Newport Beach Tri Race Report

Last night, I wrote about no longer needing sprint triathlons as part of my Ironman training.

Tonight, I write about why this morning's Newport Beach Triathlon was among the most important races I've completed.

Like my 20-mile Firecracker run in February, I proved something to myself this morning.  Perhaps more appropriate, I earned the validation I was seeking that my Fortius Coaching training is paying dividends.  After my LA Marathon debacle, I needed a proof point.  Moreover, was my Garmin speaking the truth lately?  Was I indeed getting slower?  These questions needed answers in the worst possible way, so the timing couldn't have been better to experience something tangible to compare year-to-year.

Fortunately, I did just that today, shaving off more than eight minutes from las year's 1:32:54 performance.

Eight minutes! I was hoping for improvement in the three-to-five minute range.  This year, I finished in 1:24:05, good for 11th place in my age group (top 20%) and top 20% among all men.

I cut 2:30 off last year's swim, nearly three minutes off last year's bike time and nearly :30 off my run.  The transitions were much faster too.  Moreover, my swim pace per 100 yards was by far my personal best -- 1:40.  My T-pace when I started training with Coach Gerardo was around 2:05.  I cannot believe the progress I've made.  Perhaps that is what I'm most proud of, given all the troubles I've been writing about lately regarding my swim technique.  And my 14:45 swim included a more brutal than usual opening 200 yards, with several people grabbing at my ankles and shoulders.  Not to mention slightly swimming off course after the first buoy.  In other words, I could've swam faster.  That's a great feeling.

Cycling the bike course several times yesterday paid off today too, though it was more than likely the lack of a cross-wind that put me over the top.  Yesterday, my Garmin indicated I averaged around 16.4 mph on my ride.  Today, I was .01 under a 20 mph average.  Of course, I was taking care yesterday to largely remain in heart-rate zone 2.  Today, while I could've dug a little harder, I was definitely in zone 3 for most of the ride.  Once again the only bikes beating me were guys on TT bikes.

I will be fixing that issue shortly.  I've got my eyes and heart set on a Cervelo P2 with upgraded wheels.

The run was about what I expected.  Were it not for the 7-8% grade hill at the 1.5 mile mark, I likely would have broken 21 minutes.  Instead, I paced myself to have a strong finishing kick.  I'm sure I negative split the latter 1.5, with a sprint on the last 150 yards.

There was also an intangible factor that helped fuel me this morning.  Stephanie, despite being sick, along with her dad came to support me.  This was the first triathlon that Steph's dad had ever seen, and I wanted to put on a show.  I wanted to let "Mr. V" know -- loud and clear -- what I was made of, and that the same kind of resolve and grit I demonstrate during a race is the same kind of attitude I will bring in taking care of his daughter.  As a result though, I was more nervous than I should have been.  Case in point: I put on my wetsuit backwards!

Fortunately, I overcame my nerves, along with a brief panic attack when I couldn't get my normal pre-race breakfast of oatmeal and banana until 40 minutes before the race.  Unlike the LA Marathon, the race itself was the highlight, instead of the pre- and post-event activities.

As I reflect on today's triumph, I no longer need to benchmark my training last year.  Fortius Coaching works.  My training is paying off.  I'm a better triathlete.  A more knowledgeable triathlete.

And tonight, a happier triathlete.

Next up: Wildflower!  But for just a little bit longer, I'll relish today's milestone. What was supposed to be a small event was a rather large confidence boost.

227 days and counting.

Wildflower Preview

It's been two days since I returned from a Fortius Coaching training weekend at Lake San Antonio, site of the famed and fabled Wildflower triathlon.

I'm still trying to find the right words to describe my experience there.

I've only completed eight triathlons.  But Wildflower is poised to be the grand-daddy of them all -- the Rose Bowl of triathlons.  The scenery -- picture flowing Texas prairies interspersed with creeks and mountains in the distance -- challenging course routes and abundant wildlife combine to offer an experience that almost makes you forget you're pushing your body to its physical limit.


While I could spend hours writing about the relationships I either formed or strengthened with Fortius teammates, I'm going to focus instead on the course itself.  It deserves its own tribute, after all.  I also promised my friends who haven't been to Wildflower that I'd share what I learned.  Selfishly speaking though, I want the images of the myriad hills burned in my head on race day.  I'm going to need that kind of recall.

Wildflower has a reputation for being the second-hardest triathlon course in America.  After swimming in the lake's chilly, murky water, biking both the Olympic and long course routes and running the Olympic course, I can't imagine how difficult our nation's hardest triathlon course would be.

I'll start with the swim.  The good news is that the water temperature should rise a few degrees by May 1.  The bad news (for me) was that this weekend's water temperature was in the mid-high 50s. But that's not going to be the tough part of the swim.

