A Frustrating Season

It's been a while since I've written so rather than try to get caught up on race reports, I thought I'd write a general update and go from there.

I left off with my training leading into Puerto Rico.  All things considered, my training went well but the race did not.  My swim was alright and my bike was okay but I got a little dehydrated and faded a bit on the second half.  Coming off the bike I had a lot of pain in my left hip, which was unexpected since I never had that in training.  But that was the side of my sciatic pain so it makes sense.  I struggled a lot on the run and just couldn't get moving.  Overall, I really enjoyed the race and might go back again, but it wasn't a good day.

After that, training went alright.  I was able to get in more outdoor miles but running remained a challenge.  I lost a lot of strength in my left hamstring and especially my calf and outdoor running put a lot of strain on my calf and it was sore everyday.  My next race was Challenge Knoxville, which went about as well as PR.  The swim was alright but it rained through the entire ride just like it did the last time I did this race so that wasn't much fun.  The run was a disaster and I just couldn't get moving.  More issues with my injury, and in the end it was my slowest half ironman ever.  

Since then, I've struggled with training.  The loss of hamstring strength led to a minor strain which went away quickly, but it also brought back the return of my old knee injury.  So right now I'm swimming and cycling and haven't run much in the past few weeks.  We're less than 12 weeks out from IMWI and my run fitness, whatever I had, is slipping away.  I'm still holding out some hope that I'll be able to race, but right now it's not looking promising.  

I bought the insurance so if training doesn't improve in the next couple of weeks, I'll probably drop out and spend the rest of the summer cycling and put triathlon on hold for a while and see if maybe I can rebuild over the winter.  

So it's been a seriously frustrating season so far.  I'm about 10 months out from my back injury and still struggling to put it behind me.  In retrospect, trying to race Puerto Rico and Knoxville was a mistake.  I'm not sure if those races set me back at all, but they didn't go well so they weren't much fun and weren't good for confidence.

So that's where I'm at right now - frustrated and unsure of the future of my season (and the rest of my tri career since this back injury is making returning to running very difficult).  I'm not giving up yet though. I'm still trying to turn things around and trying some new things with my training since I'm not able to do my typical training plan.  


A tough treadmill session

Sunday, I hit the treadmill for my last long run before Puerto Rico.  The PR 70.3 run course is a two-loop out and back with a big climb that you eventually hit four times.  Then there are some rollers, which I believe can be short and steep.  

The best I can tell, you get a little more than 100 feet of climbing on that hill.  I figured mimicking the course exactly would be tough, so I just focused on overall climbing rather than trying to match the grades.  I came up with a set that was 3.5 miles and then repeated that 4 times, similar to the run course.

I ran this mostly at 7.7 mph (7:48 pace), which is about my typical long run pace.  The first half mile was a warm up as well as recovery on the start each rep.  Then I stepped it up to a 2% grade, which made my graded pace equivalent to about a 7:30 pace.  Then a bit of "recovery" at 1% followed by a mile at 3%.  That bumped my graded pace up to 7:13, which is about my goal pace for Puerto Rico so I was kind of getting some goal pace work in as well as hill work.  It also gave me more than 150 feet of climbing.  It wasn't steep, but it got tough in the later stages of the workout.  Then more "recovery" at 1% followed by a 5% grade at 7.1 mph, which gave me a graded pace of 7:14 so again right about goal pace.  That was a tough half mile, giving me more than 130 feet of climbing.

All total I had 8 "climbs" of more than 100 feet and ended just short of 1600 feet of climbing in 14 miles.  The pace wasn't really a challenge, but the climbing really wore on me.  It was a tough set, but time went quickly so I enjoyed it.  I've been doing hill repeats on a steep hill by work so I'm hoping those help me handle the steeper grades on the PR run course, and this workout helps prep me for the overall climbing. 

As of writing this, I'm 12 days out.  Today I ran at lunch and did a workout that had 8' at 8.3 mph (7:14 pace) slowly increasing the incline from 1-2.5%, then some short hill repeats and finished off with a half mile at 9.3 mph (6:30 pace) at 1%. I did the same workout last week, except this week I cut all the work intervals in half.  I'm feeling some fatigue from the last two weeks of training so this wasn't an easy set, but it wasn't really tough either.  I should recover fairly quickly.

