Taking a break

It's been a long time since I've written a blog post.  Training hasn't been much to write about so I haven't been very motivated to blog. 

IM Louisville was yet another bad race for me, and post race I was dealing with twitchy calf muscles and numbness in my toes.  The twitching is constant, all day, and still continues today. The numbness has finally gone away. It seems to be related to my sciatic nerve, which goes back to my injury in 2014.  

I did some 5Ks last fall until I strained my hamstring (same side as my sciatic issues so possibly related).  I then dialed things back and have been training all winter but my volume has been about half what it typically is and my motivation has been low.  I had some good training days, but they would be followed by increased calf twitchiness reminding me that something isn't right.  I've been to the doctor and the PT and have tried several things and the twitching continues.  It's frustrating and it has me concerned about my long term health.

Last week, my sciatic issues got really bad and I've been in a lot of pain and haven't been able to train.  So I decided that I need to take a break from triathlon.  I need some time off....completely.  I need to heal. 

I've never regained the fitness I had prior to my back injury in 2014, and nearly every race since then has been disappointing and frustrating.  I still enjoy the training and racing and would like to return, but I'm honestly not sure I'll be able to.  My comeback from my back injury in '14 didn't go well and has led to a couple of tough years - physically and emotionally. 

I wouldn't say I'm quitting, although the timing would be right to confirm an old friend's theory that people only do hobbies for 10 years before moving on to a new hobby.  I'd like to rest up and return to running sometime this summer and then do some sprint and olympic tris next year, although since swimming and cycling have been harder on my sciatica than running I'm not sure I'll be able to make a solid return.  We'll see.

To be completely honest....this decision to take a break isn't entirely physical.  Losing my dad to cancer hasn't been easy, and since his death I sometimes find myself questioning if I'm spending too much time training and racing....if I'm missing out on too many things in life. Lately, I find myself daydreaming about taking a backpacking trip...or hiking in Utah...or visiting Italy....or New Zealand...going kayaking...or taking my dad's old fishing boat out to see if it still floats...or sleeping in on a Saturday morning and going to the Farmer's Market with Courtney without worrying about fitting in a long ride... 




Downhill "track" workout & MATC Turkey Trot 5K

The Middleton HS track is a one mile run from work - perfect for my warm up - but students are using it sometimes.  Rather than run there hoping to get on the track, I decided to do a "track" workout on the bike path close to work Thursday.  Instead of 400s, I chose to run 10 x 90 seconds, then jog back to the start for recovery.  Most people run toward Pheasant Branch so I headed the other way toward the baseball field figuring I'd find a good flat stretch of trail that I'd basically have all to myself.  I was close...I did have it all to myself but it wasn't flat.  It was a gradual downhill.

It felt a little like cheating running a slight downhill for my intervals, but I liked it.  My heart rate was a little lower, which allowed me to relax a little and focus more on leg turnover and speed.  I wouldn't want to do all my track workouts downhill, but it was a fun change of pace and something I might work in from time to time.  

Turkey Trot

Sunday  was a beautiful day - sunny with a high of 70.  I decided to do the MATC Turkey Trot 5K.  This is a cross country race at Warner Park, so it's all off-road.  It's mostly flat running around the park with one steep, tough hill and another longer, gradual climb.  My goal was to pace this race better than the Haunted Hustle 5K last weekend and see if I could beat that time.  That was until my warm up. I guess we got more rain earlier in the week than I realized.  The ground was really soft and wet and it was instantly clear that this wasn't going to be a fast day.  A few years ago I did some cross country races for fun and decided to buy a pair of spikes. I felt like they weren't really necessary in most races I wore them in so I debated on wearing them, but Courtney suggested I wear them because...well, I own them so why not?  Good call.  


About 3/4 of a mile into the race.

I went out easier than last week and the first mile felt tough, but not brutal.  It was flat and there were only a few spots that were mushy, so I was thinking the race might be a bit faster than I was originally thinking.  I hit the first mile marker at 5:50..again...except my Garmin didn't register a mile until 6:07.  This had me wondering...did I start another 5K at a 5:50 pace or are their mile markers off?

The second mile starts with a short but very steep climb.  It's tough, and I was glad I had spikes on because some people were slipping.  The hill is followed by a short, flat section and then a downhill and I managed to work past a few people who probably hit that hill too hard.  Then we had a longer, gradual hill.  I've run this race before and I like this hill.  I like powering up this hill trying to pass people.  Again, I was glad I had my spikes on because this is a dirt trail and it was a little muddy and slick. Then we had a downhill and a flat section where we run through a playground and then we hit the second mile marker.  It said 11:XX.  Umm....what?

