USAT Olympic Nationals 2018

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This years USAT Nationals for the Olympic distance was held in Cleveland, Ohio. Race morning was more or less a case of hurry up and wait. A large field, plus a small course meant a very staggered start, two hours after the first wave in my case. I did my best to stay loose by chatting with my coach, Andrew Yoder, and other athletes with Yoder Performance. It is always great to try and impart some knowledge on others, even if selfishly these conversations also serve as a distraction from my own pre-race nerves.

The swim was extremely wavy. I got off to a strong start and did my best to keep my cadence and breathing under control as I battled the waves out to the first buoy. The course was a simple out, over and back. At the first turn I thought I was leading my wave but I must have missed a couple because in the end I had the third fastest swim in my age-group. I focused on trying to level off the peaks and valleys of the waves when I had the chance but more often than not I just ate the waves on the face and then found half my body out of the water one stroke later. If I wasn’t in the middle of a race trying to swim fast, these conditions would have been a lot of fun. During the practice swim the day before I was able to ride the waves on the way back in, unfortunately the waves were coming at more of an angle this morning so even on the way back to shore the waves were more of an impediment than a boost. As usual, I lost my cap about halfway through the swim. This was actually nice because it cooled me off a bit. As a former swimmer you would think at this point I would know how to keep a swim cap on my head! Feelings wise, I thought the swim went better than expected and by about half way through the effort I was really able to open things up aerobically. As I approached the shore I tried to get some blood into my legs for the long sandy run up to the transition. I ended up swimming a 24:07 which was a good 5 minutes off my expected time. This either shows the conditions were indeed tough or I was tired, you choose.

T1 was an efficient affair and even managed to sneak some socks on for the bike ride.

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The bike split was the highlight of the day. I knew the only way I was going to win this race was to get off the bike with about a three minute lead and hang on for dear life on the run. The first part of that plan happened. Right from the start I had good power but my heart rate was a solid 8-10 beats higher than I would have wanted. Through the first 15 minutes I normalized 318 watts which is exactly where I wanted to be but it was quickly evident this was was not a sustainable effort. I struggled to keep my heart rate under 175 but the legs were actually feeling very good and I was on top of my breathing. Through the middle 10 miles of the race I managed to control the effort a little more and dropped the normalized power to about 305 where is stayed for the rest of the effort. The course was a simple flat loop so there were only a few chances for respite in and out of a few of the sharpest corners. These little 5 second breaks through the turns made all the difference and allowed me to keep the pressure on the pedals and actually regain some of my power that I had let slide during the middle portion of the 40k bike split. Between the Ironman and Nationals I had swapped for a 55 tooth front ring and I was very happy with how this worked out. This change added about 6 mph to the top speed that I could keep pedaling within my desired RPM range. On a relatively flat course, like this, I never geared out which was a welcomed change. I look forward to racing like this in the future. My nutrition on the bike was pretty simple compared to the previous race. One bottle with 280 calories of carbo-pro and scratch lasted me the whole split with no problems or cravings for more. I finished the 40k bike with a time of 54:51, I normalized 302 watts, averaged 27.2 MPH and had an average heart rate of 175, ouch. Heading into T2 I had done exactly what I set out to achieve, I had a three minute overall lead and with even a decent 10k this race was mine to win. I really enjoyed this bike, I went deep, for sure too deep, but sometimes you just need to send it.

T2 was uneventful much like T1, I had forgotten my race belt so attempted a new method of using shoe bungie's to secure my race number. This actually worked out very well and I think I will switch to this method as opposed to a race belt moving forward. Off to run.

To be honest, the run was rough. I was in full management mode from the get go. Thirty seconds into the effort I got a very encouraging update about my overall position from Andrew and I knew if I ran even a 36 this race was mine. I found it difficult to get my heart rate under 175 at any point during the 6 mile run. The course was two loops. I set 175 as a hard limit for my effort on the first loop and then would just bury myself the last 5k and see what happened. The run was much hillier than the bike so it was important to manage the effort up the steeper inclines, especially since I was starting most of these climbs with an already elevated heart rate and spikes above 180 were going to be less than sustainable. I managed to finish the first loop still in the lead but I had already burned the three minute lead I had off the bike so at this point it was all about being tough and fighting my way to the finish. On the second loop I gave up looking at my heart rate and just fought on every stride to keep my cadence as high as possible. I averaged a solid 184 beats per minute for the last 10 minutes which felt about as enjoyable as you might imagine. It would be one thing if I was running 5:30 pace at that heart rate but I was more of less jogging in the 6:30s just holding on for dear life. At this point the overall lead had already slipped from my grasp but what really rubbed in the poor run was getting passed twice for the lead of the age-group in the last mile. I tried to respond but I was already on the red-line and there was nothing there. In the end I ran a 39:17 with a heart rate of 178. Definitely not the run I wanted or that I know I am capable of but all things considered I am actually proud of how I managed the energy I did have left and that I kept pushing right to the end.

Overall finish was 12th overall and 3rd in age-group in a time of 2:02:45, 3:15 off the overall win. Winnable, which makes the poor run even more painful. Going backwards on the run is getting really old but I know I have it in me and still have a lot of room to improve in that split, especially over the 10k distance. That being said it is hard to ignore the fatigue I was likely still carrying post the Ironman 13 days earlier, so it is probably good not to be too hard on myself. Onwards and upwards as Mr. Yoder would say, back to work, time to crush Kona.

