Monday, August 31, 2009

Now, this is living

Despite what I noted in my previous post, I'm actually enjoying this taper quite a bit. Granted, I'm only one week in, but I already feel more rested and peaceful than I did two weeks ago. This past week just struck me as being a lot more civilized, in terms of both training load and intensity. And I liked it.
My week went something like this:
Monday - rest day.
Tuesday - swam 2300 yards (100 WU, 1 x 300, 2 x 200, 1 x 300, 2 x 200, 1 x 300, 1 x 300 pull, 200 CD).
Wednesday - 90 minute keiser ride (five minute WU, then increasing one gear from set point every five minutes through 45 minutes, then downshifting one gear every five minutes until set point; then two standing climbs, each for 2.5 minutes, with an equal amount of rest between).
Thursday - 45 minute hilly run.
Friday - OWS with Drew, 1.5 miles, 55-odd minutes.
Saturday - solo ride along the lakepath, two hours and twenty minutes.
On Sunday, Cath, Drew and I competed in the Chicago Accenture Olympic triathlon as a relay. Cath did the swim, Drew the bike, and I did the run. It was a ton of fun, despite the fact that we needed to check Drew's bike into transition by 5:30 a.m., and didn't start racing until almost 10:00 a.m. (wave 56!). Which meant that I got up at 3:30 a.m., and didn't start running until just after 11:30 a.m. But it's always fun watching this race - it's absolutely emormous, over 9000 people doing either the sprint or olympic distances, so it makes for great people-watching. The weather was cool and breezy for most of the morning, but cleared up nicely by afternoon.
Poor Cath had to swim her leg mostly into the windy swells, but posted a great swim time, and Drew powered through the headwinds like a knife through butta.
I was actually a little nervous about doing this event so close to race day, even as a relay, thinking that our competitive juices could lead to injury, but it ended up being a good time. My run actually felt effortless for almost the whole way, and I put up mile splits that I haven't seen since I was a much younger man. My 10k time was 43:34, which works out to just over 7:00 minute miles, and, more importantly, I felt great at that pace. Now, obviously, I didn't have the swim or bike in me before running, and it was only 6.2 miles, but it still gives me some confidence going into IM WI that I've got some level of run fitness going on.
I'm sure that this week's training will be similar to last week's easy-feast (people, when I taper, I taper HARD), and I have to get my bike into the shop for some last minute tweaks. I can feel the nerves starting to percolate, especially before drifting off to sleep, so I know that race day is on its way. Gulp.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

The taper

I've found that tapering is an odd and awkward beast for most triathletes. Which has always struck me funny, because it makes perfect sense, physiology-wise, and it's easy - you just cut back on the either the number or length/intensity of your sessions (typically 25 percent each week until race day). How could doing *less* exercise be a problem, you ask?

It just feels weird.

I've always found that, as much as I enjoy the mental break that comes from tapering - I swear, just trying to schedule 30-weeks worth of workouts, day in and day out, is like the fourth leg of triathlon - the physical part is baffling. You'd think that, given the additional rest, your body would feel better and better everyday. That you'd wake up each morning a little bit more chipper and energized. That you'd just feel stronger, and smarter, and more confident with every passing hour.

Yeah, not so much.

My taper is usually filled with doubt and anxiety, mostly because I *don't* ever get that feeling of physical rejuvination. There is no grand rebound in the weeks before my big race. I don't get the sense of growth that's said to come from the body's response to a period of continued stress. I just feel flat. Really tired. Always hungry. Certainly not an Ironman poised to conquer the 140 miles of water/road that ends just blocks from the Capitol building.

There's also the ever-present fear that you're either tapering too much or not enough to do any good. For example, I typically swim in the morning and run in the afternoons on Tuesday. This past Tuesday, I blew off the afternoon run. Just didn't really feel like it, and, in honor of the taper starting, I didn't do it. Instead, Cath and I had dinner and watched TV. And, of course, I felt guilty about missing the run. I still do. Did I *need* that run to do well on September 13? Probably not. But the doubt still lingers.

Typically, when asked for their advice, most folks will just say "stick with whatever plan that you've been following and you can't go wrong," but that gets tricky when your body is telling you one thing (either it hurts, doesn't hurt, or is somewhere in between) and the plan says something else. Or you just can't read your body's signals - yeah, your knee is bothering you a little, but is that just a random nothing or the beginning of something debilitating? Is that last long-ish run going to push you over the edge? Or not? Hmmm...