That honor would be reserved for running up an approximately 100-yard concrete boat ramp from the swim exit to the bike transition area.  I can think of few things as fun as just emerging from the water, cold, slightly dizzy and drenched, only to look up at about a 3-5% grade separating you from your bike.

Coach Gerardo suggested not running up the ramp but taking a bit of extra time to settle the heart rate.  An especially wise decision considering the first few miles of the Wildflower Olympic course (which I'm registered for) are a climb up and out of the main park area.  The grade reaches about 8-9% as I recall, so it's important to start the bike ride A) in the low gear coming from T1 and B) with as low of a heart-rate as possible.  There are mostly gentle rollers from Interlake Road onward to the turnaround point, though a few big hills loom towards the latter part of the first 12-13 miles.

According to Gerardo and our training weekend cycling coach, Derek, one of the other big keys to a successful Wildflower bike ride is conserving enough energy on the first half of the ride to achieve a negative split time on the second half.  This is made a little easier as more of the return ride is downhill.  However, don't be fooled...there are a few big hills, especially around mile 15 (if I recall correctly) and the second-to-last portion of the course -- as you re-enter the park.  Make sure you have enough energy for a strong finishing kick.  You'll need it, but you'll be rewarded with a steep, fairly aggressive descent -- the same hill you battled to get out of the park will suck you right back in for the run.  If you're feeling fatigued take your time rolling down that hill.  That's how accidents happen. Trust me, I've been there in the past.

Side Note 1: For those of you doing the Wildflower long course, I salute you.  I rode the long bike course but didn't have the pleasure of running the long course.  That was fine by me.  The long course bike ride is actually a lot of fun, if you pace yourself.  I rode it in a fairly leisurely 3:52, but am glad I did.  Best advice: Save yourself for mile 41, a long (potentially painful) hill known simply as "Nasty Grade."  Need I say more?  Remember there's a follow-up climb to Nasty Grade, and once you start the descent from both, you can begin to drop the hammer if you have enough energy left to do so.  But again, as you'll see below, leave room for the run!

Ah yes, the run.  If you've completed the Firecracker 10k in Chinatown, you fondly recall the first three miles of the race are a spiraling uphill to the top of Dodger Stadium.

The Wildflower 10k course is tougher, to the tune of about 4.75 miles of climbing before you get a real break.

The good (and bad) news is that unlike the Firecracker, you'll see what's in front of you for most of the uphills.  Maybe it's best that you don't see it?  For me, I kept my head down and focused on what was in front of me, which was hard considering all the wildlife and vegetation that were seemingly cheering (mocking?) me along the way.

Side note 2: The deer at Lake San Antonio went to the New York School of Pigeon Behavioral Sciences.  They are unafraid of humans, will essentially pose for pictures and don't get squirrely unless you approach within 10-12 feet. Which, by the way, is a bad idea on general principle.  Deer look harmless but will totally ruin your day.  Or so I've heard.  Not something I want to test out, especially because they travel in groups at the lake.

Back to the run.  If you have trail-running shoes, you may want to bring them.  A good portion of the 10k run is on dirt -- a welcome reprieve from the concrete.  During the final mile, you'll head back to the pavement to run down the steep embankment you biked previously.  This will wreak havoc on your quad muscles but you probably won't feel it until after the race, given the euphoric feeling of completing one of the country's toughest triathlon challenges.

Although I didn't go all-out on the Olympic-distance bike or run, based on my practices I'm guessing it will take me about 3:09-3:15 to finish the entire course, not including transition times.  I'm budgeting about 35 minutes for the swim (though I'd love to be faster!), 1:40 on the bike and if all goes well, about a 54-minute run.  I ran almost immediately following biking the Olympic course so this seems pretty reasonable.

By comparison, I am capable of swimming about a 30-minute mile with a current, 1:10 or possibly less on a 25-mile bike ride and around 50 minutes or slightly less for a triathlon 10k run.  My past Olympic-distance triathlons have ranged from 2:44 to 3:00 (my first Olympic tri).  You can see my budget for this race will be a lot more conservative.

In the end though, the best part of the camp wasn't the preparation or the knowledge of the course.  By far, it was trading stories, insights and one-liners with my Fortius teammates.  Picture going to sleep-away camp but for triathletes.  And with much better food.  It was the ultimate weekend getaway for the obsessed weekend warrior athlete: eat, sleep, train, stretch, repeat.  No cell phones.  No internet access.  Just Triathlete magazine, good company, fantastic scenery, and challenging training.

Aside from having my fiance by my side, what more could an Iron Mad Man ask for?

I returned from Lake San Antonio completely physically and mentally rejuvenated for Ironman training.  I've got the Newport Beach triathlon this Sunday, but my mind is totally locked into May 1-2.  Wildflower.  Oh, it's on baby.

