Sunday, March 30, 2008

Ironman 70.3 California: The Race

Part I: The Race Itself

At some point in every race, there comes a time when you regret ever getting involved with endurance sports. That's part of the race, and you suck it up and plow through it. Very few of those Moments of Misery make it into the Hall of fame however. Those are the times when you no longer care about your finishing time, or even finishing the race at all, or even life itself. You just want it to be over. In my Misery Hall of Fame I have Mile 19 of the L.A. Marathon, and Mile 6 of the Wildflower run. And after this weekend, I have a third inductee. More on that later.

I had some drama right from the very start. The age-groupers were lining up by swim cap color, and I wasn't sure what time my wave started. There was some confusion because I think I raced in the 35-39 group, but was given a swim cap for the 40-44 group. So I was looking for other purple caps like mine when one of the volunteers grabbed me and started pulling me along the chute. "Cross the mat! Cross the mat!" I wasn't sure why he was so excited to have me step over the timing mat but I did. He then started yelling "they're in the water! They're in the water!" I looked out and saw a sea of purple swim caps at the starting line, about 75-100 yards off shore. Well of course I freaked. Normally you get a little bit of time to stretch out a bit in the water, fix your goggles, etc. I had no time for any of that and raced out to the rest of the group. I got to the back of the pack about 5 seconds before they started.

I heard plenty of horror stories about how cold and rough the Oceanside swim could be, but I have to admit the temperature was pretty much perfect. It was a complete non-issue. The surface was a bit rough as we got out into deeper water and it was a little disorienting (especially for someone who can't swim a straight line in calm water) but I managed. I will say that this was one of the more polite groups of swimmers I've been with. I was only kicked in the jaw once, and that was more of a toe-tap than anything. And when I was grabbed, they didn't try to pull me under and swim over me. I'm not sure how many waves caught up with me, but I know I finished with at least several other purple caps. My plan was to take 1 hour for the swim and transitions; I finished the swim in 44 minutes and took 10 minutes in T1. (I'm a slow transitioner.) Right on schedule.

We might have had a small tailwind, but I felt the first half of the bike course was very fast. The course elevation chart was a little deceptive however:

With 800 feet of climbing, the course isn't flat but it isn't the Himalayas either. At first glance, it looks like the big hill at mile 35 is the challenging one. Turns out, it's that shorter nasty climb at mile 31 that is the killer. It's VERY steep and we were all huffing and puffing pretty hard. But truth be told, I've done a fair amount of hill training and I think I was pretty well-prepared for both hills. My knee had a little bit of pain but nothing serious and I don't think it was a factor during the race.

Here's where it gets strange (sorry for all the math). I was shooting for a 3.5 hour bike, which averages 16 miles per hour. At mile 37-38, at the TOP of the hill, I was averaging a little under 18 miles per hour for the ride, and everything was downhill from there. I should have easily finished around 3 hours. But then around mile 45 I hit the headwinds. Oh My God it was awful. I don't know if the winds were really that strong or if the hills took out more from me than I realized, but they absolutely killed me. I'm always doing the math in my head, and I'm only rounding the numbers slightly here: I was doing 18 mph when I had 9 miles to go, which meant I would finish in 30 minutes. When I was 8 miles away, I was doing 16 mph, which meant I would finish in 30 minutes. When I was 7 miles away... yup, down to 14 mph and 30 minutes away. I felt like I wasn't making any progress at all. I was completely miserable. Still, my plan was to do the bike in 3.5 hours and I built up enough of a buffer during the first half and finished in 3:14.

It was then off to the run, or as I like to call it "the 13.1 Mile Desert Buffet". All of the support tables and cookies and pretzels and cola and I was LOVING it. I know you have to be careful about eating solids while running and I held back a little bit at first. But once I only had 4 or 5 miles to go I figured that if I was going to get sick, by the time it kicked in I'd be pretty close to the finish line anyway. So I took extra snacks when they came along.

After the difficult bike finish I was very worried about the run, but I was surprised how strong I felt. I didn't start walking until 8.5 miles in. Because of the natural cycle of my training schedule and then my knee injury I have done very low running mileage over the past 4 months. Running 8.5 miles straight at the end of a half-ironman while being undertained? I was thrilled. The last 4 miles or so were a combination of run a little, walk a little and I am perfectly OK with that. I wanted to finish in 2.5 hours and did the run in 2:34. I certainly can't complain about that.

