Ups and Downs of a Triathlon Season & Mid-Atlantic Regional Race Recap

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A Tri Season: It starts with a plan.

It’s what I tell all my clients when trying to achieve any goal. They can be as small or as big as you like, but something concrete can get the ball rolling. Around this time last year, even though I had two marathons (Philly & NJ) on the schedule, I had regular swim and bike sessions just to keep those skills from getting rusty. It’s also great cross training when recovering from a hard run or in the winter when it’s icy out. Along with that, strength training is a regular staple of my routine I incorporate at least once a week.

Triathlon is a very funny, yet interesting sport. It has its own nuances and problems which makes it fun. There are so many parts to the race that need attention, but to progress, one must tackle only a few at a time in a given season. That’s why many world level athletes peak in their late 30s, especially the 70.3 and Ironman distances. It’s unique because although it’s popular in its own right, I didn’t know anyone growing up who swam and biked let alone do triathlon. So finding people who are about the same age and similar abilities prove tough for me. More so when I first started.

20170804_165813-e1502126744479.jpgDuring the base period of the season, I blogged about how I injured a part of my left pectoral which got in the way. After the NJ marathon in late April, I also incurred some tendonitis in my left foot which kept me from running much at all as I was starting to build some steam for Tri training. However, I knew that I could put in a lot of energy into building better swimming technique and stronger bike skills. I lose at least five minutes to the age group winners in the water so I know that simply pushing harder won’t cut it.

I truly appreciate what my body can do now compared to many years ago. Looking back, I should have swum (swam?) more frequently so that I wouldn’t have to play catch-up like I do. However, improving is very rewarding so I look forward to training the weak spots. This season I managed to:

  • Improve my swim technique = being more relaxed when I push a hard pace
  • Get comfier in the aero position for hours at a time
  • Incorporate Olympic lifting into my routine earlier in the year
  • Be at peace with the process of improving lacking parts. No pity parties.
  • Read a lot more while riding on my bike.

However, a few seasonal goals didn’t get fully met because I was spread myself too thin these past few months.

  • I didn’t do as much flexibility work as I would have liked
  • I think I could’ve slept an hour more nightly
  • More foam rolling, epsom baths and massage therapy
  • Checked with Dr. sooner on nagging issues.

These things are tough when you don’t plan them accordingly within my week. It’s never a perfect plan and I know mistakes will be made. To rebuild means aiming for fewer mistakes next time.

Now what do I do? Be like a Snail!

Many people wonder what to do with all this free time after a long season is over. I wouldn’t advise being totally sedentary for weeks while consuming way too many calories. That would just set a bad precedent and make the return much tougher. The easiest and toughest thing to make huge improvements after a race is to listen to your body for aches and pains, acknowledge the stress from the event, let alone the weeks prior, and greatly reduce any further stress that can prevent you from recovering. Depending on what kind of fitness you’re in, age, and gender that can mean 3 weeks up to 2 months. Some people bring their bodyfat to low levels and it’s an advantage on race day, but it’s difficult to maintain and usually not healthy if too low.

Taking the time to bring yourself back to a happy medium will give you a stronger platform to increase the training when the time is right. Consulting with your coach, training partners or even your race calendar will give you an idea what to look forward to in the near future. That could be a block of swim training focusing on sighting and rotation drills while the bones in the lower legs heal from the run training. It could also be doing yoga twice a week if you’ve neglected it throughout the season. Bounce some ideas off another person because sometimes self-coached people are their worst enemy. Believe me, I am one of those people at times.

The key to remember is when you want to push really hard, you must first learn to take easy days really easy. It’ll save you from burnout and injury.

Why I Train

As a trainer and coach, I understand people may wonder how to safely prep for sport and perhaps my personal reasons why I participate in these events. First, I want to see how very good I can be and I plan to do what it takes. Whether it entails training for 5 hours a day or only 30 minutes a day. I want to find what makes my body perform at it’s best. Secondly, I want to win. I want to qualify for larger events to compete with bigger fish and beat them. The first is a process based goal, which can take years to achieve. The second I feel is an outcome based goal and highly dependent on the first. I’m confident in my abilities, therefore there is no reason to stop now.

