Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Kelowna Xterra - The Agony and the Ecstasy

It's 2 days after the Kelowna Xterra and I must say, overall, that the race and the preparation for it was a very challenging scenario, both physically and mentally.

After completing the Apple Try-a-Tri on August 20th my intention was to spend a lot of time biking and running (both road and off-road) in preparation for the September 11 Kelowna Xterra (sport duathlon).  I had 3 hard workouts (2 of which were bricks) during the next 4 days and was feeling great.  Then for some reason(s) my back started aching a bit and I had to "back" off a bit.  Maybe it was because I pushed too hard in my workouts... or maybe because I spent a few hours painting down in the basement.  Even though my back was still not perfect, I got on my road bike on the following Monday and Tuesday and  pushed hard for 33 km on both those days, averaging well over 30k/h.  I find that I can continue to bike when my back is a bit sore.  I think perhaps it might actually be therapeutic for it to get the blood flowing.  Thinking my back was now pretty well okay, I headed out to the Nordic Trails on Wednesday with Rob Swan to help him prepare the course for the Xterra.  For the next 7 hours we used heavy duty weedwackers to help make the course more rideable and runnable.  I found out after about 3 hours that my back really wasn't in any condition to be doing this type of work.  But being my father's stubborn Danish son, I decided to continue,  turning the remainder of the day into a bit of an endurance workout for my back, choosing to believe that what doesn't kill you will make you stronger. 

Well in the end it just about did kill me, and it didn't make me stronger.  I spent the next day on my back, trying to rest it as much as I could before Barb and I headed down to Washington the next day for our "end of the summer" vacation.  We stayed in Leavenworth for 3 nights, spending our days exploring the area, eating and drinking, and generally having a great time (like we always do when we're together).  We had taken our mountain bikes and runners with us in the hope that we cold train a bit while we were there, but, for me, that was out of the question.  I had enough trouble just walking!

We got home on the Monday, the day before Barb had to officially head back to the classroom, and only 6 days before the Xterra.  That night my back rebelled totally.  Trying to get up to make one of my occasional trips to the bathroom turned out to be a hellish experience.  As my back started to cramp a little, I tensed up and my back cramped even more.  This cycle continued for the next little while (it seemed like a really long time) until I was standing frozen in the middle of the room hanging on to something so I wouldn't fall over (cause if I fell over I knew there was no way I was going to get back into bed (or go to the washroom)  My back was so tight, and the pain so great, that little rivulets of sweat were running down my body.  The trick to getting rid of this kind of pain (I have learned through experience) is to relax, but that is not an easy thing to do under the circumstances.  Barb got up and assisted me in whatever way she could, and we finally got me back to bed, but the damage, physical and emotional, was done.  Every movement after that was very carefully orchestrated, taking care to always keep those back muscles as relaxed as possible.

Barb had to head off to school the next morning and I stayed at home in bed, cause I really wasn't able to do anything else.  My plan was to phone my doctor as soon as reasonable and get him to prescribe some suitably powerful medication which would enable me to remain relaxed.  Since he is a good friend and he had helped me through a similar episode almost exactly 2 years before, I knew that this would be no problem.   To my horror he turned out to be on vacation and nobody was covering for him.  I ended up having to deal with this situation on my own.  I survived the day by taking some of the left over medication that had been prescribed 2 years previous, and by staying in bed and sleeping as much as possible.

I was not looking forward to the next night, fearing that it might be a repeat of the previous nightmare.  My plan was to keep loading up on Vitamin I (ibuprofen) and using a heating pad as much as possible.  I also decided that when I woke up in the middle of the night, I would very carefully get up and walk around a bit, with my heating pad, and try to keep my back loose.  Then after stretching it out a bit, I would take some more Vitamin I and head back to bed.  My main goal was not necessarily to get any sleep, but to maintain control of the situation (unlike the night before) and survive the night in a reasonable fashion.  Fortunately, my plan worked well and in the morning I was a bit more optimistic regarding the fast approaching weekend race.