One thing I CAN complain about: They had an Ironman 70.3 finishing ribbon that everyone could run through. I didn't see it until too late, and the guy in front of me ran through it and so the volunteers didn't have to reset it for me. Had I realized it was there, I would have waited until it was ready.

I was shooting for 7 hours, and my finishing time was 6:54:09. Going by the numbers, it sounds like a great race. I nailed all of my goals and it should be a perfect training race for Coeur d'Alene. But since I love snatching defeat from the hands of victory, there is more to the story than just my finishing time.

The entire day, I was thinking "what if this was the full Ironman?" If I stepped out of the water and someone told me "um, there's a problem with your timing chip, you need to do the swim again" I honestly think I could have done it. I'm a slow swimmer, but I reach a sort of steady-state and just keep on going. I'm not worried about the swim. I'm not sure I could have done a full marathon, but that was a known situation: I'm just starting to ramp up my running miles in my training, and as is I did 8 miles just fine. So that's OK. The problem was the bike. The last 10 miles killed me. And it's hard to describe because it wasn't really an issue of being in pain or even that my legs were tired. It was just emotionally draining. It was so frustrating riding against that headwind. If I had to do a 2nd loop, I think I would have broken down and started sobbing. I'm putting Mile 45 of Oceanside into my Misery Hall of Fame.

Yes, I had a good finishing time. But at a price. During the bike I was thinking "dear God, there is NO WAY I can do twice this distance in 3 months." Scared the crap out of me. I'll get over it.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Oceanside Predictions

The only prediction I can make about the race this weekend is that it is going to be completely unpredictable.

I had a moment of confidence the other day after a good ride, but I'm back in stressing-out mode. I'm doing a half-ironman in two days. It kind of gets eclipsed by Coeur d'Alene in June, but I don't want to sell this race short: it's kind of a big deal. It's the kind of race that people carefully train and diet for, with meticulous precision. So what's my race strategy? I'm basically winging it.

I have no idea if my knee will hold out or if my under-trained legs will find the stamina to do well. And I'm currently about 5 pounds heavier than my typical race-weight. (No, it's not added muscle. Trust me.) A month ago, my plan was to do Oceanside in 7 hours. (That would be a staggering 90 minutes less than the half-iron I did last year, but that was Wildflower which had all sorts of issues of its own.) I think that was a conservative estimate, but it would be a nice steady pace to do 12 weeks before doing a full Ironman. I think I'm still going to shoot for the 7 hours. Had I been able to keep up my training the past 3 weeks it would have been very doable; now I might have to struggle with it. Like I said, I just have to wing it. And if it takes me 8 hours, so be it.

Here's a goal: At Wildflower, I finished the swim with the group that started 3 waves after I did. For Oceanside, I'd like to finish with the group starting TWO waves after me. If I can do that, I'll be off to a great start.

There is one good thing about all of this. When I first signed up for the race, I said there would be a lot of pressure on it. This race would set the tone for the rest of Ironman training: if I did well, it would be a much-needed confidence booster. If I did poorly, then I would get completely freaked out and be even more nervous about Ironman. Now however, if I do well, great. If I bonk it, "not my fault... I was injured." I can't lose.

Bonus Gripe: This is a USAT race. According to the rules, participants race in their age-group based on their age on Dec. 31, 2008. Which means, for the first time, I will be racing as a 40-year old. Swell.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

I'm back, baby

(There's a typical "only you, Wedgie" moment at the end of this post, so stick around.)

On the bike, I am disproportionately good at climbing. That's not to say that I'm great at hills, but if you watched me lagging behind the group on the flats and riding my brakes on the downhills, you probably wouldn't expect much out of me going up. Yet for whatever Bizarro World reason, I make up time on the climbs.