After work, I had what might be my best distance swim set ever.  Last week I did 2500 yards straight in 34:50.  I was really happy with that workout, and this week wanted to extend it to 3000 straight.  It went really well...better than I expected.  I managed to negative split it swimming each 1000 in 13:55, 13:52 and 13:49.  I think I hit the 2500 yard mark at 34:42 so a bit quicker than last week.  

I just bought a Garmin 920XT so now I have swim data...

I still some work to do, but I'm starting to taper a bit.  I have one last big bike workout Thursday, 10 days out.  Then things get pretty easy.

I'm nervous about this race, but getting excited too. 


17 Days

My training for this race has been all over the place.  It took me a few months to get feeling back in my leg from my back injury.  After that, cycling and swimming were going okay.  I was definitely behind previous years, but not too much.  But running was rough...really rough.  I lost a lot of strength in my left leg, the calf especially, which really hurt my running.  I felt like 7 years of training had been erased as I struggled to hit paces I hit back when I started. 

I've made a lot of progress in the past couple of months, but my left leg is still lagging behind my right and I still struggle to do more than 15 calf raises. It's frustrating, but I'm getting there. PT has helped a lot.

And my running is finally coming around.  One of the biggest contributors was throwing away my Pearl Izumi running shoes and buying Hoka Cliftons.  I never thought I'd run in Hokas, but I tried them on at REI out of curiosity and they felt really good...really good.  I haven't had them very long, but so far I'm starting to hit my old paces and I'm not feeling nearly as beat up as I used to.  

The biggest frustration training for Puerto Rico has been the inconsistency.  I'd have a couple of good days and then I'd have several bad days where I would be way off pace and my running would feel lopsided as the strength difference in my legs became more evident. In some cases I was forced into unplanned easy days or rest days, so my training plan got rewritten many times.

I'm nearing the end of my final training block for PR, and this block has gone really well.  Surprisingly well.  I've had some good workouts, a notable one being my brick this past Thursday....17 days out.  Normally, my half ironman bricks are right around goal power/pace, maybe a bit higher power.  I decided to try something a little different this time, and do a harder session.  

I did a really short warm up on the bike and then...
45' @ 270 watts
5' Easy
35' @ 270 watts
5' Easy
25' @ 270 watts

My goal watts for this race will probably be about 235-240 (last year I held 236 average power for Kansas and Muncie, so I'm shooting for the same range).  So I was well above goal power.  The bike workout was 2 hours and had an average power of 258 and normalized power of 264.  I'm due for an FTP test, but I'd say this was about 90% of FTP, maybe a tad higher.      

Strava Link for Bike

Then I hopped on the treadmill and did 6 x 1 mile at 9 mph (6:40 pace) with 30 seconds rest.  My goal is to run sub-90 minutes in a half ironman.  I've come close, but haven't quite hit that number.  A 90 minute half marathon is a 6:52 pace, so this is a bit above that goal.  Since I haven't raced in a long time, and I'm a little unsure of my fitness, and because Puerto Rico is hot and hilly, I'm thinking I might aim for a 7:15 pace (1:35 half) and see how that goes....so this was quite a bit faster than that...but I'm also building toward that sub 1:30 half and working on that pace. 

Strava Link for Run

That was the toughest brick I'll do leading into the race.  I've got some hard work left to do, but no workouts as hard as that one.  My last long tempo ride will be Thursday, 10 days out.  Then it's taper time.


Physcial Therapy

I've been going to Sport and Spine on the East side for a couple of months now.  I had to go to PT a few years ago with my torn tendon and that was okay, but I wasn't impressed.  Progress was minimal and we did the exact same thing every time...even though I wasn't making much progress.  This time has been completely different though.  

I've been making great progress and we've been trying a lot of different things.  As soon as it seems I'm not responding anymore, Joe (my PT) mixes things up.  Initially we focused on massage and foam rolling to try and get my muscles to loosen up.  They were locked up all the way down my glute, hamstring and especially my left calf.  The muscles were so tight I couldn't bend over to lift the toilet seat without bending my knees.  The massage and foam rolling hurt, but after a couple of weeks things started to loosen up and my mobility began to return.

Then we moved on to dry needling and continued foam rolling, massage, etc.  At this point I was able to ride again but wasn't swimming or running and I still had numbness all the way down my leg.  I wasn't limping anymore and was getting around a lot better.  I had lost strength in my left calf so I wasn't walking with my normal gait yet, but there was big improvement.