I certainly don't have the answers, but, for me, I'd rather not chance anything at this point. It's been a long road, and I'd hate to have anything go wrong before I've even hit the start line. One more swim, bike, or run isn't going to make or break my race. But it could lead to an injury that could take me out of the race, or, at least make it a more difficult one. So why chance it?

We're another day closer to the Big Dance, kids. Be smart with your training!

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Welcome to Tapertown!

Mission accomplished!

While I certainly didn't follow my training plan to the letter - in fact, I gallantly started at the "Competitive" level and quickly dropped through "Intermediate," and am now somewhere closer to "Just Finish" - I think I put in some quality training this IM cycle, and am proud of myself for sticking with it. I've no doubt put in more pool time and hard cycling miles than I did prior to IMWI '06 or IMAZ '07, and my running is probably at a similar level. Hopefully, when we're all floating about on September 13, waiting for the cannon to fire, I can be confident that - for once! - the "hay" really is "in the barn," and just let the day unfold.

On the way back from Madison (more on that later), my beautiful wife - out of no where - started to sob in the seat next to me, happy and joyful that she had made it through this IM training cycle without getting hurt. As I may have mentioned, Cath had a nasty crash prior to IM WI in '06, and the injuries that resulted kept her from the start line. She has also had set-backs over the years due to various strains, pulls, breaks and other physical issues that either kept her out of races or at least hindered her performance. The relief she felt to realize that the start line is just a short taper away was emotionally powerful and the tears just ran out of her.

And it got me thinking - it really *is* a huge accomplishment for any of us to have gotten this far. Twenty-seven weeks ago we started this latest adventure, which works out to several hundred miles, laps, and intervals, six days a week. That's a ton of effort, both physical and mental, over a very long time. To hold it together - even on cold, rainy days when no one else is stupid enough to be out there - shows an incredible resolve and focus that deserves a bit of congratulations in and of itself.

Regardless of what happens on Race Day - and a lot of crazy things can happen on Race Day - the fact that we've all gotten to this point in one piece is something that no one can ever take away from you. All those early mornings. The sweat in your eyes. The rain on your sunglasses. The skinned knees. The bee stings. All of that "hay" is in the barn because you moved it there. And that, by itself, is reason to celebrate. Take a minute to do just that. You deserve it.


On the training front:

Saturday, Drew and I ran 18 miles along the lake path in about 2:40. The weather was fantastic - cool at the start, and then sunny as we finished up. Probably around an 8:40 pace throughout (I don't have my Garmin in front of me, so I'm guessing a bit).

After Cath finished up at work, and took a short nap, we blasted up to Madison for another crack at the loop. Talk about night and day. Whereas two weeks ago it was hot as all get-out, with high humidity and wind for added pleasure, Sunday morning was c-o-l-d, like, in the 50s cold. I actually had to wear a t-shirt under my jersey for the first loop to keep out the chill. There was fog in the lower valleys, but that burned off pretty quickly. Our friends couldn't make it up, so it was just Cath and I, and the course was unusually quiet - I had expected a huge turnout for one of the last weekends before most folks begin a taper. But the parking lot at Fireman's Park was almost empty when we arrived.

Anywho, I felt much, much better this go-around. The first loop was challenging, but not demoralizing, and we were back at the parking lot in no time. The weather could not have been better - lower 70s, with little or no wind. It doesn't get any better out there. Oddly enough, I felt even better on the second loop. Knowing where the turns were, which section of rollers were coming, and where the tougher climbs started, was a huge mental advantage. I recovered well after the climbs and we finished both loops in just under 4 and 1/2 hours. Cath's legs were pretty beat, so we just bricked for 15 minutes afterward, but I felt vindicated and much more confident about taking on the bike course. Hopefully, I'll have just as good a day on the 13th.

Welcome to Tapertown, kids - let's be smart about this final training phase!

Friday, August 21, 2009

The final push

So, we've finally arrived. It's the last big training push until the taper leads us to the start line. I've had a good week, so far - nothing too strenuous, but consistent, with a few challenging sections to keep things interesting.

Monday, Cath and I swam - I did 3,200 yards (100 WU, 5 x 600, 100 CD), which felt good. No intervals, but a good race-type pace throughout.

Tuesday I took a rest day.

Wednesday I rode der Keiser for 90 minutes, including a series of standing and seated climbs in Z3-4 (the sequence went like: 2 minutes, 3 min., 4 min., 2min., 3 min,., 4 min., and then 6 x 1 minute seated climbs, all followed by an equal amount of easy recovery). I then bricked that ride for 15 minutes at 8:45 pace.