20170804_170708I believe in signing up for a race with the mentality to win. Seldom are times in the year that you should see yourself not vying for first. Maybe coming off an injury, running a race for charity, or maybe just after a large competition and doing cross training. However, when it comes to your activity, I believe that always reaching for 1st is an underutilized tool. Sure, we acknowledge our limits and try our best and maybe accept that we won’t win. Yet, when reaching for that person in front and then some…that’s when magic happens. In competition lies factors that you can’t replicate in practice. You can’t mimic the elements, residual fatigue, adrenaline, sounds, crowds, smells, and unique impacts on your body from an event. Seeing others in front of me is a great motivator because it means there is a chance to catch them. They might be toast in two miles, but without being at striking range, you’ll never know. My best performances were never in practice sessions. I believe we’re artists adding fine touches to the block of clay in preparation for the showcase.

Don’t let yourself fall into mediocrity. Remember there is always more to give and there is always someone better. Training for fun is average. Be more!

SG

2017 USAT Mid-Atlantic Regional Race

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*The USA Triathlon MidAtlantic Region consists of Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Washington D.C. and West Virginia.*

1:00PM Friday 8/4/17

Heading down to A.C. to dropped off my bike in transition and picking up my packet was just the mental break I needed. It was a tough week because not only is tapering nerve wracking, but I also moved apartments so I didn’t really sleep or eat well. I missed two workout days Monday and Tuesday so my body felt a bit off from it all. That day’s meals consisted of some chicken breast and toast in the morning and protein bars and water until dinner. Luckily I was not over-trained, which is common. The jitters and stress have left athletes coming down with something the week of a race. Yikes!

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4:15PM

All smiles when I dropped off my bike. Everyone there was so friendly and no huge crowds making parking easy. A quiet, warm day was perfect to mentally rehearse the steps for the next day. A planned 6:30am start time meant I didn’t have much time to hang out and gamble at the Tropicana. Not that day at least!

 

7:00PM Carmine’s Famous Italian Ristorante. Table for one!

It’s no surprise I love Italian food. I’m spoiled because when growing up, my parents would bring all the bellisimo food for my brother and I, when they were waiters at the Manor and Nanina’s in the Park. So I can easily enjoy the trusty endurance athlete’s favorite: pasta and marinara sauce the day before a race. However, I made sure to give myself at least 2.5 hours before zzz time to digest it and avoid having trouble sleeping. However, most people don’t sleep well the night before a race. I surely didn’t because I tend to replay and visualize scenarios in my head before a big race.

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Breakfast of Champions!

4:15AM Saturday 8/5/17

I tossed and turned a bit that night just praying the alarm went off to eat my breakfast. I went to sleep 9:45am and I woke up at 1am to go to the bathroom and drink some water and it felt like only 2 hours had gone by. I then woke up a minute before my alarm and go grab breakfast. I’m still full from the night before but I knew I had to eat something so I eat 2 slices of dry toast and a BSN Syntha6 protein shake. It’s light and low risk for stomach issues. Quick shower and the search for coffee began.

20170805_043343.jpg4:30-4:45AM Tropicana Casino

The only place that’s open 24 hours a day for liquor (and coffee), I was surely going to find a drink server willing to help me at the casino. After losing $15 on Zeus’ Lucky Strike, no drink server and no coffee. Alas, someone told me there’s a 24 hr Dunkin around the block. Zoom!

20170805_053616.jpg5:30AM Bader Field

With my bike already racked the night before, I only had to set up my gear for the transition portion of the race. I taped the GU gels to my bike frame, checked proper tire pressure, set up bike shoes on the pedals, and had the bib, sneakers and gels ready to go for the run. It was a bit chilly but it helped that we possibly beat the heat with the early start time. I did a light warmup for my rear delts, rotator cuff muscles and hips while we counted down the minutes before start time.

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Still waking up. Ignore the headband.

6:05AM

The PA system notifies us there was only 10 minutes to leave transition. My hat and run accessories stayed at the bike. The big gear bag went to my parents and I went to the porta potty line. My nerves were growing because I tend to get antsy at this time in a race. It’s like an impending wave that you see from the shoreline. Steady breaths and calm mind during the thrashing.