233 days and counting.

From Aluminum to Tin Man

I graduated today. After running 20 miles for the first time and shaving 11 minutes off my previous Firecracker 10k time two years ago, I am giving myself a diploma. (Btw, if you're interested, my race results are here.)

I'm turning the tassel from being an "aluminum-man" to being a "tin man."

What do I mean?

I can now run up to 20 miles, which this morning included a difficult 10k with more than half the distance covered being uphill, at a fairly easy pace.  That means I know I can complete a marathon with 100% certainty.  For a guy who used to have to ice his legs down after a 10k just a couple years ago, this is a huge accomplishment for me.

Second, I'm ready to train tomorrow.  Mentally, I'm there. Physically, I may be a bit shot. I'm sore.  I hit a bit of a wall around mile 18 on my run today, which occurred towards the top of Elysian Park overlooking Dodger Stadium. My legs barked.  My back tightened.  My pace slowed slightly.  I needed to walk up a hill to lower my heart-rate.  But sheer willpower and the desire to finish strong carried me through the final two miles of the 10k and the overall run.  And I was able to sprint the final 200 yards.

Ah yes, the pre-race run.  Just a few weeks ago, I thought Coach Gerardo and his brother Ray were crazy for running 14 miles before completing a 10k.  Then, I became one of the crazies myself.

Funny what this sport does to you.

The pre-dawn run was absolutely serene and beautiful.  My partners in crime, Christina and Paul, joined me at 5:45 a.m. at the Universal Studios metro stop.  From there we snaked through Burbank, Glendale, Griffith Park, Los Feliz, Silverlake, downtown and Chinatown before arriving at the Firecracker 10k with minutes to spare before the starting gun.  Running with a full moon for an hour followed by a sunrise and the beginning of a bustling day was surreal.  The city sparkled to life in front of our eyes, literally.  By the time the race started, the sunshine was dazzling -- without a cloud in a sky.  What a way to begin a Sunday!

Another reason I graduated today: I accomplished something I previously thought was crazy and beyond my reach.  I smashed a mental barrier.

What's the next grade level?  What will I graduate to next?  I think from tin we progress to metal.  The graduation ceremony will occur on July 18, 2010, at the Vineman Half-Ironman.

Mark it down.

I'm on a mission.

268 days and counting.

Weekend Holiday

Why, hello Saturday!  I had almost forgotten what you looked like! Instead of the usual Ironman training regimen, I had an off day in preparation for tomorrow morning's 20-mile run from Universal City to Chinatown for the Firecracker 10k.  Here's a peek at the route.

To celebrate my morning of relaxation, I did what any reasonable person would do: I slept.  And slept.  Then, I slept some more.  Until about 10:45 a.m.  I needed that!

The rest of the day was fairly decadent, especially with the constant schedule I've maintained since this past November.  I enjoyed perhaps one of my all-time favorite breakfasts at Larchmont Bungalow.  People, you must try their Best of Both Worlds pancakes and brioche French toast.  Of course, I added scrambled eggs and chicken-apple sausage to it for balance.

Feeling fat and sassy, I headed to downtown LA to register for the Firecracker 10k, since I hadn't done that yet.  Then, I jetted back to Encino to Phidippides, a popular running store.  I'm replacing my Amphipod runner's belt with a Nathan, since I couldn't ever quite get comfortable with the Amphipod fit.  I also purchased compression socks and shorts to experiment for tomorrow's run.  Full report coming post-race, of course.

The highlight of the day though came tonight, at the Safe at Home charity event featuring Dodgers manager Joe Torre and my boyhood hero (make that every Jewish kid's hero), Hall of Fame pitcher Sandy Koufax.  Despite knowing I'd get home late and have less sleep heading into tomorrow's run, I needed to hear Koufax tell stories about his career since he so rarely grants public interviews.  Several heavy hitters in Los Angeles apparently agreed, as former and current Dodger players, Hollywood directors and actors, helped pack a nearly full house.  One of my favorite sports writers, LA Times columnist TJ Simers, moderated.  Simers was as feisty and crotchety as ever, but Koufax never bit, displaying his signature wit and class throughout the discussion.

Hearing Koufax' tales of tenacity during a career filled with injury, scrutiny and mystery certainly inspired me.  I will remember the pain he must have endured pitching nearly 600 innings over the last two seasons of his career as I labor before sunrise tomorrow during my run.  I will recall that in order to become a champion, you can never lose sight of your goals, but the core of your personality is even more important.  I will internalize that you can win while keeping your head down and building others up, that nobody has to suffer at the hands of your own triumph.

Yeah, I'd say it was a pretty darned good Saturday.

And now, I fade off to sleep and dream of breaking another milestone tomorrow: my first 20-mile run.

I can't wait!

269 days and counting.