Thursday I ran 45 minutes at about an 8:40 pace.

Today Drew and I swam two miles in the lake, which took just over an hour. The water was freezing, but very flat, and I actually felt like I was swimming *gasp* fast (!). These longer swims are still killing my shoulders, but, aerobically, I'm feeling pretty good. I'm intentionally trying to not think about the fact that the IM swim is actually another .4 miles, and how my arms are going to feel after that. (Luckily, I get to just lay on them for several hours thereafter.).

Tomorrow Drew and I are going to run another 2.5 hours, which should work out to around 18 miles, and that should be my last long run of the program. Apart from some hamstring pain (strangely, not the one that's caused me problems in the past), my running has been great. My pace is a little slower than I'd like, especially on the longer stuff, but I keep reminding myself that I'm not training for a marathon, I'm training for an IM, and it's a totally different experience. A steady 9:00 pace on September 13th would be fantastic.

Then, as soon as Cath is done with work, we hit the road and head back up to Madison. We may or may not have company this time, but, regardless, I have maps and figure there will be plenty of folks like us hitting up the course one more time before the Big Day. I'm excited to get back on those rollers and get a little bit more familiar with the whole loop. Truth be told, I've never felt that this was a very good course for me - the short, sharp "rollers" really kill your momentum, and I just never feel like I'm any any kind of groove out there. In 2006, it took me just over 7 hours to finish it, and, I swear, it felt like 2/3 of the field was already running by the time I shuffled out of T2. I'm hoping that this weekend's ride - even if it's slow and exhausting - will make me feel better about the course, and bring just a hint of mental comfort come race day. The weather up there, unlike two weeks ago, is looking good, so fingers crossed.

Have a great weekend, everyone!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The Doubt Phase

So, we've officially entered the part of the training cycle that I hate more than any other - the Doubt Phase.
As in, "Oh, God, I hope I did enough to train for this stupid race, but not too much so that I am over-trained and now past my peak."
I've trained for three different IM races now, and the Doubt Phase has hit me every time. I was hoping to avoid it this year because I was smarter about following a more structured training plan and figured that, if I just followed the plan, I'd eliminate any questions I may have about being ready to race.
But, truth told, I haven't followed the Fink Plan as closely as I had originally intended. Probably about 75 percent, really. Maybe 70 percent. Haven't run as much, haven't swam as much, and haven't biked as much as ol' Don prescribed in his "Competitive" plan. Some avoidance came from design - I didn't want to tax my wonky hamstring too much by running 4+ times per week - and some came from pure laziness/lack of will (i.e., just swimming 2x per week, and usually at distances shorter than those Coach Don recommended).
So, following the Plan hasn't really served to allay any concerns I have over being IM ready. In fact, I'm pretty anxious about being under-trained at this point. I know I've done more quality work than I have previously, but I'm really not sure if it's enough to have a good race on this particular course. Because it's a toughie. Don't let anyone tell you that all IM races are similarly difficult, because it's just not true. Flat courses - like IM Florida or IM Arizona - are nothing compared to hilly courses. You can argue that riding in the aero position into a headwind is equivalent to a long day of riding rollers, in terms of overall exertion, but that just isn't true. Riding hills just takes a lot out of your legs, which you then need to run on for 26.2 miles. Riding in the wind just slows you down, it doesn't (necessarily) wear you out.
But, at the same time, my body is telling me that it's been worked over pretty good - nothing painful, really, just an all-over body fatigue that doesn't go away. I also haven't felt like I've made any real progress, aerobically-speaking, for quite a while. For example, rides that I did a month ago are now harder than they were then. I'm able to do the prescribed workouts, but I worry that they're not making me stronger. Just more fatigued. Or maybe this is just the nature of a 30-week training plan? That kind of effort is bound to wear on you over time, and presumably the fitness gains will only show once the taper period ends. would all be so much easier if we just had a dial or gauge on our bodies to show how much fitness is in the tank.
This period is especially frustrating and confusing because, with only a few short weeks left, there's really not a ton you can do about it either way - you've either slacked way off too much or put away too many miles to make any real difference to your race result. The damage - if there is any - has already been done.
I guess there won't be a definitive answer as to where I am, fitness-wise, until Race Day. Until then, I'm going to just stumble my way toward the start line as best I can and hope for the best. We're just over three weeks out, with one more big weekend left to train.
Fingers crossed that I'm on the right path.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Training update

I just realized that I've been a bit remiss in keeping track of my workouts this past week, so here goes:

I took a rest day Monday, but was back in the pool Tuesday morning for a quick 2400 yards (4 x 400, 16 x 25 [alternating AN and easy], 200 pull, 200 CD) and then ran for 75 minutes in the afternoon (9 miles, 7:37 average, 2 rather long intervals buried in there).