Of course, I haven't done any hills recently. The incline in my living room on the trainer was too much for me for a while. But tonight I decided I was going to test my injured knee a bit. I decided to do a brick where I would Visit Mr. Griffith and then do a 3 mile run. Mr. Griffith's course is just a 6-mile loop with a short but decent climb in the middle. Well let me tell you, I FLEW up that mofo. That's right, you heard me. I raced back down the other side (well, racing as much as you can while squeezing your brakes) and did the run at a decent pace without incident.

There is still some pressure on my knee, so I have to be careful. And doing a 6-mile ride and 3-mile run is hardly the kind of training I should be doing to prepare for a half-ironman. But for the first time in 3 weeks, I wasn't dreading this weekend's race. (It's still gonna be awful.)

Now for the Wedgie Moment: I am really slow with transitions, so last night I tried to speed thing up a bit. After my ride, I quickly took off the front wheel and threw the bike in the trunk, slipped on my sneakers and started running. Not bad. I ran for a half hour or so, got back to the car and had some water and did some stretching. Then I noticed, leaning against my car, my front bike wheel. My much-admired, kinda pricey Flash-Point wheel. Left out in the open. Untouched. Maybe it's my naive innocence, or maybe there aren't as many bad people in the world as we fear.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008


I had a more in-depth Physical Therapy session today. A lab assistant (I'll call him "Igor") laid me down on a table and hooked me up to one of those electrical-muscle-stimulator machines. Igor started putting electrodes on my left knee, and I said "you do know that's my good knee, right?" Great. And this guy is going to be sending jolts of electricity through my body.

Being electrocuted for 15 minutes wasn't exactly painful, but I wouldn't really call it pleasant either. When Igor was first hooking me up, he set it on a low setting and asked how it felt. It was like little ants on my knee. Then he turned it up. "How about that?" Then it was like little needles, but not painful. So he brought it up another notch. So I guess the game is to set it as high as possible before it gets painful. The problem is that time goes on, it gets more intense. So the "uncomfortable but not painful" setting became "ok, this is getting REALLY uncomfortable." Actually it wasn't all that bad, it's just freaky. It really feels like there is something physically massaging your skin.

The therapist then did some manual stretching and massage of my knee and leg. To quote myself, "it wasn't exactly painful, but I wouldn't really call it pleasant either." He was pressing down pretty hard at times and more than once I was worried he was going to break something. But everything seemed OK. He then walked me through some various stretching exercises.

Turns out his son is also doing Oceanside 70.3 this weekend and he'll be going down to watch. So I will have my own personal therapist on site. Could be useful.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Let's Get Physical

I had my first session of Physical Therapy Friday. The guy didn't really do much, mostly just looked at my knee and did a little bit of stretching. I guess he's going to put me on a treadmill or something at our next session. It sounds like he's more interested in the long-term stuff, which is all fine and good but I have a race in one week. I basically feel that I wasn't injured enough to really gain much from Physical Therapy. My guess is that with the PT I'll be be at 100% in 10 days; without it, I would be at 100% in 14 days. My race is in 7 days. He may do some preventive stuff for the future, but it's nothing that Dr. Brian couldn't show me. For free.

I was able to do a 36-mile bike ride on Saturday. It was slow and I was having a little bit of knee trouble, but my legs really needed the mileage. More importantly, I did a 9-mile run today. Again, not fast and I walked a little bit, but the weak link with the running wasn't my knee; it was my tired legs. (The last time I even TRIED anything more than 4 miles was Feb 24th, a month ago.) Since the biking still hurts my knee more than the running, I'm going to go in for a new bike fitting.

My Physical Therapist also opened up a bunch of repressed traumatic childhood memories, but that deserves its own post.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

What's up, Doc?

I don't even know how to get injured correctly: I have Runner's Knee. From biking.

I went to the doctor today. Nice enough guy, he should be of legal drinking age soon. (I want my doctors to be bald old men, preferably smoking cigarettes in the examination room, not some punk kid.) I told him that my knee has been feeling a little bit better every day, and that if I didn't have a race next week I probably would have cancelled the appointment. Better to be safe than sorry. He took a look at my knee, moved it into different positions, and asked "how does this feel? and this? and this?"

"Fine. Fine. Fine. YEOW!"
"You have some inflammation there."

Gee, ya think?