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2018 Ironman Canada

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Race morning started at 3:00 am, but to be honest the previous night had been filled with three or four naps, so I was wide awake and ready to go. Everything was packed and ready to go the night before so I was able to take my time getting loose and start my fueling for the day. My morning routine is pretty simple, start drinking a bottle with the same nutrition I will have on my bike, take a warm shower to wake/loosen up and go through a rolling out/stretching routine, mainly focusing on my lower back and hamstrings. On this morning I was calm, all things considered. I managed to stick to my plan, keep my cool and made it to T2 for the first shuttle over to our swim in Lake Alta. I spent the 20 minutes before I got in the water, staying fueled, getting on my wetsuit and doing my best to relax with Nyssa and her parents pre race. I knew everything was prepared equipment wise and all the work was done fitness wise so I was able to relax and and enjoy the morning pre race. The swim was a self seeded mass start, so I took the opportunity to start at the front and set my own pace throughout the effort. Water temp was 70 degrees for the two loop, 2.4 mile swim and Alta Lake had some of the nicest swimming conditions I have raced in to date. The swim start was very shallow so when the gun went off I made sure I kept running for longer than I would have normally planned to make sure I got to deep water. Right as I dove in my left goggle filled up, so when the opportunity presented itself about a minute into the swim I did a stroke of backstroke to clear my lens. Other than the water in my eye, I felt relaxed right from the start and for the first time this season was able to relax my breathing enough to settle into a normal breathing pattern. A few other swimmers stayed with me for about the first 500 yards but by the time we made it to the first turn I was able to take the lead and started focusing on efficient sighting and keeping my arm speed as high as possible. Almost everything about the swim was enjoyable, other that the competitor who sat on my feet the rest of the swim and pressed down on my feet seemingly every few seconds. I realize drafting off people is a big part of open water swimming but I am also aware of much less annoying ways to do so. I did my best to ignore this annoyance but at times he was pressing on my feet so hard it impacted my stroke and body position. I debated trying to drop him,(or kick him) but I had the long game on my mind so I did my best to ignore him and focused on myself. As soon as I came around the turn to start my second loop the stream of people on their first lap was immediately an issue. Luckily, most people were swimming quite wide of the buoys so I focused on staying right along the sighting buoys and weaving around people when I needed to. One of the best parts about the swim was the lack of sun in my eyes. Since we were surrounded by mountains on both sides it was bright without any direct sunlight. In general the swim felt great, I was able to keep a consistent pace without much trouble, my body felt great, I was focused and my breathing had remained relaxed throughout. Having completed the second lap I headed back to shore, making sure to kick a little so I had some blood in my legs. I finished with the second best overall swim behind one of the pros in a time of 51:14.

My first mistake of the day came in T1 when I told the volunteer 135 instead of 134 which led to a nice surprise as I opened my bag. Luckily this was a small mistake and I wasted less than a minute running back and swapping the bags. Despite running what I thought was far enough on the start of the swim I must have still hit the bottom because I ended up with little cuts on the tops of the my toes. The rest of transition was uneventful, I put on my helmet, socks and shoes, found my bike and I was off.

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Much like the swim the first loop of the bike was nice and quiet. It seems amazing, based on how hot it got later in the day, but it was still in the 60’s during the beginning of the bike, so the power and control came easily right from the start. The course was three loops of rolling terrain with two substantial climbs per loop. I focused heavily on keeping my power consistent, not spiking on the steep parts and not backing off over the top of hills when the gradient backs off. Almost immediately the power was coming easily and I had no problem keeping my normalized power at 250 which was where I wanted to cap it for at least the first half of the race. Within the first 20 minutes I was passed by two other age-groupers, these two ended up 1-2 in the amateur field. I was committed to my own plan and they passed me going fast enough that I knew matching them would be a bad idea for the run. I was not passed again for the rest of the ride, by either 70.3 or Ironman competitors and was able to focus solely on my own effort for almost the entire bike split. I stuck to my plan of grabbing one water bottle to refill my front bottle and was able to do so at 8 of the 9 aid stations. With this strategy for water as well as taking two salt pills per 30 minutes I felt hydrated for the entire ride and it was really nice to have plain water to drink throughout the bike. I also thought my nutrition plan of having four fairly concentrated bottled of carbopro and scratch worked out quite well. I had no problem getting them down, I didn’t drop any of them and I was able to make each one last for a little over an hour which is what I needed to do. In addition to the water I was adding and the bottles I already had, I took six gels, four Maple Untapped and two Roctane gels.  The one hiccup on the eating and drinking front was when the little plastic piece that allows you to refill but not spill water on my front bottle decided it had had enough. At about the 4th aid station the two pieces of this cover fell into the bottle, I tried for about 20 seconds to fix the problem but decided it was not worth it so I rode the second half with no cover on the top of my bottle. Turns out it is far easier to fill up, but of course I also got a nice shower every time I hit a bump, which I did not mind but my gears probably could have done without. Overall, I was very happy with my fueling and nutrition on the bike. I felt satisfied, fueled and hydrated throughout. Power wise on the bike I was able to do exactly what I wanted to do and felt controlled throughout the entire effort. I completed the 112 mile ride in 5:07.41 which was good for the 2nd fastest ride in my age-group and the 13th fastest overall including the pros. My normalized power was 251 which is exactly what I wanted to do and my average HR was 151 which again, is right where I wanted it to be. Despite an elevation gain of 7500 feet I was able to keep my variable index at 1.06 which is perhaps what I am most pleased about from the day. I spend a lot of time focusing on being consistent over uneven terrain and it was very enjoyable to put that to use on a challenging course. I averaged just under 22 miles per hour and hit a top speed of 53.1 which is all that really matters. During the ride the temperature ranged from 52 at the start to 93 by the time I got off the bike. I think one of the reasons I was able to be successful is that I focused on controlling my effort and fueling when I wasn’t hot and I wasn't hungry on the first lap so I wasn’t behind or panicking for nutrition once it was hot at the end. One of the added challenges of this race was the traffic on the second and third loops of the bike. The speed differential between the other bikes and myself was often high so I definitely had to devote a lot of mental energy towards staying aware, letting people know I was coming and always staying a bit up the road with my eyes to make sure I planned my passes effectively. As a whole, I really enjoyed this bike ride, everything went to plan and I started the run full of energy and confidence knowing that my hard work in training had worked.