Wednesday I hit the Keiser bike for 75 minutes, and threw in six sets of standing climbs of varying lengths (two minutes, three minutes, four minutes, two minutes, four minutes, three minutes) and then bricked that for 15 minutes.

Thursday I just sat on the Keiser bike and spun my legs out for 45 minutes.

Friday I swam 3,000 yards (something like: 100 WU, 3 x 150 [alternating AN and easy], 4 x 250 [alt. AN and easy], 3 x 150 [alt. AN and easy], 8 x 50 [alt. AN and easy], 300 pull, 300 CD).

This morning Drew and I hit the lake path for a 2:30 run. It was wicked humid out there, but the air temp was relatively cool still at 6:30, so the first half of the run was nice. I felt a ton better in the humid air than I did last Sunday, but the sweat was still pouring off of us and there were plenty of water breaks. Our 8:45 pace caught up with us after the half-way point, and the run back was a bit labored, but I feel good now. I doubt that I'll run any longer than this for this training cycle, but I may repeat the 18 miles next week. I'll have to see how my legs hold up. I'm not super concerned about my run, and would hate to invite an injury at this late date.

Tomorrow Drew and I are heading out to Palos for our last long ride out in the suburbs (next week Cath and I are heading back up to Madison for what I hope for me will be a more successful ride on the IM course). I'm kinda hoping that the humidity will make another appearance, just so our bodies are ready for it come race day. We're probably looking at five or so hours tomorrow - I'm not so concerned with total time anymore, but rather just get in some good roller and hill work. Then I suspect we'll brick the ride for 30 or so minutes.

I have Monday off, so Cath and I plan on hitting Lake Michigan for an OWS. Hoping to put in another couple miles of slow and steady to compliment the shorter/faster stuff I've been doing in the pool. Cath also runs with her training group that evening, so I may join them for 7 or 8 miles and take Tuesday as my rest day next week.

Whew. That all sounds exhausting! I'm hoping that there's a nap or two buried in there somewhere.

Cheers all!

Friday, August 14, 2009

Two weeks

Well, that's what it's really come down to - two more weeks of pretty intense training and then we'll be starting a two-week taper. Although, I'm sure that I'll regret this soon enough, I'm already a bit sad that this training cycle is coming to a close. As much as the week-to-week beat-downs can get to you (and, believe me, they have), there's something comforting about having a really big goal out there that takes a long time - and a lot of effort - to achieve. We decided quite a while ago to forego any IM in 2010, instead electing to try some new things (ie., the Hood to Coast relay, or perhaps the Triple T), which will be a nice break from the months-long training that's required for an IM, but I'm sure that I'll miss it soon enough.

There really is no race like the Ironman. It is a ridiculously long and grueling day, both physically and mentally, but the payoff at the end is absolutely enormous. Words can't describe it. The energy, the excitement, the tension, the joy - it's all there. And it's still a small enough event, with most folks (even most athletes) thinking that it's an insane undertaking, that you still feel unique for having taken part in it. The 2009 IMWI will be my third IM distance race, and, while there's never any way to replicate the feelings associated with your first, you can't help but be awed and excited by the Ironman. A year ago, I spoke with a small group of athletes - mostly strangers - who were preparing for this same race, and literally got choked up and teary describing how amazing it truly is. At the risk of being overly dramatic, it's really that powerful. If you can complete an IM race, there's nothing that you can't accomplish.

We're just a month out from the Big Show, and the excitement is already building to get up there and take part. Two more heavy weeks and we'll be ready to go. Bring it!

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Four years!

Today marks the four-year anniversary of one of my happiest days ever - Cath and I got married on August 13, 2005, and I can't imagine what my life would be like without her.

I'll save you from the unnecessary details, but we met under extremely unlikely and somewhat complicated circumstances back in 2004, but it was quickly apparent that we were a match like no other I had ever experienced and we were destined to be together. It's been such a great trip so far, and I often look forward to the times to come and what adventures await us (and the dogs, of course!). She's the perfect partner for me - supportive, smart, funny, and always my number one fan. She makes me eat my vegetables and take my vitamins so that will "live forever."

I know that, regardless of whether I finish first in my age group, or fail to finish at all, she will still think I'm a winner, and there's really not much more you can ask for than that from another person. I count my blessings every day that we found each other.

