Month: June 2016

Eagleman 70.3 – A humbling day

Eagleman was my big target race for the first half of the season and after having a very successful Knoxville race, I was excited to do my first WTC/Ironman brand race as these events always bring a higher level of competition than most of the local races I’ve competed in the past.  I had been warned by too many people how hot, humid, and windy the course conditions get despite being a relatively early summer race in the mid-Atlantic. True to the hype, the race lived up to its reputation with high temperatures of 90 degrees and winds of 10-14mph. This race has been the toughest race I’ve ever done and it tested my will as an athlete. It definitely humbled me in many ways.

Despite feeling confident and mentally ready to race, I’ll admit that I had doubt about my heat acclimation preparation as I had done too few sessions to get properly acclimatized. Following the same pre-race ritual and nutritional preparation I did in Knoxville, I was feeling relaxed and ready to go. It was surprising that the swim would be wetsuit legal given how hot it was and even though wearing a wetsuit is always faster I debated whether I should still wear mine – I did.  At the swim start I connected with my friend and also former Villanova swimmer, Mike Phinney. Mike is one of the top triathletes in the country (he also ended up winning the overall Age Group category) and I knew that if I wanted to give myself a chance to be a contender in this race, I needed to stay close to him. At the swim start I was feeling good but halfway through I started feeling really hot inside the wetsuit. At that point I was still swimming next to Mike but towards the last part of the swim, Mike pulled away and I decided it was best to slow down a bit as I was already putting a bigger effort than planned.

Unlike my previous two races this year, as soon as I got out of the water my heart was pounding hard and I felt a bit dizzy. I tried my best to regain my bearings exiting transition and immediately focused on lowering my heart rate. Knowing what type of bike effort I had been able to sustain in Knoxville, I was determined to at least match it or, if needed, lower it given the heat and wind conditions. It took me almost the first third of the bike leg to find a good rhythm to my legs and aero position. But by the half way mark, my left quad started twitching and cramping a bit. The sun was also coming out in full force and I could feel my neck radiating heat. I knew then that I needed to lower the bike effort significantly and resolved to trade my leg power output for a more aero position. I figured this way I could still sustain good speed as the course is very flat and there was a slight tailwind the last 6-8 miles. I also slowed down at every bike aid station to get fresh water to drink and to cool down. I got a bit upset during the last part of the bike that I couldn’t fully get my legs to stop twitching even though I kept slowing down.

As soon as I got out of the bike, I knew that the half marathon ahead was going to be a tough battle. This time around I had no happy feelings about my readiness to run whatsoever. By now the heat was beaming full fledge and all I could think of was to find ways to cool down. From the get go my legs were on the verge of fully cramping. My mind immediately took me to places I have never experienced during training or racing. It was a good thing that Irma and coach Greg were cheering around the second mile marker because I almost wanted to start walking right before I saw them. There was no Nina Simone inspiration that could save me out of this one. I knew that if I kept focusing on the negative aspects that were happening I would not even succeed at finishing the race so I made a deal with myself to 1) think about happy thoughts (happy moments with Irma and Isa, happy moments racing, happy songs, happy anything!) and 2) commit to simply make it to the next run aid station and cool off as much as I could. This strategy to break down the run into pieces helped a ton and it carried me through the darkest moments. As much as I was hurting during the run, there were dozens of athletes hurting just as much, and to see everyone’s resilience to push themselves was inspiring. As I approached the finishing chute, I took a moment to appreciate that day’s racing and not quitting despite the brutal conditions.

Being someone who loves to race and compete, it was hard to accept the fact that my body couldn’t respond to what I wanted it do or that I didn’t get the result I wanted. But one of the best lessons I’ve learned from coach Greg is the importance of properly framing racing in a healthy way and not letting the pressure of desperately wanting a specific result discourage or drain your emotional energy. I’ve had a good streak of better-than-expected results for each of my previous three races and I knew that at some point that streak was going to be tested. This race taught me a ton of important lessons and I will certainly take everything learned to continue improving. Like many other things in life, what defines us is often how well we rise after falling. I know this much about myself: I am ready to rise again.

