Saturday, September 10, 2011

Finally...The Perfect Race...The Megerle Race

The perfect race. Is it really possible? If it is, I think I just nailed it. It's easy to doubt. A race that goes for over two hours, involves three sports, each of which is multi-faceted, plus two transitions, is so involved that it's easy to think perfection is unattainable. But today may have been perfect.

Let's back up for a minute. My goal race all year was Sprint Nationals. My training was geared around it, I planned what I thought was a good taper.....and I had a "good" race. The environment was great as we were in the midst of likely the most competitive Olympic and sprint fields of the year anywhere in the country. I was rested, fast and focused. Yet the troubles started early. First, the race was at 12:30. Given that most of my training and all racing starts in the morning, this played games with my sleep and diet. It just felt strange. Next, it was hot- something like 83 degrees by race time.

I was in the second wave which included all men over 40, about 150+. I had a great start and was in third at the first buoy. While I maintained that position to the exit, about half way into the swim I felt like I was working way too hard. The negative chatter started. Sure, it's a sprint and I should go hard, but I was anything but loose. Then on the bike, my perceived exertion and watts from the computer were not in sync. I thought I was working my butt off, but I was being told that I was only putting out 240 watts- my threshold is about 275, and I was hoping to be above that. Again, the negative chatter was there. This carried on for the first 8 miles when I finally felt better and my power came up to where it should be. Too bad there were only 5 miles left. I think another issue was that it's impossible to warm up on the bike, and there's no opportunity to warm up in the water. My lower back down to my hamstrings were tight the whole way. The run started with a long steep climb. Given the run was just a 5K, I felt I needed to get after it early and hard. That damn hill nearly forced me to walk. And again, it wasn't until I had about a mile to go when I started feeling better. The whole time, I knew I wasn't performing as I should. In the end, I ended up 4th in my AG, which is pretty good. After today, though, I know I could win my AG.

Lobsterman, an Olympic distance tri, was today. It was a "oh, what the heck" race- I didn't focus on the distance in training, and certainly didn't work the calendar in its favor. I needed a couple of days to recover from Nationals, had a training build up for about two weeks, then another taper. I capped my training intensity around my threshold, eliminating the really high intensity riding and running. On the two Saturdays between the races, I ran for 90 minutes on the Bradbury trails in preparation for tomorrow's Bradbury Bruiser 12 mile trail race. I love it out on the trails, although I knew it wasn't race specific for the Lobsterman. If I were to summarize the last couple of weeks, I enjoyed the training, didn't obsess about the race, and gave my body additional rest.

Now I need to take another detour, this time to discuss my college swim coach, Don Megerle. When it comes to racing, he preached, and still preaches, rest, staying loose, negative splits, and positive thoughts. I recently talked with him about a possible race next year, and he sent me a bunch of stuff he has written. It served as a great reminder.

I showed up to the race today with no expectations and a desire to enjoy it. Many of the usual suspects were absent, and only 25% of the field was from Maine. So all I could do was take care of my own race. Remembering the lack of warm up at nationals, I ran around a bit, rode 4 miles, and swam about 800 yards. When the race started, I had a clean start, without so much as someone tapping my toes. That let me quiet down into a sustainable pace and drop my kick down to the point where it was just for a bit of balance. At the first buoy I saw one other guy in my wave but didn't change my pace. It seemed like the two waves in front of me swam to the next buoy in a big arc, so I was able to move through them- again, without coming even close to contact. At the final buoy, I did run over someone (sorry!!), so I can't say I made it the whole way without an issue, but I came close. The entire swim, I felt like it was fairly easy and I could go at that pace forever. And there was lots of positive chatter.

I was determined to start the bike at a pace that allowed me to ease into it, trying to avoid a tight back and low power. On the way up the early hills out of the park, I saw I was pushing 300w+ without too much effort. Hmmm... I continued on, kept the cadence on the high end, feeling loose and enjoying the beautiful day. I thought I was holding back, but saw that I was pushing 260-280w, and on the hills, closer to 320w. The chatter started a positive feedback loop. Not once in the 25 mile ride did I feel like I was turning myself inside out. It felt controlled, loose and fast. Perhaps another factor was that I passed my last person around mile 8. From that point on, I didn't see another bike other than those heading out in the opposite direction. And not a single person passed me then entire ride.

Another improvement was my nutrition. I changed my intake to something I've used on the trails- water, Heed, and two Hammer gels mixed in one water bottle. That was just the right amount of fluid to take in (no upset stomach on the run), and provided plenty of calories.

Towards the end of the bike, I began to plan the run. I decided to ease into the first two miles. The first long hill came soon after the start of the run, and I just stayed under control. Mile 1, 6:50. Whoa, that was easy! Let's stick with this! Mile 2, 6:50. That got me out onto South Freeport Rd, a long straightaway. The whole way I reminded myself to keep my hands and jaw loose and to enjoy it. I took a few sips of water at every stop, and a gel at the turnaround. Again, the nutrition was spot on. I was only passed once, around mile 3. Due to the lack of competitors, I figured I was well into the earlier waves (that had 3 and 6 minutes head starts), but was shocked when a spectator told me I was in 13th. Then someone else told me the same thing. More positive reinforcement. My plan was to push things once I got to mile 4, but I was content with the way things were going. I was still holding 6:50s or better. I will admit there were times I wondered, "This is too easy. Am I leaving something on the table?" Once I got to the top of the hill by mile 5, I put in a little extra and held that to the finish. I ended up 11th overall, 2nd in my AG. My splits were something like 23, 1:06 and 42:30. A final time of 2:14 is a fairly good time for an Oly, and this race typically has slower times. I'll take it.