At this point I knew their mile markers were off.  No way was I running a sub-6 pace with the mushy ground and those two hills on mile 2.  My watch registered mile two at a 6:32 pace.  That felt about right. 

The rest of the course was flat, but the ground was pretty soft so it was hard work.  I crossed the finish line at 17:49, but had 2.8 miles on my Garmin (6:20 average pace).  I worked my way into 7th overall, 2nd in my age group. Even though my first mile was my fastest, I feel like I paced this race a lot better than last week.  My slowest mile was mile 2, and conditions were the best on mile 1 so it's no surprise it was the fastest.  I felt like I held steady and even though I was tired the final mile I didn't feel like I was falling apart like last week.  

I like cross country races so I had fun and actually enjoyed the tough conditions, but I'm frustrated the course was so short. The only thing I really want in a 5K is an accurate course.  Chip timing is great, but an accurate course comes first...especially when you're in a park where you can literally run the course anywhere you want.  I don't need t-shirts, goodie bags, finish line food, finisher's medals, awards, etc.  Just give me an accurate course.      


Haunted Hustle 5K

Saturday I raced the Haunted Hustle 5K.  It was my first 5K since May of 2015.  Before that, my last 5K was the Lake Geneva Turkey Trot in November of 2012.  So I haven't run many 5Ks that haven't followed a bike ride in the past few years.

My 5K PR is 18:31 (5:57 pace) from 2012.  I've done two track workouts recently - 6x400 and 7x400 - that went well. I hit each 400 in 78-80 seconds (5:12-5:20 pace) and I had a good tempo run a few weeks ago so I felt like my fitness was decent.  I didn't feel like I should go for a PR, but I was thinking I could probably manage something around 6 minute pace.  I planned on going out a bit conservative with the hope that I could negative split and finish strong.

The race started and I let several people go and tried to settle into a comfortably fast/slightly conservative pace.  I checked my Garmin about 2 minutes into the race expecting to see a 6:15 (ish) average pace.  It said 5:30.  Must be wrong.  I kept the pace strong but eased up a bit just in case my Garmin was right.  There were a few runners up the road, and I was right behind two other runners so I paced off them and tried to run relaxed and find a rhythm.

My Garmin signaled one mile right as we hit the first mile marker.  5:50.  Oops.  I didn't feel bad (yet), but I was starting to feel the effort.  The two runners I was chasing were starting to pull away a bit.  I told myself to be tough and keep fighting to hold my pace.

Mile 2 was a 6:05.  Fading, but not too bad.  I figured if I could manage to hold this pace I should come in just under 19 minutes.  Not bad.  

Mile 3 was ugly.  It hurt...bad.  I ran a 6:28 pace but it felt soooo much harder than mile 1.  I had nothing.  I lost touch with the two runners I was chasing at mile 1 and was starting to worry about being caught.  I refused to look back.  I focused on pushing through the pain and holding my pace the best I could.   

I finished in 6th place overall, 1st in my age group.  My official time is 19:21 (6:14 average pace).    I don't think I've ever blown up that bad in a 5K.  I've faded, but never 40 seconds per mile.  Despite the suffering, I had a good time and am looking forward to running another 5K soon.  The Haunted Hustle is a well-run race and drew a big turnout with 950 people in the 5K. The course is also right by our new office so I'm familiar with some of it from my lunch runs. 

The next day I watched the half marathon where Courtney exceeded her goal and set a 6 minute PR running 2:00:55.  A little later in the day I ran the half marathon course for my long run.  I really liked that route.  It's challenging, but not super hilly.  It also has a lot of variety - roads, bike paths, boardwalks, crushed limestone, etc.  Courtney's PR is from a really flat course so a 6 minute PR on this course shows a lot of improvement.   


Off-season swim plan

In my last post, I talked about the swim video I got so I could analyze my form and figure out some areas to focus on in the off-season.  I identified 3 things I want to focus on:  not over-rotating, improving my catch and improving my kick.

Identifying problems is one thing.  Fixing them is another.  To start, I broke my training into three phases...

Phase 1 - Form phase.  This is about 2 months long and the focus is form.  All short repeats (less than 200 yards) with longer rest periods.  Lots of kicking.