Basically my quad (if it's only one leg, is it still "quads?) is staying tight from all of the extra biking I've been doing lately, and that's causing the knee to pull to one side and cause pain. I need to do lots of stretching to relax the muscles so they're not always putting tension on the knee.

Three other people on my Tri Team have been to this doctor, who is a triathlete himself so he understands what the races and training is like. I told him that in the past 3 weeks, I've run about 10 miles TOTAL and have biked maybe 20 miles. The California Half-Ironman is in 10 days, and I asked if I should skip it.

"No, I think you'll be OK."
"Are you SURE? Because I'm focusing on Ironman in June."
"Just pace yourself, you shouldn't have a problem."
"Seriously, I don't mind skipping the race. It's not a big deal to me."
"Don't forget to stretch out a lot."

I was half-hoping for a medical excuse to get out of doing the race, but he wasn't taking the bait. He DID however get me signed up for 3 sessions of Physical Therapy, and that has me stressed out. For starters, I think PT is a scam industry. Don't get me wrong, I understand that plenty of people really do need it and it works wonders. But I think the insurance industry is a little lenient on who needs PT and the doctors milk it for all it's worth. However, I have to do a half-ironman in 10 days and I've done very little training over the past 3 weeks. I need all the help I can get to ramp up very quickly. You may ask "well if your insurance will cover it anyway, what's the big deal?" The big deal is my deductible, All of this will be coming out of my pocket. Now I'll have to hope for some serious ailment to take advantage of the free medical coverage.

Another issue is the timing. I am stressed out enough trying to schedule my days. Now I have to add in an extra 4 hours of activity next week. And what am I supposed to do about my Lego Log? Can Physical Therapy count towards my total weekly hours? And if so, what color bricks am I supposed to use?! This is just way too complicated.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Girls will be Girls

I went running on the treadmill in the community gym in my condo today. It's usually pretty empty in there, but after a while 3 girls came in and one of them got on the treadmill next to mine. She asked me "What are you doing in the gym? You're already skinny." I just smiled and said "this is how I stay skinny."

There were 2 problems with what she said: first of all, telling a guy that he's "skinny" is not a compliment. Secondly, she was about 11 years old. But the way I figure, by the time I'm 50 she'll be looking pretty fine...

The good news is that I was able to do 3 miles on the treadmill without any knee pain. (I did 45 minutes on the bike trainer last night, with very slight pressure on the knee.) The bad news is that I pulled something in my back. I think I was so concerned about stretching out my legs properly that I ignored my back, and since I haven't run in over a week something didn't pull right. Or maybe I'm just getting old.

Friday, March 14, 2008

100 Days

For those who were counting, Thursday was the 100-days-until-Ironamn mark.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Mind Over Body

People often talk about the remarkable healing power of the human brain. I'm not into a lot of Mumbo Jumbo, but I do believe that a positive mental outlook can do wonders to cure all sorts of problems. What people rarely talk about however is the brain's equally remarkable ailing power. I have been so frustrated and stressed this week that I believe I actually willed myself into being sick.

I was congested and exhausted and getting chills and just feeling all around lousy yesterday. I took the day off from work today which was a pretty good idea because I am feeling a little better now. I'll make at least some sort of appearance at the office tomorrow.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

My Permanent Record

I am facing the possibility that I may have to drop out of the California Half in 3 weeks. I haven't run in nearly a week, the only ride I did the past week was a slow 1-hour attempt on Sunday. Yet yesterday, just sitting at my desk and walking around at work, I felt pressure building up in my knee as the day went on. I think it may be a muscle imbalance, because after a while the discomfort extended down to my foot.

You would think that I still have a bit of time to decide about the race, but there was an odd motivator in my inbox today: an email from the race organizers:

"Dear Ford Ironman California 70.3 Participants,
...If you are not racing and do NOT wish to have a race number assigned, please let us know by hitting reply to this email on or before Friday, March 14... As per our entry policy, the refund deadline has passed and you will not be entitled to a refund nor do we allow rollovers to another year."

My first reaction was that if I can't get my money back, and I can't rollover my entry, why on earth would I extend them the courtesy of canceling my entry? Then it occurred to me: My Permanent Record.