I'm the luckiest guy I know. Happy anniversary, Poochie!

Monday, August 10, 2009

Two steps forward...and one back

Welcome to week 26 of our IM adventure! As is typical of this (any?) IM training cycle, I had a couple of really good days followed by one crappy let down of a day.

I'll start with Friday - another (unpaid) day off meant that I could swim in Lake Michigan with Drew. We hit the beach around 9:00 a.m., and there were plenty of other swimmers mulling about. The water looked pretty smooth, but with some chop father out. I was trying my new XTerra sleeved suit for the first time and I'm happy to report that the fit is great - the suit is lined to the interior, which makes it super comfortable. I treated myself to a slightly higher end model with thinner material at the shoulders for greater flexability. The water was a bit chilly getting in but it got comfortable pretty much right away. The suit felt great, and, despite the chop being a little bigger than it looked from the beach, we knocked out two miles (a season high in open water) in just over an hour. My shoulders were still sore at the end, but I'm sure that was a result of my non-existent strength training program and not about the suit. Happy with the day and happy to get in a longer OWS.

Saturday, Drew was out of town and Cath was teaching the marathon group, so I decided to run on my own. I set out along the lake path just after 6:00 a.m. and the rain clouds were gathering. After about two miles, the skies opened up and the rain fell for about the next hour. It actually felt great and my pace was pretty much where I wanted it to be (8:00-8:20/mile). I ended up doing just over 17 miles in 2:20 and felt good for almost all of it - I could definitely used another gel (or two) on the way back in, and was lucky to run across a Fleet Feet table with Gatorade about two miles from home. Thanks Fleet Feet!

Saturday afternoon we dropped off the dogs at the PetSmart Hotel and blasted up to Madison to meet a couple freinds who are training for next weekend's Dairyland Dare (a 300k cycling torture fest). Had dinner at a cute little pizza place not far from the IM swim start and spent the night in Verona. Got to Fireman's Park (the traditional gathering place for IM'ers in training) around 7:30 a.m. and hit the road.

And here's where things went a bit sour.

Unlike the weather we've had so far this summer, it was crazy hot and humid even at that (relatively) early hour. Within five miles the sweat was everywhere and the wind - which was also kicking pretty hard - did nothing to cool things off. The couple that we rode with, Nancy and Chad, are ridiculously good athletes - a listing of their accomplishments in triathlon, running and other adventure sports would take its own blog post. And they've ridden the IMWI course a bazillion times, so they were right at home. Cath was also feeling really good, and all three were riding their road bikes like little kids on Christmas Day. I, on the other hand, was quickly feeling like I should have stayed in bed.

For whatever reason, I just didn't have it mentally. Physically, I was pretty good - I had forgotten how deep the rollers are for the first half of the IMWI loop, which made riding the tri bike a bit of a chore (lots of shifting, moving in and out of aero, quick turns, etc.) and my heart rate was higher than usual because of the humidity, but I was hanging in there. We stopped at about the 25 mile mark for water and Pop Tarts (blueberry!), and I still felt fine. Then we knocked off the three big hills, which really weren't as bad as I feared, but as we coasted back into the parking lot to re-load supplies before heading out again, I was already feeling like I was done.

I just flat out didn't want to be on my bike. My companions were super supportive, offering to take an extra (and longer) break during the second loop, but, despite the regret that I knew was coming, I just couldn't convince myself to get back in the saddle. So I let them leave without me, and I slowly stowed the bike, and set out to brick my ride. My ride portion ended up being a sickly 40 miles total over 2 1/2 hours. Certainly not what I had planned on.

I actually had a good run - averaged just over 8:00 min/miles in the very hot sun for 40 minutes - but was crazy disappointed in my ride. Despite having all kinds of motivation - good friends, ample nutrition, and actually riding the IMWI bike course - I just couldn't tough it out. I spent a good long time trying to figure out what went wrong, watching a steady stream of athletes enter and leave the parking lot for loop No. 2, and I can only conclude that my brain was just a bit spent. Maybe too many weeks of sport-specific focus caught up with me. The will to continue wasn't there. I don't know. I was pretty down yesterday, angry that I had let this training opportunity get away from me, but I'm already feeling more determined today to get back at it.

We've made tentative plans to go back and ride the course again before Game Day, probably the weekend of the 22-23rd, so I can give it another go. And I may bring both bikes to see which one I feel better on. Luckily, we have a bit more time to get back up there, and I'm thankful for that. Can't wait to give it another shot (which is, hopefully, a sign that my brain isn't too far gone). Just another reminder, I guess, that there are good and bad days from beginning to end in an IM training cycle.