It was now Wednesday and my back, although sore and sensitive, was manageable.  That day I rode an easy 5 km around the neighbourhood and followed it up with a slow and relaxed 1 km run.  Luckily everything went smoothly and painlessly.  As Sunday was getting disturbingly close I figured I had to take a few risks if I was to have any hope of competing.  So, the following day, Thursday, I headed out to the Nordic Trails to pre-ride the bike course and run a bit of the run course.  I rode the course at a pace that felt manageable and completed it in a reasonable time, just 3 or 4 minutes slower than last year's race pace.  Emotionally, that gave me quite a boost.  I also ran an easy 2 km section of the course.  I left that session feeling far more confident in my ability to compete in, and complete, the Sunday race.

Aside from doing a bit of transition practice and making sure my bike was ready to go, I did very little else on Friday and Saturday.  I kept popping Vit I as needed and used a heating pad almost constantly.  I headed to race registration at Chainline Cycle on Saturday morning to pick up my race package (#301) and a cool Icebreaker shirt (which alone, almost covered the cost of the event).  While I was at the bike store Darrin (the owner) found the time to replace my rear derailleur cable, which was looking a bit questionable.  On the way home I purchased one of those chemical type heating pads that heat up once you pop the water pouch inside.  I decided to take that with me to the race and keep it on my back right up to race time.  The remainder of the day was spent making sure that all was in order and that I was as prepared as I could be.

So, the preparation, or lack of it, was done and 6:45 Sunday morning rolled around.....time to get up and get going.  Barb and I got organized and on the road to the Nordic Trails at 7:30.  I decided to take the highway instead of the shorter, bumpier route as I wanted to take it as easy as possible on my back.  We arrived at the site at about 8:20 and I had lots of time to set up transition, get changed, get body marked, etc. before the 9:30 race meeting down at the lake.  I put the heating pack on my back at about 9:15 and left it there for the next half hour.  I actually felt pretty good.  Met up with a lot of super neat people who Barb and I know or have come to know as a result of being in the run-bike-swim community.  Being involved with these healthy and happy people, both volunteers and competitors, is certainly one of the major benefits of participating in these events.

The approximately 60 athletes competing today gathered down by the lake for the race meeting at 9:30.  Seven of these were in the sport duathlon division that I was in (4 women and 3 men).  I had competed against both the men at previous races and had yet to finish before either one.  I was by far the oldest, but that hasn't stopped me.......yet.  Our task was to run 2.61k, bike 12.09 k, and run 4.18 k. (distances taken from my Garmin).

At 10:00 the horn blew, and we were off.  The first 600m involved a bit of dusty road running, a slight downhill followed by a slight uphill back to transition. At this point I was holding my own in 5th place, followed by 2 of the women.  We ran by transition and onto the trails.  By the time 2 k had passed I really was starting to get a bit tired, already(?), as we proceeded up a bit of a climb.  I slowly passed Graham Hood, one of today's invaluable volunteers.  It gives you a bit of a boost when a former Olympian is encouraging you onward, even though you feel like a slug.  Made my way back to transition, put on my helmet and shoes, and happily hopped on my bike.  I took off my sunglasses cause on my preride I had found that they hamper my vision (shadows) instead of helping, and the course was a bit rutty and you had to watch your line.

Two or 3 of the sport triathlon athletes, who had started at the same time as us, made it into transition at about the same time as we did, so there were about 3 or 4 people in sight up ahead who I could chase right off the bat (incentive).  When I get on my bike I tend to go all out because I know that biking is my strength, and if I don't make up time here, I'm toast.  It didn't take me long to pass 2 of the 4 people in my own division who had been ahead of me at the end of the first run.  I also passed a couple of the triathletes who had left transition before me.  There was one of the tri-guys who I maintained contact with for a long time.  He was stronger on the uphills but I always closed in on the downs.  Although I passed him when he dropped his chain, he caught me fairly quickly and then left me in the dust, never again to reappear in my sights.  I did catch sight of the remaining woman in my division, who was ahead of me, as we headed into the steep hilly section near the end of the course.  She was a girl (Monica) who worked at Tree Brewing, and she was one tough competitor.  I did manage to pass her just before we entered transition (but she passed me, in return, before we left transition).

Onto the final 4 k!  I was tired after my bike section and I found the final run to be very tough.  My heart rate during this section pretty well remained over 170 and maxed at 178.  It was a matter of mind over body to maintain a decent pace, although often the body won out.  I kept Monica in sight for much of the run, but ultimately she had more in the tank than I did and left me behind.  If I could have maintained a run instead of being relegated to walk-run status, I am fairly sure I would have caught her.  But such was not the case.  I eventually reached the finish line and was quite happy when I crossed it.  I finished third out of seven in the sport duathlon, behind Eric(a biathlete teenager) and Monica, and managed to finish before one of the fellows (Tom) who beat me last year.