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T2 was one of the hottest parts of the day. Despite an awkward and perhaps unplanned jog in my cycling shoes, I was feeling great heading into the transition tent to change my footwear. Luckily, I was able to get this done quickly because that was one of the hottest places I have ever been, the dead air, sweaty triathletes and afternoon sun were a miserable combinations and I was very happy to head out of that tent onto the marathon. When I left for the run I was carrying 10 salt pills in two little plastic cases, three roctane gels and a small thing of base salt.

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The run consisted of a two loop course around two lakes with about 1000 feet of elevation and a mix of pavement and a few packed gravel sections. On my watch I was looking at a heart rate only field and got lap splits at the miles. My running felt strong and controlled right from the start. I tried very hard to remind myself this is a long run and if I felt good, great, keep controlling. I was able to keep my heart rate in the 150 range for the first ten miles without too much trouble. I focus on my form and extracting the maximum pace out of a given effort. My stomach accepted everything I ate or drank at the aid stations. I grabbed water and ice at every aid station and alternated taking two salt pills or one gel as I approached each aid area. Ice in the hands was one of the biggest factors in bridging the gap between aid stations. If I grabbed enough I was able to make it from one aid station to the next with ice still in my hands. Even if the ice isn’t doing that much to actually cool me down, the feeling of cold on my hands and the chance to occasionally eat a piece of ice made all the difference when it came to feeling cool. Another huge help on the run course was seeing friendly races at various points around the course. Cary, Nyssa's Dad, was biking around the run course giving me updates and splits which as I have mentioned before, can do a lot to calm you down or motivate you for an extra push when needed. Mistake number 2 of the race came in the mile 17-21 range. At the halfway point I started to let my heart rate rise towards 160 and while this felt great for the first 30 minutes of doing so when I reached the hottest part of the course for the second time I had a very bad 20 minutes. I had felt great for the entire race until this point, but I knew I was still about an hour from home so this problem was not something I could fake my way through to get to the end. My first goal was to get my heart rate under control, I had suddenly gone from comfortably running mid 7:00 pace at 150 to struggling in the high 8’s with a heart rate well over 160. I slowed my pace way down and focused on breathing and trying to just accept what was going on instead of panicking. I knew I was close to the lead of the age-group at this point so I wanted to avoid having to stop at all costs. I knew that managing my bad moment and being able to keep moving would always be better than ignoring the problem until I blew up. When I got to the next aid station I slowed way down, I took everything, water, ice, redbull, gel, salt pill and more water and ice at the end. I told myself that was the only break and I just started jogging at a very controlled pace again. It took about another 15 minutes but finally with about 5 miles to go I was able to start bringing my heart rate and pace back to their desired ranges. At mile 24 I passed the current leader of the age group as we went through an aid station, who I had not seen in five hours, when he passed me early on in the bike. I did not actually realize I had passed him until he re-passed me at a decent clip shortly thereafter. At this point we had a little over three miles left and were within five seconds of each other. I did my best to match his pace but he had another gear at that point and I was really just happy to be running at a decent pace again after the struggles of 30 minutes prior. The last two miles were a deep effort. I was able to see Cary, on his bike, as well as Nyssa and Kathy, Nyssa's Mom, within the last mile which helped keep the legs moving for a few more minutes when I really wanted to stop.  Everything was ready to be done but I also knew I had had a great day so it was easy to keep going. There was also a family with super soakers at mile 25 so I was all good after I went through there for the last time. Final split for the run was 3:23.40 for the marathon with an average heart rate of 155 and an average pace of 7:48. I had three bad miles but I was very happy with how I managed the situation and recovered to finish strong and at least challenge for the age-group victory. Running has always been a struggle and has always lagged way behind my other two splits. Obviously there is still a long way to go to the top but this was a very satisfying run and a big step forward in what I think I can do in the coming years.

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Overall finish time was 9:29.36, 2nd in age-group, 3rd amateur and 13th overall. This result qualified me for the World Championships in Hawaii later this year in October and goes a long way towards achieving many of my long term goals. I enjoyed every part of this race, even this last ten miles of the run, I knew what to expect and I knew I could react if there was a problem. After a couple more weeks of rest and then a brief drop down to Olympic distance racing it is back to Ironman training for a two month pre Kona block. Can’t wait.

Race Plan Ironman Canada 2018

Nutrition and Race plan - 2018 Ironman Canada

1 bottle = 24 oz water - 3 scoops carbo pro - 1 scoop scratch

 

Pre race -

- Wake-up, shower, light stretch and roll

- Have two bottles to sip on between waking up and race start

- 1 bar if stomach allows but ok if just bottles -  powerbar or bonk-breaker

- 2 salt pills per hour

Swim -

- Stay calm and enjoy yourself pre race - the work is done - you are in a great spot

- Focus on consuming nutrition and keeping back and posterior chain loose pre race

- Get off to a strong start but quickly settle into a comfortable effort - make sure you are relaxed

- Focus on sighting and breathing efficiently - think about back on the bike

- Keep cadence high and focus on a good catch in the front

Bike -

- Intake - Bottles 380 x 4 + Gels 5 x 100 + 1 bonk breaker 200 - cut up = 2220 cal

- Just water in front bladder - replenish at each aid station - use to take salt pills

- If hot take second bottle and dump on back

- NP Lap #1 - 240 - #2 - 245 #3 - 250

- Keep RPM in the 80’s - no spikes over 300 watts

- Keep back loose and vary position when course provides the opportunity

- Turtle, turtle

- 2 bottles on bike - 2 bottles in special needs - sip every 5 mins - alternate with water

- 2 salt pills per hour

- 1 gel per hour - caffeine free

- Control, control, control, control, bike like you are about to run a marathon

- Bike your bike - disregard others

- Weather any bad patches - you are fit, you will be fine

Run -

- Quick clothing change into proper running attire

- Give your body some time to adjust off the bike

- Grabbing at least 1 water to drink per aid station - focus on actually getting water down early in run

-Grab ice and sponges early and often, even if I am ok with heat at the time - think about the last 10 miles

- 1 gel every other aid station

- be okay with grabbing anything that looks good

- Allow caffeine into routine during the last 90 mins

- Do not unnecessarily rush through aid stations, make sure I eat and drink, slight moment of respite - be ready and able to run hard between them

- HR sub 150 1st half of run -

- Be tough on the second half of the run - accept the low points as natural, know it will pass and don’t get too excited about feeling amazing at any one point

Big Bear Olympic Triathlon 2018

The 2018 Big Bear Triathlon was the last race in my first block of racing before switching my focus to the Ironman specific training. I rested for about three days prior to this race but at this point it is hard to back off too much with the Ironman about five weeks away. An added variable for the weekend was the 7000 feet altitude of the race venue. I had never raced at high elevation before but was certainly well aware of its effects as soon as the race started.

