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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

 

 

 

 

 

First race of the season – Kinetic Sprint

We kicked off our 2016 Tri Adventures with the Kinetic Sprint race in Lake Anna, VA. Irma and I had one of those stressful weeks where everything seemed to be piling up. Still, I was feeling really good after having a nice wetsuit swim the Friday prior. Given that I am still in the middle of a training build for this coming weekend’s 70.3 in Knoxville, I was highly tempted to go easy on Saturday’s bike workout and perhaps keep some freshness for the race but I always trust Coach Greg advice to keep my eyes on the “bigger prize” and resolved to put a little more juice to the bike workout on Saturday. As soon as I woke up on Sunday for the race I could feel that my legs were definitely heavy but I was really happy and relaxed to get the season started. Best of all, I was ready to have fun and put a good effort.

The weather was cold (50°F) and windy. With two full seasons under my belt, this was my first time experiencing winter in May while racing! By the time I walked to the swim start, the sun was out and I decided I wasn’t going to wear either arm warmers or toe covers and just risk it. As the swim was about to start the wind picked up even more and I figured it would be a good opportunity to make the most out of my swim and go harder than my original plan. I took out the swim with a very strong sprint and could see a group forming right behind me so I then made another push after the first buoy and finally made some separation. Coming out of the water I felt great and was pleasantly surprised at how low my heart was pounding compared to how it felt in most races last year and for the first time I felt I was actually sprinting towards T1. As I was removing my cap and goggles while entering T1 I dropped the goggles and I decided to go back and pick them up because 1) Didn’t want to leave my brand new goggles behind over a couple of seconds and 2) Didn’t want to risk a littering penalty. The lesson learned here was to keep goggles and cap on the head and wait to remove them until making it to the transition spot.

Coming out of T1 I started to feel my left hamstring twitching right away and I couldn’t tell if it was due to Saturday’s bike workout or the cold or both but regardless I decided to take it easier than planned. The unintended consequence there was that the second swimmer out of T1 immediately caught up and I could see he got some confidence after passing me before exiting the park. The bike was mostly uneventful except for the fact that this other athlete and I kept trading places and in a way it seemed that we were working off each other fairly well. In my mind I knew it was not going to be a good idea if I wanted to go for the win and in my heart I wanted to make a move with 10 mins left but I decided instead to keep it steady.

Maybe it was that easier bike effort or just the increased running fitness I’ve worked on this offseason but I was not expecting the kind of running legs I felt out of T2. I actually came out of T2 ahead of the other athlete and he immediately caught me within 30 seconds. Unlike other times when I hesitate to keep up with a passing runner, this time I went after him right away and the legs responded – that was a very joyous moment and it made me think about all of those hill repeats training days I’ve put in this fall. He then made another move by the end of the first mile and I decided to let him go and just stay at a more comfortable pace. Who knows if I  would’ve been able to stay with the other athlete through the entire running leg but I did think about the 70.3 race coming up and feared digging myself a big hole over running two more miles to exhaustion. In the end, I do feel it was the right decision.

I am ecstatic with how this race panned out. It was an awesome start to the season and I felt surprised at how ready I felt to race despite the accumulated mental and physical fatigue. Our neighbor Aya also joined us in our adventure as she herself is coming back to doing triathlons after not having raced in a while. Irma and I keep uplifting the message of “girl power” to Isa and we liked that she was able to see Aya race and beat a bunch of the boys – #girlpower.

We are very much looking forward to the race this coming weekend. I think the trip will be a good way to relax and get away with our Knoxville family and decompress a little. I am learning to appreciate each day and remain positive which has been really great. I can recall last year feeling so frustrated after training hard and expecting big results and this year my outlook has changed dramatically. I am savoring each training session and having something to look up to every day but also understand that things/life will always happen and we just need to accommodate to the moment and make the best out of it.

Brrrr. It was a cold one for sure.

 

 

Thoughts on Cherry Blossom 10 miler

It took me over a week to fully unpack my thoughts and feelings about the Cherry Blossom 10 miler. After a solid run at the Rock-n-Roll half I was in a good space mentally to take another crack at a standalone run race. Part of focusing and working on my run weaknesses is continually facing my deepest fears and insecurities of feeling like I can’t run fast or that my run is not good enough. I was very excited to run this race as the week leading into it I was feeling really strong, rested, and relaxed. In addition, with my mom in town helping to care for Isa, Irma and I were going to be able to do this race together and make it a “running date” which we haven’t been able to do in a while.