Joe believed a good part of my problem was my piriformis muscle pinching my sciatic nerve.  We don't know if that was caused by my herniated disc or not (chicken and the egg) but that was the focus of most of my PT.  The dry needling was interesting, and in a strange way I enjoyed it, but it wasn't very effective for me.  I only did a couple of sessions and then we moved on to Astym (similar to Graston, but not as harsh).  Astym was the magic bullet.  

 With Astym, they take plastic tools and scrape the area they're treating. For me, that was my left leg and foot.  The thinking behind Astym is that the scraping creates micro-trauma under the skin and your body then sends blood to that area to heal.  So it stimulates blood flow which speeds up healing.  

It only took a few sessions of Astym and the numbness began to disappear.  At this point, I was cycling but hadn't been swimming or running in 2 months.  My PT wanted me to go to the pool to see if I could handle it.  That went well, so swimming was added to my cycling.  2/3 of the way there.

We continued with massage, foam rolling, Astym and now some strengthening work to try to regain the strength I lost in my left leg, especially my left calf. He wanted me to go aqua jogging to start working on the running motion and to see how my body handled that without the pounding of real running.  So, on a Saturday afternoon a couple of weeks ago, I went for my first run.  Ten minutes...outdoors.  He said aqua jogging, but it was raining out so I figured that was close enough.

Wow...that was rough.  Ten minutes....ten ugly minutes.  My form was sloppy and my left leg was stomping the ground flat footed like I had no control over it.  I was sure I was running with a limp but Courtney said I didn't look quite that bad.  Fitness was hovering right around zero.  I ran an easy pace, but it was far from easy.  The only hill I had to climb was brutal.  I was huffing and puffing like I was on day 1 of a couch to 5K program.  Two months was my longest break from running since I started in late 2007.  I couldn't believe how much fitness I'd lost.  

I survived the run with no issues, other than horrible form and zero fitness.  My disc/piriformis handled it well...although my left calf was extremely sore for 4 or 5 days after this.  Then I ran again.  Still ugly...still very unfit...but a little progress.  When the pain in my calf went away, I ran again. 

Today, the numbness is gone and my strength is returning.  I'm swimming, cycling and running, although running is still a bit limited.  My form is improving, but still has a ways to go.  This week I will run 3 times for 30 minutes each time. There's an Alter-G treadmill at the West side location of Sport and Spine which I may try to use to get in a few more miles...and because I think they're interesting and would love to try one out.

So that's where I'm at. Unfit but recovering and back to triathlon training...and registered for the Puerto Rico 70.3.  :)

13 weeks til race day.  I have my work cut out for me.


Injury Update

Unfortunately, I missed Ironman Chattanooga.  I was hoping that maybe things would improve suddenly and I would be able to race, but I had some pretty extreme sciatic pain radiating down my leg for about two weeks which included numbness and weakness in my leg.  I couldn't lift my left heel off the ground and was walking with a limp.  I figured even if I could get through the race, I wouldn't be able to perform my best and would probably make things worse so I cancelled the hotel and skipped the race.

That left me wondering what to do.  I was hoping to qualify for Kona and felt like my fitness was there.  My last two attempts to get back to the big island didn't go well and now attempt number three came and went and I wasn't even on the starting line. Should I sign up for another Ironman?  Should I just give up on Kona and focus on halfs?  I had a couple of good half ironmans this year and really enjoy that distance.  My year of olympics was fun too.  Maybe I should focus on those.

Then I saw a Facebook post stating that Ironman Wisconsin had less than 100 slots left.  Hmmmm.....  I've done Wisconsin a few times so I felt tempted to pick a different race, something new...but IMWI is the easiest one for me to do in terms of logistics.  I get to sleep in my own bed the night before the race.  I can train on the course all year.  It's easy for my family to come watch.  Etc.

I talked it over with Courtney and then limped over to my computer and registered (yes, I paid for the refund insurance). We decided one last shot at Kona was in order, and that IMWI made the most sense.  Then we'll pick a couple of 70.3s to travel to so we still get to see some new places.

I wanted an early season race, and a little bit of research led me to the San Juan 70.3 in Puerto Rico.  I haven't registered yet, but I did book the hotel. 