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The swim start was off a dock into a two loop course. Pre-race I had been warned to take it easy at the beginning of the swim due to the altitude. Heeding such advice is easier said than done when the gun goes off and I started the race with a strong dive and about 30 seconds of hard swimming before starting to relax. I immediately noticed how much more difficult it was to breath than I had been expecting. I swam with two other athletes for most of the first lap, choosing to try and catch my breath and wait to see how their pace developed. At times it actually felt a little scary how hard it was to catch my breath. When you are on land you have the chance to at least increase your respiration rate, while swimming, you are tired to your stroke rate. I found myself debating whether it made more sense to shorten my stroke and breath more often or relax and swim catch-up but with a longer interval between breaths. In the end I spent the middle part of the race swimming a very relaxed catch-up stroke with no kick, just trying to get my my heart rate down. Around the start of the second loop I started to feel normal again, the ache in my muscles faded and the sensation of being behind on my breath eased. The second lap was far more enjoyable than the first half of the swim. Now that I felt comfortable I pushed the pace the last five minutes and was able to come back to the dock at the front of a group of three swimmers. Big Bear Lake, like all lakes in California, is low, so that meant a long run on a dock from the swim out to the transition area. I did my best to pace myself and watch my footing over metal docks and uneven concrete.

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I left T1 at the front of the same group of three. This was my first race on my new Ceepo Viper, which I had gotten only two days before. This race would be my third ride on the bike. In many ways, using such new equipment is foolish, but I almost immediately felt comfortable on the new bike and I had already switched both of my sets of wheels to 11 speed hubs so I did not really have a choice anyway. The Big Bear Olympic bike course consisted of a rolling ride around the southern end of the lake, a very hilly out and back off the west side of the lake and then a fast flat run back around the northern section of the lake and finally back into transition. I did not really know how the altitude would impact my performance so I kept a few different plans in my mind, power and pacing wise. The biggest change position wise with my new bike is being more stretch out in the front. This was a welcomed change as I had maxed out the adjustability of the Felt, but change still takes time to get used to, even if it is better. Up the two larger climbs in the middle of the course I definitely felt a bit unnatural and the power was not coming as easily as I had hoped. I had my first chance to see how the race was unfolding about 30 minutes into the race as I started to head back toward the lake. At this point I had what I thought was about a three minute lead and started to feel a lot more confident about how things were going. Even when you are in the front it is hard to keep out all the moments of doubt. Is my power low because of the new bike, or the altitude or am I just having an off day? Assessing your competitors and getting a sense for how the race is unfolding can go a long way towards calming those inner discussions. The down hill back towards the lake was fun and very fast but I definitely had to have my wits about me due to the open roads and clueless California drivers. The ride around the northern section of the lake was a lot of fun. A slight tailwind and strong back half effort wise meant I spent most of the last 10 miles above 25 mph which is always a lot of fun and can even make you forget you are the one doing all the work at times. Overall numbers for the bike were 30.8 miles in 1:15.07 with 1500 feet of gain. Normalized power was 279 and average HR was 155. Overall I thought it was a strong day on the bike but I definitely could have cleaned up a lot of details. This course was unique in that there were at least four places where I had no option but to be coasting for extended periods of time. This made using metrics like normalized power during the race less useful and also provided genuine opportunities to recover, but also fed the temptation to go too hard right after that recovery. The biggest difference I perceived on the bike, due to altitude was a very high respiration rate. Even at relatively moderate levels of perceived exertion I was more or less panting to keep up with the effort. In the end I had the fastest bike split of the day and came into T2 with about a six minute lead over my competition.

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The run was a simple out and back over rolling terrain on a small peninsula in the lake. For at least the first three miles I struggled to get my heart rate up. Just like on the bike my breathing rate was much higher than usual but the effort did not feel uncomfortable. It was a very strange feeling because your mind associates breathing at such a rapid rate with VO2 level efforts, on the contrary I was struggling to get my heart rate out of the 150’s. I focused on what I could control, leg speed, form and breathing, just finding little ways to up my pace. Much like in the swim, the second half of the effort was much better than the first, the last couple miles actually felt like running and I really enjoyed the effort. I ran a 39:15 for 6.06 miles at 162 HR. I was pleased to finish the race in a strong manner and ended up taking 1st place overall by about ten minutes in a time of 2:17.02. After this race I certainly have a greater appreciation for what altitude can do to the body. I am glad to have managed the conditions and continued to perform but there were definitely times in that race such as the 1st half of the swim and run where I felt less than in control. I can take a lot of good lessons from the race and I am very happy to have completed my first block of racing with three wins. That being said I am very realistic about the level I need to achieve to race competitively in the professional field so it is right back to work. Up next is an Ironman specific block for the next five weeks followed by Ironman Canada at the end of July and USAT Nationals two weeks later. But first, a quiet, pace night in the woods.

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Auburn Half Ironman 2018

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2018 Auburn Half Ironman - June 3rd

Swim - 22:05

Bike - 2:31.39

Run - 1:37.45

Overall - 1st - 4:33.01

 

Race morning was clear and warm, I arrived at transition with plenty of time to set up and then have some time off my feet to focus before the race and relax with Nyssa. Despite still dealing with persistent race day nerves I was much more settled than two weeks ago at Ventura. Having a race under my belt has really helped me trust my fitness. My main objective for the day was to be controlled with my pacing and manage the heat. One year ago I had one of my worst races in Syracuse so I was eager to apply those lessons learned to another hot day.