If I have a race number assigned and don't actually race, my name will be logged in the databanks for countless future generations to see with a big DNF next to it. Did Not Finish. There's certainly no shame in a DNF, except that there kind of is. I wish there was a way I could get a "DNF*" and let the asterisk allow me to explain the circumstances of the DNF.

There is no rational reason to drop out of the race yet. I don't want to make that decision until I see the doctor next week. It's more important to look at the long-term Ironman goal (which isn't too long-term anymore!), but this race is supposed to be the big confidence booster for me, or at least give me a good reading on where I stand. The drama continues...

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Brick Workouts

I understand the importance of keeping a training log, I really do. And I jot down time and distance for every workout I do in Joe Friel's Triathlon Training Diary. The problem with the log is that it doesn't help plan your week, and you can't go back and look at the data in any meaningful way. I don't want to have to go log on to a website and enter my data, and I've said before that I can't deal with a detailed spreadsheet telling me exactly what I need to do every day. What I CAN deal with is this: "I need to work out 15 hours this week." So all I need is a simple way to track my weekly hours.


The red stack on the right represents the number of workouts I need to do for the week. A "workout" is VERY loosely defined as 1 hour, with lots of rounding. So a 30 minute run and an 80 minute run count as 1 workout each, but a 3.5 hour bike ride is 4 workouts. Every time I finish a workout I add bricks in front of the red stack, using colors according to the type of workout: blue=swim, yellow=bike, white=run, grey=strength. I always know how much training I've done for the week, and how much more i need to do. At the end of the week, the stack gets sorted by color and moved over to the left so I can see my history.

You'll note that because of my knee injury, I've spent more time swimming than biking. That's a little odd and hopefully that will change soon.

You can keep your expensive personal trainers and complicated computerized workout programs. This suits me just fine.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Is there a DeLorean in the house?

I'm not feeling confident about this doctor.

My appointment is on the 19th at 10:00. I called this morning and told them I was hoping to see the doctor sooner and asked if there were any cancellations. The receptionist told me "I have a 9:30 appointment on the 19th." Seeing the doctor 30 minutes earlier is not going to help my training a whole lot. So I told her "the time of day doesn't matter, I was hoping I could see the doctor this week." She then told me "He's available on the 10th, at 8:30." I had to explain to her "That's today. An hour ago."


I have a feeling I'll go in to have him look at my knee and I'll leave with my tonsils removed.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Is there a doctor in the house?

All of my Tri Team Mothers have been nagging me about my knee. They're sending me names of doctors and acupuncturists and exorcists, and telling me about ice and stretching. One of them tried to be empathetic about it; I won't embarrass him by giving his name, so let's just call him "Enbay". Enbay told me that his knee was also hurting him on the ride we did last weekend, but he just put some ice on it and sprinkled some magic faerie dust on it and it was all better. And I guess he thinks I can just do the same. So tell me Enbay, on your way back on the ride at any point did you clip out and pedal with only one leg so your other knee could be spared the pain of having to bend on the upstroke? No? Sorry Enbay, we're not Pain Pals.

I didn't run or ride for the past few days, and tried an easy ride in Griffith Park today. I did OK, but whenever I tried to do any kind of speed (and I'm not talking 20mph, I'm talking 12) I could feel the knee pressure building up so I would have to throttle back.

I did make an appointment with Orthopedic Sports Guy (Witch Doctor) on the 19th. The problem is that I have the half-ironman on the 29th and I'd really like to know if I have anything to worry about. I'm being kind of cautious with my training, but if I can't do some mid-distance runs I'm worried about hurting myself suddenly doing 13 miles. Basically I have to call the doctor's office every morning and hope for a cancellation so I can see him sooner.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Knee-jerk Reaction

So I may have a problem with my knee.

After Saturday's ocean swim, we went for a bike ride. I very quickly fell to the back of the pack on the straight-aways (not unusual) and then fell even farther behind on the hills (unusual). I had this feeling in my knee - it was kind of like a pressure bubble underneath the kneecap and it started to get more and more painful as I put more pressure on it on the hills. After 6 miles I just gave up and headed back. (The rest of the group was probably already a mile or two ahead of me at that point.)