If I'm going to be on that starting line on March 15, 2015, I need to get healed.  I had an MRI which showed a bulged disc at L5-S1.  I started PT last week and he thinks I have two things going on - the bulged disc (which the doc says is mildly hitting the sciatic nerve) and piriformis syndrome (he thinks my piriformis has tightened up and is pinching my sciatic nerve causing the majority of my problems).  

I'll write more about my PT in my next post.  Right now, I'm about 5 weeks out from my initial injury and I've made a lot of progress.  I still have a long ways to go, but I'm no longer limping, I'm able to ride and I can now lift my left heel off the ground 10 times.  I still have numbness all the way down my left hamstring, calf and into my toes, but my strength is returning.  



This season was going really well.  My training was great.  My FTP was at an all time high, I was running well and my swimming was as strong as ever.  I had two great 70.3s finishing 3rd and 1st in my age group.  I came out of the water in 3rd in one of them, which is my best ever swim.  I was also running about 10 minutes faster in 70.3s than I have in the past.  I felt like I was on track for a good day in Chattanooga and hopefully another Kona slot.

Then came an old injury....my back.  I hurt my back two days before AG Nationals.  I strained some muscles in the middle of my back, and I managed to get it loosened up enough to race fairly well at Nationals so while it wasn't my best weekend of racing, it wasn't horrible either.  I even snuck in there for a Team USA qualifying slot in the sprint race so I get to be a part of Team USA again next year.

After Nationals, my back healed and I thought all was good.  Just a minor setback...it happens.  Two days before Worlds, it went again.  This time during a warm up workout and this time it was my lower back.  I survived Worlds, but my back issues made the trip very difficult.  Flying with a bike with back pain isn't fun.

Worlds was worse than Nationals, and my back cost me about 2 weeks of training.  One of those weeks was supposed to be an easy week so that wasn't a problem, but it cost me a build week as I let it heal.

After that I managed a week and a half of really solid workouts and felt like I might be on track again.  Then, earlier this week, my lower back pain returned.  I made an appointment with a chiro who took the situation from bad to worse and left me with sciatic pain so bad I couldn't even stand up and walk around.  That was a couple of days ago.  The next day, Courtney convinced me to go to urgent care where they gave me a muscle relaxant.  That helped with the pain, but the problem still persists.  It's now Sunday, day 4 of sciatica.  I have pain radiating down my left hamstring and calf into my foot.  I have numbness and tingling and my calf has locked up.  I can now stand and walk around, but I'm walking with a limp.  

Ironman Chattanooga is a week away. I can barely walk and haven't done a workout in 4 days.  I'm not sure this thing is going to go away in time for the race, and even if it does what damage might I do if I race?  So as of right now, I'm not sure I'm going to be heading down to TN.  

To make matters even worse, my dad changed up his chemo schedule to try and come down to watch the race.  He was on a 3-week schedule, but moved a treatment ahead to give himself time to recover to make the trip.  That treatment didn't go well, and he's in the hospital and can no longer make the trip.

So here I am trying to decide what to do.  Do I go down and try to race?  Do I skip it?  If I do skip it, do I sign up for Cozumel?  Do I sign up for an Ironman next year?  Do I give up on the iron distance and focus on 70.3s?  I had a lot of fun with those this year.  Unfortunately, The Austin and Miami 70.3s are sold out or I would consider adding one of those to my 2014 schedule.  

I haven't made a decision yet, and I haven't given up on Chattanooga yet....but I have given up on the hopes of getting a Kona slot.  I don't see that happening.  My back has cost me too much training over the past 6 weeks or so. 

I'll post a Worlds race report soon.  It was a pretty cool event.  


Race Report: Muncie 70.3

The week after the Janesville tri, I headed down to Indiana for the Muncie 70.3.  My training had gone well after Kansas, especially my swimming, so I was hoping to finally break 30 minutes in the swim.  I set a goal earlier this year to break 90 minutes on a half ironman run, and since I just missed that at Kansas that carried over to this race.  I'd never done Muncie, but knew there were plenty of rolling hills on the run so I wasn't so sure that goal was going to get checked off the list, but I figured I'd try.  My other goal was to get a top 5 in my age group.

The swim course.

Waiting for my wave to start.

Swim (30:43)

I lined up on the front row and the guy next to me quickly got in front and I sat on his feet.  Once I got in line, it felt too easy.  That was the mistake I made in Kansas and hoping to avoid that mistake I decided to move out of the draft to test it out and see how the effort felt without the draft.  On my own, I started passing him and then a quick look up showed only two guys just a little ways ahead.  I put in a hard effort and got on their feet.  The pace felt good so I focused on staying on their feet.