The Auburn Half featured separate T1-T2 locations which was a first for me. The swim took place in Folsom Lake which at this time of year was very swollen. Water temp was almost perfect and I was able to get a proper warm up in for about 10 minutes before the race. My main focus during these warm up swims is to settle my nerves, get some blood flowing with a few uptempo efforts and then swim back nice and easy to calm down before the start. After a brief delay we were off and right from the start I had company on the swim. Being a deep water start I was able to manage my pace right from the beginning and settled into a rhythm quickly. At the previous race I felt my technique was sloppy as I fought to catch my breath and deal with the cold water. With that in mind I spent most of the first few minutes trying to lengthen my stroke and relax as much as possible. At the halfway point I had taken the lead and had two others sitting on my feet. On the way back to transition vision was the main problem. Not only were we looking directly into the sun but the course was essentially an out and back which meant opposing traffic often very close. The swim must have been a bit short because although I felt very good there is no way I saw a 22:05 for a Half Ironman Swim. I came into transition with the same two competitors on my feet and with a swift transition was able to leave T1 alone.

The Bike was a point to point course that was lumpy in the beginning, flat in the middle and then had most of the climbing back into town over the last 15 miles. With this and the heat in mind I planned to be conservative on the first half of the bike and if I was in a good position push a little harder coming home. For nutrition, I had three bottles with 200 calories of Carbo Pro and some Scratch for flavor in each, three Untapped Gels and 8 salt pills. My plan was to drink consistently every 5 minutes, take a gel every 45 and 1 salt pill per 30 minutes. I did my best to stay disciplined with power over the first few climbs away from the lake but in the end was limited more by tightness in my lower back than energy levels or muscle pain. This lower back pain has been a feature post open water swimming for a few races now so that will be something to sort out over the next few weeks. One of the two who swam with me was able to stick with me during the first portion of the bike and as in Ventura it was good to allow myself sit behind a competitor for a portion of the race as opposed to feeling like I always need to attack. I used this first half of the bike to focus on my nutrition as well as loosening up my back. Through the halfway point I had normalized 260 watts and was starting to feel much better so I decided to push the pace. Fortunately, I was quickly able to open a lead and over the 2nd half of the race increased my power to 278. With about 20 miles left I lost one of rear bottles which was more or less full. To compensate for this I grabbed a plastic water bottle at the next aid station, took my two extra salt pills and decided to eat the GU chews I had brought but was not necessarily going to eat. Obviously it would have been nice to start with a little more power but today was a good exercise in patience which I usually lack while racing. In the end I was very pleased with my bike, I was able to split a 2:31 on a hilly point to point, with net gain, in the heat, a lot of progress compared to the areas I struggled with last year.

Heading out on the run I knew pace management would be the name of the game. The course was two loops of hilly terrain. The course was essentially always up or down but there were three main climbs per loop. I focused on controlling my heart rate, keeping my cadence up and intaking as much nutrition as possible during the first lap. Another huge factor to making it successfully through the run was having a lot of family and friends spread throughout the course. Seeing friendly supportive faces even just for 15 seconds makes a huge difference, especially when they tell you your lead and you can relax just a bit! Despite control on the bike and a gentle first lap the second lap was indeed very hard. I really tried to control my effort on the hills to ensure I was actually running the entire time. Ice down the pants and sponges in the hands can really make all the difference sometimes. All showers from spectators were welcomed and I did not hesitate to cross the road in search of even just a small shady patch. I ran a 1:37 to finish off the half which all factors considered I am very happy with, good signs of progress. Final time was 4:33:01 with a 15 minute gap to 2nd place. For the first time ever I had the fastest splits across the board, including the transitions. This is obviously very satisfying on the run but having made a lot of sloppy mistakes last season being fast in the transitions is perhaps even more rewarding.

In the end it was a very good day, having struggled to perform in the heat for a long time this was a very gratifying race and it was great to have a lot of family there to support the effort but hopefully also enjoy the day as well. Big Bear Olympic in three weeks, back to work.

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Ventura Breath of Life Olympic

 Ventura Breath of Life Triathlon - pre race

Ventura Breath of Life Triathlon - pre race

First dip in the ocean was chilling to say the least but once I got some blood flowing I was able to settle down and focus on warming up for the race. 35 and under men were the third wave six minutes behind the start so the swim was going to be crowded right from the start. The swim began from the beach with about 50 feet of running into the water. As always, as soon as the gun went off the pace was fast, one might think I would expect this by now but I continue to be amazed how fast most people like to take their races out. I battled for position to the first buoy and had managed to grab the lead just before the turn. It took about five minutes but once things strung out I was able to relax my stroke and find a rhythm with my breath. Now that I had the lead I shifted my focus to being efficient with my stroke and weaving my way through the other competitors without losing any time or punching anyone in the face. Two other competitors were able to stick on my feet through the first loop and then I was able to distance myself slightly through the second loop heading into T1. I finished the 1800 yard swim in 21:45 and was feeling good about my effort heading into the rest of the race.

The run to transition was on a beach so I did my best not to rush and just focused on getting my wetsuit to my waist and running with a high cadence to keep my speed up through the sand. For the first time in awhile I was very pleased with my transitions, everything went on and came off during the first attempt and I was able to either hold or advance my position each time. Early in the bike my plan was to focus on controlling my effort and avoid fading at the end of bike or compromising the run. After about five minutes of the bike split there was only one competitor left and he eventually passed me so I made the decision to sit back and see what his pace was like. His effort was not quite as consistent or as hard as I would have prefered but we were in the lead and I made the decision to sit behind him for at least two of the three loops on the bike course and make a decision after that. Through two laps I had normalized just under 300 so I knew I had plenty in reserve and was feeling good about my run would compare to those around me. On the third lap I pushed the pace by about 30 watts and was able to make the pass. He stuck with me throughout the last lap and eventually came past again leading into transition and then onto the run course. My splits during the lap portion of the bike were 13:32, 13:29 and 13:22 with an overall time of 57:43 for a 25.5 mile course. I normalized 302 watts with an average speed of 26.3 mph. I certainly would have prefered to be alone and push my own power the whole time but it is good to know I can be tactful with my effort if needed.