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Knoxville Half – “I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free”

Nina Simone’s rendition of “I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free” has been my go to song when I’ve been needing or wanting extra inspiration the past several months. While the history of this song carries tremendous weight, the verse “I wish I could do all the things that I can do, though I’m way overdue I’d be starting anew” has recently triggered reflections on my journey as an athlete. In many deep, emotional ways, the Knoxville Half race ended up being one of those moments in life that I will never forget: embracing the intensity of feeling alive and happy but also continue my personal pursuit and discovery of what makes me feel free.

This was our third year in a row coming to Knoxville and we were very excited to leave town and take our first family road trip of the year. Our Knoxville family always take amazing care of us and their hospitality is unparalleled; it almost feels like a second home to us. During the drive down I could feel my confidence building ever so slightly. In the days prior, I had been talking to coach Greg about expectations for the race and I mentioned to him that I just wanted to make sure I executed what I knew I was capable of doing given the consistency of my training this past winter and spring. I was determined to pursuit this race with courage and attitude. I wanted to have the courage of making critical race decisions while having a sound mental attitude to race to my best potential.

Come race morning I was feeling rested and relaxed. All of my equipment and nutritional needs that needed to be checked had been checked. As Irma, her brother and I started to walk towards the swim start, Nina Simone’s tunes came back into my head and I immediately thought “This is great!” – my confidence skyrocketed.

13220938_10153547320116641_6064755862446172218_nMy plan for the swim was to stay relaxed but keep an honest pace. I knew that finding a good rhythm was going to be key. As the swim started, I could see that one really good swimmer took the lead and with the sun in our faces I thought it would be best to follow his lead and have him do the sighting work. Once we made it to the turnaround point it was much easier to sight our way back to the dock and my plan was to keep the pace relatively relaxed but not let this first swimmer get ahead too much.

Just like the week prior at the Kinetic Sprint race, when I came out of the water my heart did not feel like it was pounding hard and I was happy to know that I wasn’t going to work too hard to get my heart rate down once on the bike. When I came out of T1 my friend Eric gave me a split that I was 40 seconds behind the leader and I immediately committed to catching him with prudence. While I had an idea of what type of effort I could sustain for the bike leg, I didn’t want to burn all of my matches trying to catch up the leader. After the first 15 mins went by I could see the lead motorcycle vehicle and the race leader not too far ahead. At that point I saw in my bike computer that I was going much harder than what I had planned with Greg but I was feeling really good and when I saw an opportunity during a false flat to pass the leader I took it. I committed to staying at that higher-than-planned bike effort as long as I was feeling good. For the next 40 miles things went great, I kept taking my nutrition on point, ejected bottles I didn’t need and slowed down to take some fresh water in the bike support segments. At some point during the last 10 miles Ms. Simone’s song came back again in my head and for a couple of minutes I soaked everything in: feeling one with the bike, fearlessly taking corners, blissfully absorbing every minute of it. I felt like a feather; I felt free.

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Coming out of T2 was another joyous moment as I was more than ready to run. This time around I was resolved not to be so obsessed with my pace and rather just breakdown the half marathon into thirds: first third find your groove, second third sustain it, last third bring it home smartly. I was feeling too good in the first mile and as I checked my pace I could tell I was way too excited and my motto then was “mas lento, mas lento” (slow down, slow down). I had also planned to stop at every run aid station and cool down and take some liquid calories. The volunteers at these run aid stations were fantastic and extremely helpful. After the first 5 or 6 miles I finally looked at my running pace and saw that I was going much faster than what I had planned and the temptation to push it a bit more flashed immediately and I thought about a recent conversation I had with my high school track coach (Gracias Osiris!) about pacing. I decided to put the excitement aside and stay within the more comfortable pace I was holding.

After the last turnaround I knew I only had 3 more miles or so and the excitement of keeping the lead started to influence again my running decisions. Despite feeling super excited I really struggled the last three miles to maintain my running form. All I kept telling myself was to keep it together and just execute, no need to do anything crazy. In the last hill my friend Dagmar, who has been another great training partner these past years, gave me a much needed pacing push but I wasn’t sure I would get a pacing penalty so I asked her to stop. The Rev3 organizers do an incredible job making these events very much friend and family oriented but I didn’t want to risk any penalties at that point.

Approaching the finishing chute I could hear Irma cheering and Isa incredibly excited waiting for me. As I ran by them, Isa and I locked hands and we crossed the finishing line with a great cheer from the crowd. It was a beautiful moment that I will never forget.

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A run for the ages

 

 

 

 

 

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