holidays, or my other hobbies and interests.  How, you might ask, can one little number be so brutally honest?  So uncompromisingly rule-bound?  So objectively heartless?  My CTL causes me a lot of inner turmoil, and it's hard to explain all the reasons why.  Mostly psychological, personal problems.  Maybe some of you can relate?

So what is the CTL?  It stands for chronic training load.  To elaborate further in terms my feeble mind can comprehend, it's a metric used by TrainingPeaks to track your training burden.  It’s calculated from a rolling average of your daily workouts – their duration and intensity, as relayed by heart rate data – over recent weeks to months.  Essentially, if it increases, it means your body is capable of handling an increased training load, i.e. you are more fit.  That’s putting it most simply: it’s a decent proxy of your fitness.

Every time I miss a workout, or take a trip, or go for a big backcountry ski tour instead of doing my long ride, I feel guilty.  I imagine my CTL dropping a point, like a toddler butt-scooching down a staircase.  Or, as was the case two weeks ago, it drops by a full 7 points in 5 days.  I know I am “losing fitness,” as it were.  But let me tell you a bit about what I did two weeks ago.

I volunteered at a sled dog race.  Yes, a sled dog race.  My girlfriend Elena and I drove 6 hours away to a small town after work on Tuesday.  Then we met a bunch of other volunteers in the morning, loaded up a few large trucks and trailers with gear and food and snowmobiles, and drove another hour to an even smaller town.  Then we drove an hour and a half up a river road to where the snowplows had stopped and unloaded everything.  Then we sledded everything in another six or so miles, to where we were going to establish a temporary checkpoint, in the woods, in the middle of nowhere.  It was so, freaking, awesome.

End of the road.
We proceeded to spend the next day and a half shoveling out 3+ feet of snow to build a little citadel of wall tents, each of which had its own wood-burning stove.  There were two tents for the volunteers, two more for the veterinarians, another for the mushers, a mess tent, a communications tent, and a tent for the trail crew that would be maintaining the 200-mile course.  All in all, we built a little community capable of supporting about 40 people for 72 hours.  Let me tell you, we burnt a lot of firewood out there.

Setting up camp.
We finished setup by Thursday afternoon, just in time to take a quick break.
Then right after sunset, the dogs started to come in.

I’ll never forget the first team I saw coming up the canyon, across the river.  Complete darkness, and all you could hear was the faint jingling of the leads over the steady, soft churning of the river, the backs of 12 dogs, white to tan to black, bobbing up and down, lit up brightly in a bold ray of light that came from a head lamp at the back of the train.  It was otherwise completely silent, dark, and still. It was pure magic.

The next day and a half was madness.  Dog teams came and went at all times of day, the course bringing them back through the checkpoint in 50 mile increments.  There was a mandatory 6-hour rest that most mushers took at the halfway point.  More impressive than the competitors –who basically didn’t sleep for 36+ hours – were the dogs.  I will never forget standing there in the late afternoon alpenglow on Friday.  The teams had come in for their third and final pass through the checkpoint.  Most had stopped for an hour or two, letting their dogs rest, giving them food and water before the final leg of the journey.  The dogs had already ran about 140 miles.  But you wouldn’t have ever guessed that, based on their appearance at their final sign-out.

As the checkpoint coordinator ran the list one last time, confirming their musher had all the required items in their sled, the dogs were anchored in place, looking for all the world like they were losing... their... minds.  Barking, lunging at their leads, so eager to peel out of camp they couldn’t hardly stand it.  Then they were off on their final 60-mile, 8-hour journey to the finish line, disappearing back down the river into the dusk.  Most of those dogs would finish the race between 2:00-5:00 in the morning.

After the big-take down effort and long trip home, it was hard to go back to work on Monday.  It was a lot like “ironman brain,” in a sense.  It had been such an intense experience, it was hard to focus on much else.  I was eager to get back to training though.  I returned home with renewed enthusiasm and morale, my mind restored by the time away from this city.  I made up 3 of those lost CTL points my first day back.

The point I’m trying to make here is that “fitness” – or the capacity to earn it – is influenced by many external factors.  Like how many dogs I’ve seen recently, or how well I’m doing walking my own dog each morning and evening.  How much I’m enjoying my winter in the mountains of Oregon, or getting home to see my family.  How many dinners I’ve made and enjoyed with my girlfriend, and how many times I’ve walked down the street to get a burrito from my favorite take-out spot.  How connected I am with my roommates, my friends, my coach, my job, my faith.  It goes on and on.

In the day to day grind - especially during the long winter months - it can be easy to lose perspective.  Training can seem more like an obligation, and less like a privilege.  It is important to keep sight of what matters, and for me it's all of these other things.  And not just in the long run, where these others are preeminent.  But in the short run as well.  On the heels of this unforgettable trip, I logged one of my finest weeks of training all winter.  I guess I shouldn't be surprised.

Thanks for reading,