I managed to get in for a massage right away, which was likely a good thing.  Although my back felt quite good, I do think that an immediate massage has its benefits.  Another welcome benefit was the beer that Tom had once again brought with him (He brought a cooler full last year as well).  Monica and I appreciatively joined him for a very cold brew that went down quite easily.  Next year it is definitely my turn to bring the celebratory brew.

Race Summary
                         Run 1 (2.61 k)        Bike (12.09 k)         Run 2 (4.18)         Total (18.88 k)
    2010                14:27                       46:44                       28:05                     1:29:16
    2011                14:24                       44:09                       27:28                     1:26:01

  Initially when looking at my results I was pleased with my bike section, but kind of disappointed in my runs.  I really had hoped to make significant improvements in that area.  But I guess when I think about it a bit and realize that I was flat on my back and hardly able to walk five days earlier, I should be satisfied.  Also, looking at my heart rate data, I couldn't have pushed much harder.  Thirdly, I unfortunately was not able to train as much as I had hoped to in preparation.  Finally, I neglected to do something that I should have taken the time for.  I drank very little during the course of the race and was quite likely very dehydrated at the end. (STUPID) I was too focused on just keeping moving and not stopping for anything.  Live and Learn!

Oh well, I'll be back next year ----- with the beer!

Thursday, September 1, 2011

August and My First Triathlon

It's been a busy August and the weather has been just like summer should be - hot and sunny.  I decide that it's time to do a bit more writing as lots of things have been happening.  Besides, my back is killing me and there isn't much else I can do except sit at my computer and type away.

First things first...... Why is my back causing me grief this time?  Well, a week or so ago I was doing a lot of running, and also painting my basement, generally pushing my body a bit too hard maybe.  Anyway, it got a bit sore and I took about 3 days off.  I figured by then it would be pretty well healed and ready to get back to  business.  After all, I do have an Xterra to prepare for (Sept. 11).  So yesterday Rob Swan (coach and Xterra organizer) and I headed out to the Nordic cross country trails to prepare them for the race.  We spent about 7 hours out there grooming the trails with vicious, powerful, (and progressively more heavy) weed wackers.  Unfortunately, my back had had enough after 4 hours.  Regrettably, I chose not to listen to it and pushed it harder than I should.  When I got home I "crawled" my way to the couch and watched US Open tennis for the next few hours while drinking beer and pigging out on nacho chips, salsa, sour cream, and Ibuprofen.  I had a pretty decent night except for the pee break episode in the middle of it when I had to not only deal with a spasmodic back, but also (at the same time) had to negotiate my way through the chocolate lab, golden retriever, and Zoe cat maze on our bedroom floor.  I constantly had to remind myself that what doesn't kill me will ultimately make me stronger.

Anyhow, back to writing about end of July and August.  On July 27 Barb, Jesse, and I flew down to San Francisco for a bit of a vacation, and to participate in the San Francisco Half Marathon.  We had a great time, visiting the Santa Cruz-Monterey area for a few days and then exploring San Francisco for a few more.  On July 31 Barb and I ran the San Francisco Half Marathon (which was the primary reason that we headed down in the first place)  It was a rather cool experience getting to run across the Golden Gate Bridge with thousands of other athletes.

On arriving back home in Kelowna and reminiscing about the 2 half marathons (Osoyoos and SF) I had done in July, I set a new tentative summer goal for myself (as I was feeling real good about my running and biking).  I decided to work on my almost non-existent swimming skills and prepare myself for the Kelowna Apple Try-a-Tri (August 20).  For the next couple of weeks I swam 4 or 5 times a week(initially at the pool and later in the lake) to find out if my goal was a reasonable one.  During this time I was hoping to become more comfortable in the water and and work primarily on my "breathing".  I'd be a great swimmer if I didn't have to breathe while I swam (I think they should have a snorkeling triathlon category).  On August 12 I phoned the Apple Triathlon people and asked them how deep the water would be for the Try-a-Tri.  After they told me it was 3 feet to 4 feet, and realizing that I would therefore probably survive the swim, I promptly registered with a renewed sense of optimism.