We woke up early enough to drive into the NW part of DC and park near a metro station and despite all of our advanced preparation we only made it with 10 mins to spare before the start. I still needed to complete my regular routine of bag check, bathroom, and warm up and so Irma was kind enough to take care of the bag check part so that I could complete my warm up. We parted ways with a big kiss and I couldn’t believe how relaxed and calm I felt. As a side note, a day before, my friend Erin had mentioned that Olympian Meb Keflezighi was supposedly pacing the 6min/mi pace group so when I got to my corral I briefly looked for what I suspected would be a large crowd around him as he is such a celebrity but the corral was in fact almost empty. I had already made my mind that I wasn’t going to be too “distracted” by a “Meb mob” so I just went about my business as the gun went off.

Trying to avoid some mistakes I’ve done in the past, I was decidedly focused on not starting too fast and just finding a nice, relaxed rhythm to my legs and arms. For the first 5 miles I felt awesome. The legs and arms were just flowing; I could breath easily and the pace almost felt like a training run. My friend Eric also gave me a nice loud cheer around mile 5 and I felt another boost of energy. But then in the next mile I started to get stomach pains and cramps just the same way I felt in my previous 10 miler race. I tried not to panic and continue at a slower pace but my body wasn’t having it. Just when I was debating whether I should continue running or walk the rest of it, Meb (who seemed to be running incognito) ran past me and I tried to keep up with his training run pace for a quarter mile but the stomach pains were too much.

Crossing the finish line was not as disappointing as I thought I would feel. Quite frankly, I was way more concerned about my stomach and my health as I seemed not to be able to stand up straight and had to go to the bathroom almost every 5 mins for the next hour. My inability to prevent getting stomach cramps when I do hard running efforts has certainly been a major impediment in gaining running confidence. Last year when I faced a similar situation after a couple of running and triathlon races, I went to the doctor and had some blood tests and the results came back in order. In the next couple of weeks I will be testing and trying different approaches with my nutrition to figure out what might be going on.

This journey continues to be a true blessing and filled with many humbling moments. Lately I feel like I have found a good pace to the training and the balancing act on the home front. I also feel like I’ve gained more appreciation for the process and the daily opportunity to train and have fun beyond expecting a big result when racing. As coach Greg often says “there are no shortcuts.”

I have to give massive thanks to the two Irma’s in my life: my mom and my wife. My mom flew in from Puerto Rico on her birthday and spent the last three weeks with us helping to care for Isa during spring break and many other things. Irma, my wife, had a phenomenal race, negative splitting and posting a personal best. She is the bedrock of our household and the best partner in crime. I very much look forward to our “triadventures” this summer.

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Meeting Slowtwitch’s Dan Empfield

Last Saturday I had the opportunity of meeting Dan Empfield, one of triathlon’s most influential people and also the founder of the website Slowtwitch. This year Dan has transformed the website into a road show through selected U.S. cities and their Saturday stop was at a local tri shop in Falls Church, VA. At the road show Dan offered an unique opportunity to briefly meet with him and discuss your current bike fit. Since I’ve been in the market for a new tri bike for almost a year, I jumped at this opportunity right away and made an appointment to meet with the “guru.”

The first thing Dan asked prior to meeting at the road show was to send him a video of my current bike position and so with the help of my mom (who is laughing midway in the video below) we sent him this:

To my surprise, Dan wrote back “I would not change a thing. That is a textbook position you have in my opinion.” I wrote back to him that I did like that position and found it very comfortable and that after my last fit I had put a longer and lower stem on my aerobar as I was feeling a bit tight prior. Since my current bike frame is very corroded inside due to a lot of sweet that has gotten through the headset, I still went ahead and did some homework and look for several geometries for possible bikes that I might have an interest in buying. The next step was to actually meet Dan in person at the tri shop. When I got there, Dan was already working on Coach Greg’s TT bike position and to hear him give Greg advise and walk him through bike solutions was a great learning experience.

When it was my turn, Dan greeted me with a big smile and said “so are you the guy with the perfect bike position?” and I responded “No sir, but I need your help in finding me a new bike.” I showed Dan the different bike frames I had been thinking about and he measured my bike position, set the coordinates in his Fit calculator and concluded that given how low and stretched out I was, most of the frames I liked would not fit me well. As we kept going back and forth through the Fit calculator for finding me a more optimal frame, Dan had an eureka moment and thought about the new TriRig aerobar system. Given the many accessible configurations of this system, Dan quickly figured out that this system is a good solution for finding me a frame that not only I would like but also it can preserve my optimal bike position. Dan himself wrote about this experience in an article for Slowtwitch here.

Overall, I had a great experience meeting Dan. I found him to be a good listener and very approachable. He heard me talking in Spanish with Irma and started speaking Spanish back to us and I thought that was a nice gesture. At one point we were both sitting on the floor just looking at my bike from many different angles and I thought how simple of a moment there with someone who has had tremendous success doing what he loves; a great life lesson right there.

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Even Irma got a selfie with Dan

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