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6:30AM

The skies got darker and it started to rain. A wind picked up and people were starting to take cover under umbrellas. Half of me wanted to use my wetsuit to stay warm in the water, but I saw many people without them and decided I’d be fine as is. The PA system notified us of a 15 minute start delay and perhaps even longer if the weather kept up. “Can the swim be cancelled? I hope not. I trained too hard to not give it a shot even in challenging waters”, I thought.

 

6:55AM

The rain stopped, the clouds cleared and after the star-spangled banner, people were allowed to jump in the water. It was perfect timing because I too was ready to join the rolling start. We all wore the same white colored caps and the clock started as soon as I passed the timing mats on the edge of the floating dock. That bay water moved around a lot more than I thought. Open water swims in the bay or ocean water really threw off my ability to maintain a straight line. The water was murky and finding the floating buoys was challenging. Compared to when I first started triathlon in 2011, my body feels so much more relaxed even as I pull hard under the water. It used to feel like a heavy rock was on my chest, making it a struggle to breathe let alone react to people kicking and flailing around me. It seems that I use a lot less physical and mental energy for the same swim effort, and no longer feel so out of it as I make my way to my bike. Patience is the secret!

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7:35AM T1 – Bike Start

My approach to the bike this time was to ride faster than I did at NJ State, even if I pay for it later. I had this plan in mind for a few reasons.

  • The race was 22 miles and not 25 miles, meaning the avg pace should be slightly faster anyways
  • We had long stretches of road on the Atlantic City Expressway and I could have accumulated good momentum, since there weren’t many turns to slow us down
  • Going faster here was going to give me a small buffer for the run portion since I’ve had to rest my foot (tendonitis)
  • Last big race of the season! Why not??

On a shorter bike portion like this, the race directors don’t put any aid stations for athletes. So on the first few pedal strokes, I ate one gel and took a sip of my watered down Gatorade I had in my bottle. It’s best to drink and eat early on the bike portion (while your body isn’t bouncing around) to avoid the sloshing that can happen during the run. I made sure to have another gel about thirty minutes in a

nd continued to drink fluids. I’m still finding what works best with my nutrition, but the gels rarely have given me a G.I. issue.

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The road was still wet from the rain and in the moments I reached 26mph, I just prayed that my tire wouldn’t slip out. Crashes happen but it’s the risk one takes in a race. Cyclists know that maintaining an aerodynamic position is more difficult as you speed up because of wind resistance. There is no drafting in triathlon and when passing slower riders, it must be done quickly on the left hand side, while keeping the person behind you out of the “drafting zone”. A frustrating part was seeing riders that stayed in the left lane too long without passing, leading me to slow down. The course was two loops and besides seeing one guy wipe out just ahead, I made sure to keep my cadence above 85 while keeping an even balance of quads and hams working to pedal. Contrary to NJ State, there was no hint of cramping in my quad (vastus medialis). Although that was no guarantee for the run. I see my parents on the way into the transition and their cheers help for sure!

 

 

Now this was going to be tricky. I was not really sure how my legs were going to feel on this portion.

8:37AM Bike Finish & Run Start

I should’ve attached a balloon to my bike rack section, because I fumbled and went too far in search of my spot. Relatively minimal time wasted when you consider how long repairing a flat tire takes. To save time and avoid turning an ankle, a few meters away from the bike finish, I take my feet out of my shoes while still clipped in, and run it in barefoot. I use the dry socks to quickly dry out between my toes, put them on and slip on my sneakers. This run would have to be done one mile at a time, but the objective was simple: Go as fast as your legs could go before the inner quad muscle started cramping up.

A very different approach than at NJ State, because I knew it wasn’t time to peak so I ran it at a moderately fast pace, with two points to stop and massage my quad from the spasms. I knew that I had to save my feet and avoid pulling a muscle by forcing it. So needless to say, I had a few more gears in me that I wanted to save mentally and physically for AC TRI.