On August 20 Barb and I arose at the ungodly hour of 4:30 in order to get organized and ready for the 7:15 or so race start.  I really was rather calm as I knew that even though my 300 m swim would be embarrassingly slow,  I could stand up anytime I wanted and consequently would not drown.  I also knew that once the swim was done I would likely be able to make up the time lost on the swim during the bike and the run.  There were a total of 110 starters in the Try-a-Tri and they were going to start us in 4 waves, 10 minutes apart.  The first 2 waves were the men, and I made sure I was in the first, as I wanted to get this over as quickly (or should I say least slowly) as possible.  My goal was to relax in the water so that I would feel good at the end of the swim, but at the same time I had the lofty goal of beating at least 5 of the other 109 "swimmers".  At the gun I sputtered out of the starting gate, bumped around a little and eventually settled into position fourth from the end.  I was pretty pleased as I was ahead of 3 other people, and this was just the first of four waves.  I only had to stop and briefly rest once during the first 100 metres just to get my bearings.  I really was glad to get that first 100 over with and head into the middle third.  I think I stopped once during this section as well, but still managed to maintain my lofty position.  It was a relief to get into the last 100 as I knew I was almost there, and then the fun would start.  I didn't stop during the last 100, but instead rested by doing the sidestroke or paddling away on my back, conserving energy for the bike ride.

I also talked a bit to the lifeguards on paddle-boards who seemed to be watching me fairly closely, probably curious to know what unique stroke I would next be incorporating into my journey.  Finally, after 10:48, I stumbled out of the water and across the timing mat, joyfully heading for my eagerly waiting bike in transition.

After a fairly quick transition (2:31) I got on my bike and got up to speed as quickly as I could.  I knew there were about 21 riders in front of me, and I was going to reel in as many of them as I could (kind of "the tortoise awakes" scenario after lulling them all into a false sense of security).  I found that it took about a kilometre to get up to speed (30+) as there were a few initial corners to deal with.  After that though I put the hammer down and was not concerned at all with leaving anything in the tank for the run.  My thinking was that this would be the section where I would make up time, and I would worry about the run when I got to it.  I started closing in on and passing people fairly quickly.  It seemed to me that the others were slowing down far too much during the turns.  Logic dictates that you have to regain any momentum sacrificed during the turns and that just takes extra energy.  On a flat course like this one you should be constant and smooth.  There was only one 180 degree turn where I found I had to slow down significantly.  There were a couple of locations on this 5k circuit where I passed (going the other way) cyclists I was chasing.  One that I focused on specifically was a young fellow (from my perspective they were all young) who was wearing the same tri top as me.  He was three and a half minutes ahead of me going into the bike and I passed him on the third lap, near the end of the ride.  I find that little goals along the way motivate me.  One good thing about being so slow in the water was that there was always someone to chase while I was on the bike.  Overall I was really pleased with my 15k bike ride (26:38).

 After a 1:22 transition I was out on the final section - a 3k run.  My ideal goal during this portion was to average a pace of 5min/k, with a total time of 15 minutes.  I found that, once again, the first little bit of the section was the slowest.  It always takes a bit of time to get into the "rhythm".  It seems the guy that I passed on the bike who was in the same top as me liked to run.  He reeled me in in no time and left me in the dust.  After that, the run was pretty uneventful.  I completed 2 - 1.5 k laps of a beautiful along-the-lake course.  Passed one fellow along the way and was hoping to overtake one other before the finish line.  But it seems he had a bit more left near the finish and I kept dropping a bit farther back.  I was tired when I "ran" (not "plodded")crossed the finish line after a 15:04 run.  Total time for the race 56:21.

So....how do I feel about my first "experimental" triathlon.  Overall, I am really happy with my performance.  My swim was what I expected.  I came 99/110, developed a bit of confidence and came out of the water chomping at the bit.   I expected to do well on the bike, and did even better, finishing second out of the 110 competitors.  I had hoped to get a time of 28 minutes, but instead got 26:38 with an average speed of 33.8 k/h.  I was also really pleased with my run, finishing 20/110, and basically reaching my optimistic goal, 15:04, with an average pace of 5:02 min/k.
I finished 19th overall out of 110 with a time of 56:21.