Phase 2 - Base phase.  About 3 months.  Higher volume, less form work but still working on form.  Repeats will be a little longer, but still mostly short intervals.  Rest intervals will tighten a bit. Not as much kicking.  

Phase 3 - Race specific phase.  This goes through the race season.  Trying to maintain gains made in phases 1 and 2 but lowering volume to increase bike/run volume.  Maintaining speed but adding in more endurance work and some longer repeats and open water work.  Rest intervals tighten up a bit more.

I also bought a few new swim toys to help me work on form....

 Ameo Powerbreather Snorkel.  I've read about the benefits of training with a snorkel many times - mainly, by eliminating the need to turn your head to breathe, you can focus on other aspects of your stroke  like the catch, symmetry, body roll, head position, etc.  I bought a center-mount snorkel a few years ago but didn't like it so I never used it.  Slowtwitch wrote about the Powerbreather recently and it sounded like an improvement over the center-mount snorkel so I ordered one.  They're also good for kick sets.  I'll be using this a lot in phase 1 as I work on form then I'll use it mainly in my warm up and cool down to continue working on form.

 Finis Alignment Kickboard.  No more kick sets with my head above the water practicing bad body position.  This board forces you into a streamlined position so you're kicking with good form.  It works best if you have a snorkel so you don't have to lift your head to breathe.  This will get a lot of use in phase 1 as I focus on my kick.

Fins.  To work on ankle flexibility and strengthening my kick.

Finis Tempo Trainer.  I love this thing.  I use it for pacing and stroke rate sets.  I probably won't use this until phase 2 and definitely in phase 3.  

So those are my training phases and the swim toys/aids I'll be using.  I plan on getting video a few times if possible to make sure I'm making progress with the form work.  I'm also thinking about signing up for a few masters swim meets this winter for motivation.  

To test my progress I'll be doing the occasional 1000 yard time trial.  I've done those in the past, so I have prior times to compare.

I started my swim phase with video last week and then a few days working on form with the snorkel and kick board.  A few days ago I did my first 1000 yard time trial to set my bench mark.  I surprised myself by swimming it in 13:17, which is a 2 second PR.  I was expecting something closer to 13:40 - 13:50.  It's a good surprise, but it makes me wonder.  Did I improve already?  If not, why have I been swimming some of my slowest open water times in years this season if I'm capable of a 1000 yard PR?  

I suppose it doesn't matter.  All I can do now is focus on improving my swim in the pool and then try to make that speed transfer to the open water next year, which has been a challenge for me in prior years.   


Swimming: Suck Less in '17

If you want to improve your swim, get some video.  Seriously.  The last time I got video was late 2011 when I did a swim focus that off-season. That was the last time I made progress in my swim.  It's actually gone backwards a bit the past couple of seasons.

To start my off-season, Courtney went to the pool with me to get some video with the GoPro.  My plan was to analyze the video using Kinovea (great, free software for analyzing video, measuring angles, going frame by frame, etc.) and find two or three big form flaws to work on.  I don't want to try and work on too many things at once.  

2016 on the left.  2011 on the right.  My left arm has improved, but still a lot of work to do.

 I watched a great webinar from USA Swimming on rotation so that was on my mind when analyzing the video.  I over-rotate, especially when I turn to my right to breathe.  I'm not as bad as I used to be - I used to rotate almost completely on my side - but I'm still over-rotating.  I'm starting my pull with my left arm too soon and I'm rotated too much.  Then when I rotate back to my stomach, my arm is pulling under my body, which is not an effective pull.  You can see it very clearly on the right image above from 2011.  The one on the left is from 2016.  It's better, but I'm still missing out on a lot of my pull by over-rotating. My hand should be below my shoulder like the image below. 

An image from the webinar showing good rotation.

   Above is an image from the webinar showing good rotation (about 30-35 degrees) and a good catch.

Me.  Rotating too much.  Arm is too deep.  Not a good bend in elbow.
 This is me.  I'm rotated too much, about 60 degrees.  Because of that, I can't get my arm in the same position as the pic above.  I don't have shoulder flexibility like that (who does?).  My arm is too deep and my catch isn't very effective....and this is my right arm, my good arm. 

Another shot from the webinar.
 Above is a shot from the webinar showing a bad catch on the left and a good catch on the right.  I'm much closer to the image on the left.  The good news is that those images are of the same person 6 months apart.  There's hope.

So that's 2 things:  rotation and catch.  The third thing I found that I want to address is my kick.  It's actually come a long way since I started, but I still have some work to do.