I have never, ever, had a race like that. I have never gone so fast with so little effort. Before the race, someone reminded me that I once wrote about "turning myself inside out. I guess that's why you win and I don't," he said. I was wrong. Turning myself inside out inhibits fluid movement. It doesn't allow the race to come to me. It forces things. It makes me tight. And it prohibits reaching my potential.

This is the way I need to race. Positive thoughts, relaxed, let the race come to me, stay loose.

Thanks, Coach!

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Infinite Loop

Yesterday marked one year since I landed in the ER with bilateral idiopathic pulmonary emboli. That means a bunch of life threatening blood clots in both pulmonary arteries plus plenty of other clots in the lungs. You see, if blood can't get through the lungs, it can't pick up oxygen, and can't deliver said oxygen to your vital you brain and heart. Not good.

This past year has been full of reflections, but especially the last couple of weeks. I competed in the Pirate Tri a couple of weeks ago, which last year I did the day AFTER the PEs first struck. Not only did this race mark my return to the tri scene and the first one-hour-plus race effort, but it was the beginning of my "one year reflection" period. Leading up to the race, I seemed to be feeling all sorts of physical things that made me wonder what was going on. It was tough mentally to keep wondering if things were happening all over again, which would certainly mean a return to coumadin and the permanent end of bike riding and perhaps skiing. Even during the run section of the race, I developed a normal side stitch and thought it was happening again. I had and have no other symptoms, and can intellectually tell from my activities that I'm fine. But emotionally, it was hard.

As for the race, I came away from it feeling pretty good. I was 3rd overall in the swim, and much faster than last year. The bike was slow (although about the same as last year), but that's understandable considering I did no meaningful biking from June to April. And the run was 30 seconds faster than last year. In total, I was about 1:30 faster, won my AG, and was 8th overall. I'll take it. More importantly, it was great to see everyone again, knowing I was there to compete with them, not just watch and enjoy the environment. The comments and smiles I received were great. More on that later.

In May, I did the Cape TT. I wanted a max effort before the Pirate Tri to see how I would respond after about six weeks of more focused bike training. My good friend and great biker Bob- with a full year of Ironman bike training behind him- started 60 seconds behind me. I wondered how long it would take to make up the gap, hoping I could last at least a few miles. For those who know the course, which is the same as the old CELT tri course, I made it all of the way to the Spurwink church and the hill up to the dump before he flew by. He continued on to build a gap of an additional 30 seconds.

I was pleased with the race. But more importantly, what will stay with me is Bob's comment as he went past, "You still got it, Tenney." It was the perfect encouragement at the perfect time. It was honest and meaningful. And it is one of the many examples of how so many people have helped me get through this last year. Emails, notes, hugs, calls, visits, fruit baskets, good natured ribbing....the help came in many forms. I take two risks by listing certain individuals- first, I know I'll forget someone, and second, this sure isn't a very personable thank you. So here goes- Bob T, Scott M, Tom M, Julie N, Paul D, Cathy B, Jay E, Ed T, Angela B, Mary H-W, John S, Dave S, Mike L, John S, Andy S, John C, Rob S, Jeff S, Sue N, Coach Megerle, Marit C-L, the Winchester crew (Chip, Lara, Ned, Jill, Mike, Laura, Joe, Jan), and many others- thank you. Most importantly, thanks to my immediate and extended family.

As for my future racing plans...the goal race is the Sprint National Championships in Burlington VT on August 20. Based on past results, I should be top 5 in my AG, and would love to crack the top 3. It's likely I won't have another race before then. After, I'll likely do Lobsterman.

Meanwhile, I'm enjoying the training, especially the running. Other than a few short transition runs, it's all been on either the trails or the track, and never with a Garmin (Mary- remember the discussion around data?). There is a trail system a mile from the house, and another larger one a short drive away. Single track trail running is perhaps my favorite training of all time. There's a chance that if I had all other activities taken away from me and trail running was the only thing left, I'd be perfectly happy. Every single step is different than the last. On the one hand, I focus on every foot plant which keeps my mind occupied for long stretches, and on the other, I can get completely mentally lost when I'm out there. Every single run in the woods leaves me rejuvenated. Physically, it's also much better than pounding on the roads. I've labeled road running as "2-D," and trail running as "3-D." The constant ups and downs, uneven terrain, puddles, mud, trees, roots, rocks, and sharp turns of the trails strengthen my legs in ways that you can't get on the roads. As a result, I've been completely free from injury. Two weeks ago I went to Presque Isle and ran for two hours at the Nordic Heritage Center. That's without going longer than 1:15 since November, normally an unwise increase.

With a bit of track work, this doesn't seem to be affecting my speed. For the first time this season, I wore a watch to the track to see where I stood. I was able to descend quarters down to where I've been before, and then put together a solid, even-split, mile. Yesterday I did a transition run after a 2 hour bike and have never felt so good. I didn't blast out of the driveway, forcing the pace, but let the speed come to me. I have no idea how fast I was going, but it felt fast and effortless. I wish I could bottle up that feeling for a race.

Today I left the house for a one to two hour run in the woods. For those of you who follow specific training prescriptions, this is blasphemy. "One to two hours? There's a huge difference there. How does it fit into the rest of the week? What's the pace? Will the Garmin work in the woods?" Etc, etc, etc. I didn't care. I was just going out for a good run and I'd see what unfolded. At one point, I found a path that I soon discovered led to a circular path I'd been on before. I didn't know they were connected. So I went around, and around, eventually realizing I was stuck in this loop. I was looking for the trail to go back to where I came from, but missed it. I didn't care one bit. I was on top of the world, doing my favorite training, and I was alive.