This is where things got really frustrating.  There are 5 minutes between waves.  We caught the wave ahead of us within 2-3 buoys.  Then we caught the wave two waves ahead of us well before the first corner.  That was the men's 35-39, I believe.  We were maybe a third of what way through the swim and we'd already made up 10 minutes on some of those guys.  It was carnage.  Sidestroking, backstroking, breaststroking, floating, etc.  I lost the two guys I was swimming with and spent the rest of the time dodging people.  I missed my sub-30 goal and came out of the water pretty frustrated.  I really wanted to hit that goal, and I felt like I'd dropped a lot of time to my competitors working through the waves.  

What I didn't know was that no one in my AG broke 30 minutes and that I was coming out of the water in 3rd, only 32 seconds behind the leader.  Even though I didn't hit my goal, that makes this my best every half ironman swim.  My previous best would have been Kansas where I came out of the water in 10th in my AG. 

Wetsuit strippers.
 T1 (2:24)

Transition was smooth.  There's a long uphill run from the swim to the bike racks so I tried to be quick, but controlled.  I transitioned 34 seconds quicker than the swim leader - and faster than the guy who came out of the water in second - so I left T1 a couple seconds in the lead.  I had no idea.

Bike (2:17:01 - 24.5 mph)

 The bike is flat and fast.  Most of it is on a closed highway where you do two out and backs.  There really isn't a whole lot to say about the bike.  I watched my power, but not really close.  The more experience I get, the more I race by feel and kind of watch my power but don't let it completely dictate my race.  If I'm feeling good, I go with it.  If not, I don't push it just to hit a number which is something I would have done in the past.  Race WITH power, not TO power.  In the end, my average power was exactly the same as Kansas.

I felt like I might be in the top 10 in my AG so I was looking for my competitors.  I never found any, and that was a little frustrating.  Where were they?  I usually catch people on the bike.  In retrospect, it makes sense.  I left T1 with the lead and set the fastest bike split in my AG. 

As far as bike courses go, this was okay but I definitely preferred Kansas.  The roads were better in Kansas and I like rolling hills.  

T2 (1:23)

Quick and smooth.  

Run (1:35:16 - 7:16 pace)

The run has a lot of rollers, but wasn't as hilly as I was expecting.  I felt pretty good at the start of the run and settled in at a 6:50 pace.  I really thought I was going to hit my goal.  Everything was going well.

I don't know if it was the Skratch or what, but not long after drinking some (about 20-30 minutes into the run) I got the worst side ache ever.  Oh man, that sucked.  My pace slowed and I started looking for excuses to walk to see if it would ease up.  The volunteers at the aid stations were holding out cups yelling, "water" which was the prefect excuse to walk for a bit and drink some water.  

I still wasn't seeing anyone in my age group and the rollers were starting to get to me.  My side hurt, my legs were tired and as with most 70.3s, it felt much hotter than it actually was.  We had great weather, and suddenly I'm at the halfway point hurting much more than expected.  I knew my sub 90 wasn't happening and even at the turn around point I couldn't find anyone in my age group so I just kept plugging away, clicking off the miles trying to get to the finish line.  Eventually the side ache went away and I was able to step up the pace a bit toward the end. 

I can't say the run was a disaster, but it definitely wasn't the run I felt I had trained for.  I didn't over-bike so that wasn't the problem.  I'm not sure what happened out there.  I think the run would have been a few minutes better had I not gotten the side ache.  That was a rough 30-40 minutes.  I knew going in that sub-90 was going to be tough with all the rollers so I was thinking matching my Kansas split would be a good accomplishment.  I missed that by a few minutes.

Next year.

Overall (4:26:47 - 1st AG, 35th overall)

Even though I didn't get my sub-30 swim or sub-90 run, I did get my first age group win at a 70.3 so it was a successful race.  My training is going really well this year and things are coming together.  Like Kansas, I turned down my 70.3 Worlds slot because I'm doing ITU Worlds the weekend before. I wish I could do both. 

After Muncie, my IM Chattanooga training block started.  I did a big two-week block of work and then had a recover week leading into AG Nats (which is tomorrow and Sunday).  Then it's another block of work, then ITU Worlds, then one last block of work and a taper.