Look at my left leg.  That's a lot of drag.
 Your kick is supposed to be tight. You shouldn't bend your knee that much.  I'm creating a ton of drag doing that.  I suspect it might be related to my over-rotation.  I think I'm kicking my leg out to the side for balance, so if I can minimize my rotation I think my kick may start improving as well.

So those are the three big things I've decided to work on immediately. I'm not going to worry about any other form flaws until I improve those three things.  I think, if I can improve those, I'll make some good progress.

It's one thing to find issues.  It's another to address and fix them.  In my next post I'll go over my plan to make improvements and my new swim toys I think might help.


Starting to plan my off-season

I'm still working on my race schedule and goals for 2017, but in the meantime I've been working on my off-season plan.  2017 will be my 10th year in triathlon.  I'd like it to be a good one, so I need a good plan for the off-season to address my limiters and take care of the things I feel have been holding me back...


My swim was never strong, but it has gotten worse since my back injury.  I'm not sure what the deal is exactly, but I think a lot of it has to do with my left leg (that's the one that was numb for several months when I was injured).  That calf still cramps when I swim and I think that leg has a really weak kick right now and I suspect I'm not pointing my toes on that leg so that foot is creating drag. 

Other than calf cramps, I'm tired of giving up big chunks of time in the swim and playing catch up the rest of the race.  It's time to make some improvements.


This is mostly related to my injury, but also I think hitting the weight room this year will be good for me.  I think my back injury created some big imbalances that I need to address.  My plan is to do some light lifting to build a bit of a foundation and then do an 8-week block of heavy lifting to build strength.  Then I want to dial it back to a maintenance routine that I'll continue through 2017. I also plan on working in some plyometrics and speed and agility drills. I think those will be a good change of pace, and that stuff can be fun. Also, core work will be a big part of my weights routine.


My diet has gotten worse over the past few years.  I've gotten lazy and have lost a lot of the variety I used to have in my diet, and Ironman training has never been good for my diet.  I want to clean up my diet, cut out the sugar, add more variety and then see if I can keep that going throughout the season next year.  This will be the toughest change for me to make. 


Running hard after my injury caused issues so I haven't done much intensity the past two seasons.  I think I've gotten to a point where I can handle higher intensity, and making sure I can handle more intensity will be a huge focus for me in the off-season.  I want to do track workouts again, run 5Ks, etc.  I'm thinking about doing a block of 5Ks this fall and maybe doing some indoor track workouts over the winter like I did several years ago.  I set a goal of breaking 30 minutes at Crazylegs back in 2008.  The closest I've come is 30:36 in 2013 so I'd really like to focus on that and see if I can finally check off that goal. 


I felt like yoga helped me a lot last year so I want to get back into it and hopefully continue doing some yoga throughout the season next year. 


Last on the list because it won't be a focus this off-season.  I'm going to back off for a while and focus on other things.  That's a risk because it's my strength, but I'm banking on it coming back quickly.  I'd still like to improve my threshold a bit for next season, but I have more to gain in the pool and on the run so I'm going to focus on that for a while.  I've never felt like a very complete triathlete with my bike usually ranking much higher than my swim and run so for my 10th year in the sport I'd like to finally become a more complete triathlete.

So those are the general things I want to work on.  Now I need to spend some time figuring out my plan, and then I need to execute that plan.  It's one thing to say I want to improve my swim (or whatever), it's another to actually pull it off.  To do that, I need to have a plan.  I'll post more details once I get them figured out.


Race Report: Ironman Louisville

Ironman Louisville was my 9th Ironman since 2008 and my second Ironman of 2016.  I changed up my training a bit from prior Ironmans and did a little more volume than I ever have leading into my taper 3 weeks out, and then did less volume than I typically do leading into a race.  I wanted to be very fit, but also well-rested and ready to race.  I think in the past I've done too much work too close to race day and carried some fatigue into the race and I didn't want to repeat that mistake again.  I think this plan worked out well as my legs felt strong on race day.

Swim - 1:05:04

The Louisville swim is a time trial start.  I didn't feel like getting up really early to try and get to the front of the line so I slept in a bit until 4:45 and got to transition about 6.  Fortunately there wasn't any traffic and the lots across from transition were open so getting to transition was really easy.  Since I got there a little later, transition wasn't busy so I got my stuff done and got in line only to find out, to my surprise, that the line was all the way back to transition (about a mile long).  Wow.

So we waited....and waited...and waited....

