PART BEAR. PART MAN. ALL AMERICAN
Location: Galveston, TX
My 2011 race season got underway last weekend at the Galveston 70.3. Serving as the US Championship, I knew there would be some steep competition; and I knew it was going to be a great way to test my early-season fitness, and to gauge my training progress toward IMTX.
One of the huge benefits of racing Galveston was that I was able to drive down there from Austin. Not having to get on a plane, and deal with the wear and tear that goes with air travel, was a nice draw for me. However, one of the mistakes I made in my preparation for this event, was not respecting the possible downside to sitting in my car for three or four hours the day before the race. In retrospect – and noting the struggles I ended up with on the race course – I should have arrived two days before the event; and I should have reserved ample respect for the wear and tear of a three- to four-hour drive.
Skipping ahead to race day, I awoke to the sound of absolute howling gale. My ideally located home stay was just one block off the seawall, so not only was I conveniently located near the race venue, but I was able to get a small taste of the weather conditions we’d face on the day. As I prepared my pre-dawn breakie – version two of my pre-race staple – I began to get very excited to see how the rest of the field would handle a healthy dose of Texas wind.
I pedaled down to Moody Gardens to set up transition. Even without my partner in crime, Amanda, I was a bit anxious and arrived at transition a touch earlier than I normally would. One of the many benefits of having a prompt wife is that some of her timely traits have worn off on me. With a fairly quick set-up, I ventured out for a short run warm-up.
Knowing that the air down on the Texas coast was a touch more humid than, well, just about anywhere at this time of year, I ended up downing the better part of a 32-oz bottle of EFS. During my set-up and warm-up, I stayed in touch with how much I was sweating, and I tried to keep the fluids topped off, and to not mistake the “cool” feeling of humid air for actual “cold” weather.
By the time we were herded over to our start pen, I was feeling topped off and ready to rock. My swim training this year has given me the confidence that I could exit the water with the front pack. I knew we had a solid field, with some really good swimmers, and I was excited to test myself against some of the best.
We had a very short warm-up time, and I did my best to take full advantage of it. I love a long warm-up, but when it’s not permitted, I throw a few dozen “frantic” strokes in there to simulate a bit of good arm turnover. That being done, I situated myself on the start line between Tim O’Donnell and Terrenzo Bozzone: two fellows I knew would make that front group.
Once we get out into the meat of the swim course, my only complaint – aside from the slightly warm water – was that my navigation seemed to be a touch off. I stayed in a nice patch of bubbles, benefiting from a great draft, but on several occasions I found myself veering right. Fortunately, I was able to swim my way back into the draft, and reposition myself with the group. However, with 400 or so meters to go, I popped out of the pod one too many times, and I never found my way back to them. I exited the water approximately 20 seconds behind the trailing edge of the large front pack.
Transition is definitely an area where I can use some work! I did my best to sprint to the bikes, but ended up doing what I call a shuffle-plod until my legs got back under me. Not the best way to close that little gap!
Once onto the bike, I began to prepare myself for a rough 28-mile stretch of crossing headwinds. For some sick reason, I tend to really like riding in the wind, and crossing headwinds tend to be my favorite. There were no gusts, so I settled into a steady lean for an hour or so, hammering my way toward the front of the race. With Chris Lieto blowing by me inside one mile, I did my best not to get discouraged with my early pace. I felt that I was riding strong, but it’s hard to still believe it when someone like him comes by as though you’re seated on a stationary bike.
Once he was out of sight, I was able to focus on how many of the others I was able to pass, and consequently drop. Knowing many of my fellow competitors, I knew that my efforts must be pretty solid – these guys I was getting away from were very strong cyclists. Nearing the turnaround, I finally caught up to my teammate Richie Cunningham. It was great to see a good friend out there, so I encouraged him to ride along with me as we caught the front group.
Hitting the turnaround, I had just managed to catch the chasing quartet of TO, Terrenzo, Rasmus Henning, and Paul Matthews. If chasing down Chris Lieto and Frederick VanLierde is the goal, having a strong bunch like this was the best way to tackle the task.