Heading into T2 I was feeling very confident. I knew we had a sizeable lead and I knew I had kept plenty in reserve while on the bike. My plan was to relax on the first two or three miles and then see if I could push a little more coming home. For once, that worked, I hovered right around 6:00 pace for the first couple mile and was then able to dip into the high 5’s running a 5:47 for the last mile. The run was a simple out and back so at the halfway point I was able to assess my lead and knew that unless I made a sizeable error I would be able to win the race. With that in mind I allowed myself to push the pace a little harder but given the lead I had it was hard to completely ditch a sense of control. I ended up pacing 5:55 for a slightly long 10k which is my best ever although I know there is still plenty more to come. After a tough start to the previous season it was a big relief to get things started on the right foot. It is great to be back to racing, I am looking forward to a long and successful season for not only myself but also all of the athletes on the Endurance Drive and Yoder Performance Triathlon crews. Back to work.

 Eliot Scymanski - 1st place overall - Ventura Breath of Life Olympic Triathlon - 2018 - Ventura, CA

Eliot Scymanski - 1st place overall - Ventura Breath of Life Olympic Triathlon - 2018 - Ventura, CA

Why aerobic training?

Why Aerobic / Zone 2 Training?
Reaching our athletic potential and highest performance depends on one training principle that nearly every top coach in all endurance sports subscribe: aerobic exercise, also referred to as  “Zone 2 training”.  

Why aerobic training?  
The body has adapted aerobically over 84,000 generations. While we are often inclined to do more intense and stressful training (mostly due to time constraints and modern living), our bodies have evolved to be most efficient through aerobic training.

You’ll hear aerobic training referred to in a number of ways: Zone 2 or Z2, the 80/20 rule (80% of training is performed at low intensity with only 20% being performed at high intensity), polarization (the approach of “easy is easy and, hard is hard”) and aerobic foundation work.

What is aerobic training and why does it work?  
The heart is the engine that drives the vehicle.  You can have all the fancy bells and whistles you want in that vehicle, but if the engine isn’t strong, those additions are essentially useless. Zone 2 develops the aerobic capacity necessary for peak performance in endurance sports. Technically, anything over a few minutes of exercise is classified as aerobic exercise. As a sprint to Ironman athlete, you are expending energy over a long period of time, such as one to seventeen hours.  The body needs to be able to efficiently endure that level of exertion spread over a period of time.  

Anaerobic training (you’ll see popular reference to HIT or High Intensity Training) may be more exciting, but it is not the most effective way to build the foundation of the engine driving the machine.  The aerobic energy system is the highest priority in developing the overall athlete.  Zone 3 is the “gray zone”--it does very little to develop the aerobic system or the anaerobic system, and yet most athletes naturally fall into this particular category when left to their own devices.  The result is you essentially make very little performance gains in fitness and endurance. Higher zone training will target the anaerobic system and that type of training will be employed secondarily after building your aerobic foundation.  In sum, when looking at the most efficient way to safely and productively develop athletic performance, all research and the scientific evolution of our species have all landed on the same answer: aerobic training.

In addition to the development of your aerobic capacity, there are a number of other critical endurance athlete benefits that come with zone 2 training:

*Increased number and density of mitochondria – your primary energy driver.

*Increased stroke volume, i.e. more blood through your heart and body at the same HR.

*Increased fat burning capability. Maximizing your fat burning capabilities is critical to 2+ hour racing.

*Increased lactate clearance / management.

*Increased blood plasma.

*Ability to Increase overall training volume without beating up your body and mind.  In many cases, we can increase training volume 30 – 50% over your unstructured / gray zone training / Zone 3. You will feel much better, physically and mentally, with the increased training volume in Zone 2.  

Commonly asked questions:

Is this going to suck initially?  
Yes.  If you have not trained Zone 2 HR before, you’re going to most likely hate it. You will sometimes walk hills, you will run and bike slow or slower, and you will long for the days of just doing whatever on your runs and bikes.  You will question your coach and think he is insane.  The suck will continue through the Prep and Base period (but it will get better, promise!).  This is not sexy training.  It is effective training.

When will it not suck?
After the Prep and Base period of the training cycle (lasting from 2 - 4 months, athlete / race dependent), we will begin to add more intensity.   Once you’ve built up your aerobic engine and reached a critical volume of training (another topic), we’ll lift into other zones during the bike and run as we get race-ready during the Build period.  (By nature, your swims in Prep and Base will dip into higher zone training which is where most of our higher intensity i.e., 20% of the 80/20 approach.  You’ll still be getting some intensity in the Prep and Base phase but most of it will be in the water)

When will we reach glory land?

  • When you are running 1 – 2 minutes faster per miles in your Base runs at the same HR than you started the season at.  
  • When you are running that much faster during your races at the same level of effort as last year races.  
  • When you are passing the people who used to easily beat you.
  • When you hit the finish line with a PR.  
  • When you stand on the podium and your friends ask, “What the hell have you been doing?!”

What if I don’t believe you?
It’s always good to be skeptical.  Don’t believe it?  Email 2 – 3 top coaches and athletes in any endurance sport and ask their opinion on Zone 2 / aerobic training.   If they answer anything different than the above, let me know!  I have a sneaking suspicion you will find a common answer between all of them.

Suggested further readings: The following are various articles that distill this concept and explain it in detail.