I finally got in the water about 8:10, 40 minutes after the first swimmer.  The swim was pretty uneventful. I had very little contact and just focused on my own swim.  I didn't get any cramps like Texas, which was a good sign, but my left calf did threaten to cramp several times (an on-going issue since my back injury so I expected it).  I predicted a swim time of 1:05 so I was happy to see a 1:05 on my watch when I got out of the water.

T1 - Since I started late, transition was packed.  There was a line to get in the tent so I emptied my bag outside the tent and put on my helmet, grabbed my bike shoes, put my wetsuit in my bag and then plowed my way through the change tent to get to the bike racks.  

Bike - 5:07:18

I loved the Louisville bike course.  It was really crowded the first 30 (ish) miles, and cold, which sucked, but the course itself is awesome.  It's challenging enough to be a fair course, but it's not that hilly and still fairly fast and the road conditions are really good.  The roads are narrow and I got held up by cars about 6 or 7 times which was a new and frustrating experience.  I've never been held up by traffic in an Ironman before.

I trained to hold about 210-215 watts but decided to go conservative to see if I could really nail the run so I held about 205 the whole way.  I dialed it back on the way back into town and I think my final average power was 203.  I had predicted a 5:05-5:10 split so I was right in line with that.  The best part was that for the first time ever in an Ironman, I had to pee on the bike...twice actually.  And my legs felt strong coming off the bike.  They haven't felt this good at the end of the bike since 2010, and with the perfect weather I was in a good mood and looking forward to the run.

T2 - I got through T2 pretty quickly except I had to pee again so I stopped to do that so my T2 time wasn't very fast.  I had estimated about 10 minutes for both transitions combined and that's where I ended up so still right on target.

The run - 4:12:38

I wanted to run between 3:20 and 3:25, hoping maybe I could break 3:20.  I started out holding a 7:45 pace and was hitting that mile after mile.  My legs felt good and the pace wasn't a struggle.  My stomach didn't feel great, but it was good enough that I was able to take in water at every aid station and I stuck with my plan of 3 gels per hour and a few salt pills per hour as well.  

Everything was going great...until it wasn't.  I started struggling and feeling weak and a little sick.  Nearing the turnaround I knew it was going to be tough to hold my pace, which was already slipping.  My legs felt like they had more, but I was beginning to struggle.  A friend of mine, Anton, caught me and ran with me for a while trying to help me get back on track, which helped a ton, but I lost him soon after the halfway point.  After that the wheels completely fell off and I ended up doing a lot of walking on the second half.  I still took in fluids and calories (I tried it all - coke, broth, pretzels, grapes, gels)  but I couldn't get moving again.  It felt like Texas all over again, and soon my motivation was gone. My only motivation to continue running was to get the race over with sooner.

Overall:  10:35:04

Once again, I ended an Ironman in the med tent.  My blood pressure was really low and I needed an IV.  The low blood pressure issue I have with Ironmans tends to be related to electrolytes, and even though I drank a lot of gatorade and took salt pills, I guess I didn't get enough. It's extremely frustrating and disappointing, especially since the weather was perfect.  I felt like I had the fitness and the discipline on race day to finish with a strong run.  I was on pace for a 9:45 (ish), which it turns out wouldn't have been enough for a Kona slot, but would have been a race I would have been happy with.

What's next?

Not Ironman.  It's a distance I struggle with.  I've done 9, and all but 2 of them have left me disappointed and frustrated feeling like I didn't race to my potential.  It seems to be more related to electrolytes/fueling/hydration than fitness, which I guess is why I keep chasing this elusive perfect race.  Honestly, taking a break from Ironman after several bad races makes me feel like a quitter.  Deep down, I want to have the desire continue that chase, but the truth is I don't.  The fun is gone.  The drive is gone.  I'm tired of it.  I won't say I'll never do another Ironman, but for now I need a break.  

I want to get back to shorter races, higher intensity training, racing more often.  I want to find that speed I feel like I've lost over the past few years. I want to bring the fun back. 

I will either focus on olympic distance or maybe half ironmans.  I really enjoy the training for those distances and the lower training volume allows me more time to focus on my coaching which is something I really enjoy.  70.3 Worlds is in Chattanooga next year so it's tempting to try and qualify for that and see if I can do well there.  I had a lot of fun at AG Nationals this year so that will definitely be on my plan for next year.  It's a qualifier for Worlds in Gold Coast, Australia in 2018 so I may put my focus on that.