After regrouping for two to three minutes – in my mind I wanted to see what it felt like to sit at the back of a legally spaced group – I pushed to the front. With five competitive and driven individuals in close proximity, the collective mojo must have raised the pace a bit. We ended up dropping TO, and breaking clear from most of the chasing riders. One exception was that Ronnie Schildknecht of Switzerland came flying by around the 40-mile mark. He took such a vicious turn at the front, that I feared he was going to make me pop. Fortunately for me – and for the others – Ronnie seemed to pop a bit, most likely from the effort it took to catch us at that point. I retook my position at the front of the chase pace, and forced what I felt was a sustainable but challenging pace all the way back to T2.
My decision to stretch out the calves and hammies as we closed out the ride cost me all the glory of riding into T2 in 3rd place. I politely asked Terrenzo why he could not let me have the glory of leading into T2 after dragging him and Rasmus for much of the last 28 miles. It was a rhetorical question, but he answered me anyway, by running away from me after transitioning like a banshee.
Out on the run course in sixth place, I felt good about my prospects for holding a money spot. I have done some very strong IM-prep runs, and I knew that a steadily paced half marathon would treat me well. I’m not sure what my pace was at the outset of the run, but I was sure that my left quad seemed to be on fire – just the left medial quad – while the rest of my muscles felt a “normal” post-ride fatigue. Assuming that my left leg had loaded up an inordinate amount, due to the unbalanced riding into the cross/headwind for 28 miles, I did my best to even out the stride and run a steady, strong race.
Without warning and without explanation, nearing the five-mile mark, my left calf exploded with an unpleasant strain. At the time, I was not sure why it had happened, or what had caused it. I stopped running, tried to massage the area, and attempted to continue running. Very shortly thereafter I had to stop again, this time to stretch, massage, and stretch again. No luck. I stopped again, and began to walk. By this time, I had been passed for seventh, and still had a sizable gap to 8th and 9th (running together); and there was a decent gap to the remainder of the men’s field. However, it appeared that my race was over.
I struggled along with walk/ jog until I spotted a friend on course – Amanda’s coach Derick, actually. I stopped and chatted to him, and let him know that I was no longer in the race, but that I was going to keep on plugging along if I could. From that point onward, I was able to watch a steady stream of competitors run past me (women, men, professional and age group).
To be honest, I knew that my calf strain was bad enough to stop racing, to stop pushing; but my hope was that the calf would not be further damaged if I continued along at a jogging pace. Without accessing the push-off phase of the run, I felt that the “heel running” might even loosen up the strain/ knot. Whether or not this was a good decision, I’ll never know. And whether or not I should have stopped and taken the DNF, I’ll never know. What I do know is that by finishing the run, I was able to keep piece of mind that I finished what I started, and that I did not quit, despite having to drastically change the goals with which I started the day. Sometimes, that’s what racing is all about: adjustment and perseverance.
Looking back at how the race went, I am still very positive in some regards. I was able to test myself on the swim and bike, and, in my eyes, I passed the test: my early-season swim/ bike fitness is in a great place. Another positive that came from the experience was that I got a swift kick in the pants to get back into my regular gym routine. I had been consistently swimming, biking, and running since arriving in Austin; but my gym work had slipped by, for no good reason. I know that my body responds very well to consistent and light gym work, to keep it in balance (mostly), and to keep me from getting injured. I neglected this small piece of the puzzle, and my assessment of the calf injury is that without my tuned-up and balanced body, I was unable to handle the strain that came from a few seemingly minor variables (i.e., uneven riding in the wind, car drive before the race, first race of the year, and even lack of arch support in new cycling shoes).
The obvious negative that came from the race was that I have now suffered a set-back to my training and racing plan. I have been receiving extensive PT and rehab here in Austin, and by all accounts my muscle strain was only a 1 or 2 on the scale of 1-10. The prognosis is good, and the hope is that with 7-10 days of rehab/ easy running, I should be back to 100%. In line with that hope, my aim is to forge ahead with swim and bike training knowing that my body will rebound nicely with a few missed run sessions. The beauty of having trained for and raced 26 Ironmans is that I have a lot of built-in training in my body. My Ironman prep may well be right on track, but only time will tell!
In summary, I am looking forward to a strong and successful race season, and I know that my body will rebound quickly enough to enable my best racing to date. And getting through another rough go in Galveston was rewarding on many levels, not the least of which was being called “old school” for sticking it out and avoiding the all-to-typical pro DNF.
Onward and upward.