 

At this race though, I had more than my fair share of people in front of me because the sprint and the Olympic race were going off at the same time. It was becoming a little warmer, although not sticky and humid like I’ve had at previous races. I ate a gel on the first mile and kept two in my back pockets. This race only had water and Gatorade so most of us put the gels and chomps in our pockets or attached on the race belts. The first mile can sometimes be deceiving because you might still be gauging what your legs have left after a hard bike ride, while running and possibly gassing out early or cramping up in the hams or quads. This run felt surprisingly good and my cadence felt snappy, albeit the wobbly boardwalk underneath us.

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Run route

I vividly remember looking at my watch and just being happy it was under 8min/avg pace. I was using my quads and lungs to guide my speed and not the other way around. There was no use going at the pace I wanted to if I couldn’t. I also didn’t want to get bogged down by looking at the pace every two seconds if it was indeed slow. So in times like these, I don’t look at my watch more than 2-3 times throughout the 10k. As long as I know that I’m pushing the limit just before cramping, or a pulled muscle, then I’ll be content regardless of the speed. I wasn’t aiming to PR in the tri run, but I surely wanted my body to feel like it tomorrow.

I drank 1-2 dixie cups of water at each station followed by a Gatorade. Sometimes it lands right in the beak, and sometimes it lands all over you. I consume a gel at the 3 mile mark and realized I only had 5k to run. Maintain the pace and make small passes when needed. The second part is what you do must do in a race. I was there to score high and if there is someone just ahead, I had to at least try to keep within range. Every second counts in a race and by passing up on an attack is only a disservice. Regardless if they were a man or woman, or even in your age group, the overall place was important, but it was also the satisfaction knowing that you made the effort. Regret is a terrible feeling when you drive home from the race still feeling fresh.

The run route was quieter than I imagined. The runners ran down the right side of the boardwalk while regular people visiting AC and eating at the restaurants merely stared at this group of people in tight-fitting shorts gallop beside them. It was quiet mostly because most of the attractions were closed that early in the morning and the beach was closed too. Never seen the Hard Rock hotel or House of Blues with no people in front of it.

The uneven nature of the boardwalk woods were making the bottom of my pinky toe joint sore. At two miles to go, I knew I had to speed it up a little more. I tried to land as quietly as I could while landing on the middle of the ball of my feet. Elbows tucked in and pumping a little harder. Neck relaxed and taking in deeper breaths. I had to ignore the slight twinge in my quads because I had less than ten minutes of work to do. I remembered in only a short amount of time, I can be relaxing and perhaps enjoying a bagel with pb, but I had to earn it.

I managed to find two women and a few young guys in their twenties along the way that served as rabbits. I’d see them and whether I picked up speed to pursuit, or they were just a bit slower, the confidence kept building as I passed them. I thanked them when I saw them after the race. Like I said earlier in the blog. Competing brings out the best in your abilities. Racing against the clock has it’s place, but with others it’s a little more fun.

 

With a loud beep on my watch I saw that I just finished mile 5. Jeez, that last mile. This is generally the longest one of the race because you can over think it, doubt yourself, even slow down just because you don’t want to screw it up. At that point I had a few spots hurting and even my lungs were feeling the effort. That was good because I knew I was working the engine as hard as the wheels (legs) were working. I had no chafe, blisters or blood so there was no reason why I couldn’t go! I upped the leg turnover and really started to feel the sweat dripping down my brow. It was now or never and the discomfort was soon over. I didn’t even look at my watch after mile 6 finished. I just picked up into a full on sprint on the last .2 which is evident from the mile splits pic above. The crowd was loud approaching the finish and they made it worth it. A great feeling to leave it out there and time to relax with my friends and parents that came out.

A volunteer hands me a medal and water and I make a bee line to the food line. Eggs, bagel and pb and grapes are perfect for right now. Time to enjoy the sun and cheer on my tri buddies that raced as well. This year we lucked out with the regional race being here. Next year it could anywhere! Either way, I’ll be there and you can bet I’ll push harder.

 

A huge thanks to my family and close friends that support me day in and day out in my journey. Triathlon isn’t everything, but it means a lot to me and I truly appreciate the love and support you give me as I train. To my competitors, you will always have a competent, able and willing triathlete in me on race day and I hope to race you guys soon. Thanks to you guys that read my blog as well! Any input is gladly welcomed for future blogs. 🙂

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