I thought maybe it was just a fluke. Then Tuesday morning I went out for our ride. This one was entirely flat so I thought it would be easier on the knee. Nope. Went a few miles, knee started flaring up again and I dropped out of that ride as well.

Then last night I went out for a light jog. I was going to try three miles. The first 2.5 went fine- no problems whatsoever. But then I started feeling the pressure building up again and I just stopped.

I am not ready to go to a doctor just yet. Doctors are scary. I'm going to stay off it a few days, let it rest a while and maybe try a very light ride on Sunday. If that goes OK, then I should be good to go and I'll slowly start ramping up my training again. If I still can't hop on the bike without pain, then... well we'll burn that bridge when we get to it.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Training for California Iceman

I'm doing the California Half-Ironman this month. (Officially they call it the "Ironman 70.3 California Oceanside", but I prefer the "Half Ironman" label.) I've been nervous about it for quite a while. "Why?" you may ask. I did Wildflower last year which is a much harder course (well, it's more like Wildflower did me, but I did survive.) The Cali Half should be much easier. What absolutely terrifies me about this race is the swim. Not the distance, not the surf... but the temperature. Despite what you may see on TV, the Southern California ocean water is COLD. Especially in March. I have been dreading getting into the freezing water ever since I signed up.

Last weekend, in an effort to confront my fears, we went down to Hermosa Beach for a swim. Five of us suited up and headed down to the water. We passed by some women Volleyball players on the beach who said that we were crazy. Ever-the-Charmer Steve told them "that's right, and we're going to give you big hugs when we get out." Ha Ha Ha.

We all took deep breaths, braced ourselves, and plunged into the water. And you know what? It really wasn't that bad. Oh sure, after 10 minutes or so I couldn't feel my toes but that's to be expected. The bigger issue was that I had forgotten how much harder it is to swim in open water than in a pool. I can't swim in a straight line to save my life (and oddly enough, in the ocean it COULD safe your life sometime). I kept being told "site off the pier! Look at the pier and head straight for it." As if I could even SEE the pier. We wound up doing something around 8/10 of a mile. It was an OK distance, but more importantly I'm a little less worried about the cold water. A LITTLE less worried.

We had the World's Longest Transition afterwards. For me, it involved sitting in the car with the heater blasting on my feet. I don't know if there are any triathlons that will allow you to park your car in the transition area, but I highly recommend it.

After we were warmed up and dried off and back on the beach sidewalk, the female volleyball players came by. One of them said “ya know, we’re still giving out free hugs”. So I took one. (you take cheap thrills wherever you can find them.)

Monday, March 03, 2008

Blow in Here Until Firm

The Tour of California finished at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, which was perfect for me. It's about 5 miles from my home, along roads I've ridden and run on many times. I knew all of the secret back streets to avoid road closures and get free parking right next to the Bowl. Sweet.

I met up with Tri Team Tammy and Tri Team Rene and mooched off of Tammy's Pasadena Tri Club connections to get a viewing spot under a tent 150 meters from the finish line. The riders did 6 loops, so we had plenty of chances to see everyone. Because it was a little crowded where we were, I found it was easier to sit on the pavement and poke my camera through the temporary barricades they set up. Which was perfectly fine, until the rain came. I'd like to thank the fine people at Zipp for giving me their beautiful new product catalog at the Expo, which I sat on to keep my butt dry.

You're going to think I'm crazy, but I swear it's true: the rain seemed to follow the bikers. They would whiz on by and it would start to pour. Then once the left, the rain would lighten up or stop completely. Then the rain would come back with the peloton. This happened for several laps. And immediately after the race, the sun came out and gave us a huge rainbow ovber teh ROse Bowl. I just think maybe God doesn't like bike riders.

At the expo, several companies were handing out "Rooters", those inflated noisemakers that you blow up and bang together. (The instructions read "Blow in Here Until Firm". We giggled a bit.) I couldn't seem to get mine to make any noise, but Tammy had to show me that you're supposed to keep the Rooters parallel to eachother when you bang them. So they kind of worked. The Rooters were free, and I became obsessed with them. After the race, I kept going back to the same booths again and again and grabbing more handfuls. I'm not sure why I wanted them. Maybe I can use them at other races, but I think I just liked the thrill of stealing.