Here is the layman’s version of the science of zone 2 training and a great overview:  

  • http://herohealthroom.com/2013/12/04/zone2-training/

A more scientific and detailed explanation of zone 2 training by Stephen Seiler, a world expert on training physiology:  

And:  https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fphys.2015.00295/full

How do endurance runners actually train? Relationship with competition performance.
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15741850/

You may have heard of Phil Maffetone, he’s the grandfather of aerobic training and founder of the MAF method:  https://philmaffetone.com/want-speed-slow-down/

Matt Fitzgerald TrainingPeaks article on the 80/20 ratio of low endurance and high endurance training:  

Mark Allen on the maximum fat burning / maximum lipid power benefits of zone 2 training:   

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Ironman Mont-Tremblant Race Report & Review – Kevin Hartstein

I love running. Since beginning to train for my first marathon in 2013 the feeling of slipping into a pair of running shoes, knotting the laces, and trotting out the door has brought me endless joy. I run to relieve stress, to improve my health, and to compete with others (especially my twin brother) and myself over how long and fast I can go. I’ve ticked most of the important boxes – completing a marathon, qualifying for and running Boston and New York, and upping the distance to 50K, 50 miles and even 100 miles at the VT100 Endurance Race last summer. I love the purity and freedom of running – all you need is a pair of shoes and some willpower to start putting the miles in. But I hate cross-training. I have a difficult time convincing myself to stretch or do core work, never mind swimming, cycling, or (god forbid) running on an elliptical… So why on earth did I sign up for an Ironman?

Like many important life decisions, it started in a bar. Club sweetheart Cara Baskin, my brother Taylor, and I had just run the Lake Wawayanda Trail Ragnar Relay in New Jersey. Although the 120-mile race was meant for teams of 4 or 8, we failed to fill the 4th slot on our roster. Despite this setback, we won the Ultra division and finished 3rd overall among the 8-person teams. Inebriated with victory (and perhaps a few too many IPAs) we planned our next move. We had all run ultra-distance events already – in fact, Cara had completed the VT50 the weekend before – so we wanted a new challenge. “Let’s do an Ironman!” It seemed so simple. Taylor had cycled in college and Cara had completed a Half Ironman the year before. I had only a vague notion of the swim and bike distances and almost no experience with either sport, but had run for 23 hours straight in the VT 100, so figured a race that took about half that time would be no problem. The drinks wore off sometime the next morning and the lactic acid ebbed a few days later, but the Ironman idea caught hold.

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Triathlon training would be the most intense cross-training I had ever done. I signed up for a winter spin class at the Dartmouth gym to see what cycling was like and started swimming once a week during lunch. My friend Robert Gill joined for spinning and decided to get in on the action. Our friend and UVRC club-mate Taylor Black had raced at Ironman Mont-Tremblant the year before and gave it rave reviews, so we all pulled the trigger and registered. The months that followed that decision seems like a blur of wetsuits, carbon time-trial bikes, and Clif Shot Bloks. My goal shifted from completing the event to racing it. I learned how to fix a flat tire and keep my goggles from fogging up. UVRC member and triathlete Jeff Reed introduced me to the Dartmouth Triathlon Club coaches Jim Anderson and Eliot Scymanski, who taught me to bike and swim correctly and what a “brick” workout was. I met my girlfriend, Vanessa, at an Upper Valley Triathlon Club event and she decided to race with us at Mont-Tremblant. I borrowed time from my running to give swimming, cycling, and even core work a fair share.

Before we knew it race day had arrived. We pumped up our tires and deposited our bikes and running shoes in the transition area. The Canadian Air Force jets flew over the beach at Lac Tremblant and the cannons went off to start the race. We charged into the water for 2.4 miles of swimming, 112 miles on the bike, and a full marathon. We all crossed the finish line. After drinking some water and shuffling to the hotel room for a shower, we met up at the bar to start planning our next adventure.

In the end, my season of cross-training comprised about 2500 miles of cycling and 100 miles of swimming in addition to 600 miles of running over the four months between the Boston Marathon in April and Ironman Mont-Tremblant on August 24th. I still find reasons to avoid core work and stretching, but I really enjoy swimming and cycling now and plan to continue cross-training to some extent through the winter in order to compete in another Ironman next year. With enough work, I think I have a chance of earning an age-group slot for the Ironman World Championships in Kona, Hawaii.

On the other hand, I’m thrilled to focus on running for the rest of the season. It is my first and true endurance love. I don’t have to worry about tire tubes or goggles or goofy one-piece suits with padding in the shorts. From now until the end of the year I’ll just be knotting my laces and hitting the road, first to prepare for the VT 50 miler in September, then for the NYC Marathon in November.

I would encourage anyone who’s considering a crazy athletic dream to go for it. The biggest obstacle is usually just committing to your goal. Once it’s in sight, everything else will fall into place. Especially here in the Upper Valley, there are a lot of friendly, helpful people who will point you in the right direction and give you training advice. Ask for help. Whether it’s a 5k, charity bike ride, triathlon, or ultramarathon, someone in the UVRC, Upper Valley Triathlon Club, or Upper Valley Velo has done something similar and would love to talk to you about it. I’m honored to be a board member for our club and my mission as Vice President is to bring these resources together for our members.

USAT Age Group National Championships Race report - Emma Sklarin

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It was 8:55am in Omaha, and we were sitting hip-to-hip with our competitors, our legs dangling over the edge of the dock. After months of anticipation and training, Katie, Sonia and I finally had our toes in the race. We were smiling and laughing with the girls around us, though they would soon become our fiercest competitors when our wave took off minutes later. That’s just the magic of this crazy sport: when you’ve traveled halfway across the country to push your body through a two-and-a-half-hour, three-sport sprint, you just can’t take it too seriously.

After five long minutes, the buzzer went off and the swim began. The water temperature was 80 degrees on race morning, so it was declared a non wetsuit race. This meant slightly slower swim times without the flotation power of a wetsuit, but it also meant we would shave time from our transitions since we wouldn’t need to rip off our wetsuits or change clothes at all. Besides the lack of lane lines, the lake swim almost felt like a pool.

While the swim looks peaceful to fans on the docks, in the water it’s a battlefield. Remember that pool game “sharks and minnows,” where the shark grabs as many legs as she can while the other kids scramble to cross the pool? The swim leg of a triathlon is just like that game, except everyone is a shark and it lasts for a mile. I fought my way to the first buoy, and Sonia got stuck between two swimmers, claiming that at one point she “rode on their backs” as she found herself in their line of motion. We circled the buoys to complete the mile, Sonia and I coming in at 27 minutes with Katie close behind.

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Sonia and I ran to transition together and cheered each other on. Soon, we were running with our bikes to the bike mount line. Sonia started just ahead of me and Katie, quick as a whip, passed me within the first couple miles. The bike is my worst leg of the triathlon by far, so my goal was just to hang on to a 20 mph pace and try to hold my position for as long as possible. I was only successful until the turnaround – when my lack of speed work caught up to me –, but I still finished the bike leg in my goal of an hour twenty. Katie and Sonia finished the bike leg in 1:10 and 1:14, and I cheered them on the start of the run as I sprinted to transition.

By the time I got to T2, it was almost 11 and already 80 degrees. It was hot, and you could see it on the red faces of all of the runners. I followed Sonia’s advice and dumped a cup of water on my head at each aid station. At one, the volunteer handed me the paper cup and called out “wait, that’s a block of ice!” as I ran away, but I’d already poured it, the ice melting on my head. It felt great.

My run was a blurry mix of bliss and pain, and I couldn’t help but smile. There we were in the middle of Nebraska, running down country roads with some of the best amateur triathletes in the nation – and they were all just as excited to be there as we were. I crossed the finish line six minutes ahead of my goal time with Katie, Sonia, Jeff and my dad all waiting at the end. Katie had finished in 2:26:53, coming in an incredible 7th in our age group. Sonia finished in 2:32, coming in 16th. I came in at 2:39, finishing 25th.

That night at the awards ceremony, Katie took to the podium, standing with the top finishers in our age group. She also found out that all three of us had qualified for Worlds in 2018 in Australia. The next morning, Coach Jeff had an amazing race in the Sprint, coming in hot at 1:13:51 and finishing 7th in his age group. Talk about a coach that can do both! Jeff guided us through our race-day prep and cheered us on throughout the race, only to wake up and absolutely crush his own race the next day.

Two years ago, I raced Nationals in my Dartmouth kit, but I competed mostly for myself. I could’ve never imagined how far our team has come since then. At the finish line, we met an alum, Gabriel, who was racing, too. Maybe that’s why I never stopped hearing “Go Big Green” throughout the race, both from strangers and friends. It propelled us forward, pushed us to dig even deeper and put smiles on our faces in the toughest (and hottest) moments. I think it’s safe to say that Dartmouth made a splash at Nationals this year.

Now for a few huge thank yous: First, dad – you’re the best cheerleader in the game (thank you for flying to (the most exotic) midwestern cities with me)! Jeff – you are a saint for driving to Omaha by yourself with our bikes so that we could have the perfect race set up. I’m not sure how we will ever repay you! Jim – this summer, when the devil on my shoulder told me to stay out on a Friday night and skip a Saturday double-day, I’d remember the joy of the TrainingPeaks box turning green and knowing you’d see me kicking butt in my workout and the devil would pipe down. Thank you for thoughtfully writing training plans that made all three of us fit and confident for race day!   - Emma Sklarin, Dartmouth Triathlon Club & Endurance Drive U23 athlete

 

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Boston Olympic Triathlon

Boston Triathlon Olympic Race Report & Review

This was my second year competing at the Boston Olympic Triathlon. The race is run by our good friend, Mike O’Neil.  For some background on Mike and the race, here’s a Slowtwitch interview

I really enjoyed the event last year but faded on the run so was looking forward to finishing the race much stronger this year and hopefully earning a podium finish in the elite field.

I started with the elite wave, competing against strong competition always brings out my best performances.  If I want to make the jump to the next level, these are the kind of athletes I will need to beat.

The swim was a simple out, over and back course with an out of water start. As they gun went off, the pace was fast.  I entered the water without too much drama and started swimming hard.  At the first buoy I was in level with the two other leaders. For the next 300 meters, I focused on keeping my tempo high and getting as many deep breaths as possible. At the first buoy, eventual winner, Lucas Pozzetta and I were level and my body was finally starting to come around; I pushed the pace a little harder. On the second half of the swim, I was able to take the lead and continued to up my tempo to the shore.

The bike course is four five mile loops, including two 180 degree turns and an out and back around the Head Island light house. Early on, Lucas was not pushing the power I anticipated on the first lap and 3rd place Spencer Ralston was starting to catch us. I decided to take the lead and stick to my planned effort. The power was coming easily and did my best to enjoy the effort, stick to my nutrition and power race plan. I led the first three laps with Lucas in tow and about a 30 second led on Spencer. On the last lap, Lucas decided to push and I did not chase, I knew I wanted to run hard and so I stuck to my plan and entered T2 about 10 seconds off the lead.  Bike section here

My goal for the run was to hold sub 6:00 pace. My running has consistently lagged behind my swim and bike splits but there have been some good signs of progress over the past year. I was excited to see the improvement. For the first mile, I focused primarily on keeping my tempo high and taking deep consistent breaths. I was quickly passed by Spencer but knew I had to run my race so stuck to my plan. By the second mile, I was starting to feel much better. I ran the middle 5 miles solo and for the first time in a long time, I was able to really work hard at the end of a race. In the closing mile I was passed by two more athletes, Matt Alford and Thomas Whitmore, obviously this was not the best feeling but I was giving it everything I had so just put my head down and focused on getting to the finish.  Run section here

I finished in 1:46.37, two minutes faster than last year, all of which came from the run split, 36:16. My run pace was 5:51’s for the 10k which is a personal best.  Despite not being in a position to take the win, I was very satisfied with the effort and improvement in pace, good signs for the future.

Up next is a solid four week training block with very specific work on 70.3 efforts and as always trying to extract the most from my run split at the end. Onwards.

Boston Triathlon 2017 results