Here's to a brand new week!

Thursday, August 6, 2009

The road ahead

Well, I'm not going to lie - my body was a bit beat down after Sunday's race. My quads were sore well into Tuesday, even after going for a less-than-strenuous 60-minute spin on Monday. I swam Tuesday, and nixed the afternoon run that I usually do in favor of some more stretching/rolling/couch time.

Felt better yesterday, and hit the gym for my mid-week mini-brick, which went really well -- 75-minute ride, including two sets of 5 x 1-minute hard seated intervals with one minutes rest in between. The brick portion was a rather benign 20 minutes on the treadmill (.5 percent grade) starting at 8:47 and ending with 8:25s.

Today, I feel great. Plan on a run of some sort this afternoon, somewhere in the area of 45-60 minutes, with a handful of short intervals thrown in. Tomorrow, Drew and I are swimming in the lake (hopefully, a double-loop, or two miles) and Saturday's our long run. As mentioned, the Plan and I have a serious disagreement over running volume, and it's now really starting tro get ugly -- Coach Fink is demanding a 2:45 run this week, and I haven't yet gone beyond two hours (to his credit, the longest run in the Plan is three hours, scheduled for the following weekend). I'm a bit torn as to how far I want to push my running, considering I have that wonky hamstring, but I think I need to get to at least 2:30. As such, I'm thinking Saturday will be 2:15 and the following week we'll shoot for the 2:30 (Week 27).

The big surprise is that we may actually get up to Madison for a ride! Yes, friends, the stars have aligned, and it's looking like Cath and I will blast up there Saturday night, crash, and then hit the course with some friends on Sunday morning. Given that I remember very little of the actual course from 2006, I'm excited to give it another look-see before Game Day. Logistics are still being worked out, but it's looking good so far.

Stay tough, everyone - the starting line is just up the road a piece.

Monday, August 3, 2009

The raw numbers

Swim: 37:39
T1: 3.19
Bike: 2:47
T2: 3.49
Run: 1:45

Total: 5:17.29

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Steelhead 70.3 - (at last, a real) race report

Well, I finished. Which was my number one goal coming into the 2009 Steelhead 70.3 Half-IM, considering that I haven't actually completed a race of any type/distance since 2007. So, mission accomplished. And I PR'ed the distance, to boot. So, double-nice. I only have accurate run splits from my watch, but I'll post others as soon as they're available online.

We got into Benton Harbor on Friday afternoon, picked up our race packets at the Expo (which had more stuff for sale than I've ever seen at any race, ever, even Ironman. Mouse pads, glasses, coasters, everything you could possibly think of. I held my ground and just bought a new race belt). Then we checked into our hotel and napped a bit before dropping our bikes off at T1.

Neither Cath nor myself had ever been the western side of Michigan before, so seeing the lake from the opposite shore was great - rolling dunes, tall grasses, beautiful homes. It was altogether wonderful. The set up process all went smoothly and we then proceeded to try and figure out where to eat. Considering that none of us (in addition to Cath and I, we were traveling with Drew and his buddy/business partner, Ross - the three boys are pictured above, awaiting the swim start) were from there, this was a bit of a challenge. The only non-chain looking place had a 45-minute wait, and it was already almost 7:00 p.m. local time, so we split. And ended up at, of all places, Dairy Queen. Yes, the DQ. Cath was determined to get a Blizzard for dessert so, to save time, we decided to "dine" there as well. Which ended up being fine. A double cheeseburger is a double cheeseburger, and I really just wanted to get some food in as early as possible so that race morning would start out, uh-hum, smoothly, if you catch my drift, so we ate and headed back to the hotel to begin a (typically) sleepless night before game day.

We got up at 4:00 a.m., checked out, and headed over to the shuttle area, which would take us to T1 (there was no parking allowed on-site). Got there in plenty of time to get situated, and, after making the long walk to the swim start (you essentially walk the length of the swim so as to exit at T1). The morning was lovely - a soft breeze, clear skies, comfortable temps. We waited/peed in the shallow water before seeing Cath's wave leave just past 7:30. Up next, Drew, Ross and I were up at 8:00 a.m. sharp. The race begins with a beach start, and follows the current. The water was a bit roll-ey, but super warm, and the current made for a fast swim. The staggered waves also made for a wonderfully congestion-free first leg (sadly, I know from experience that IM WI will not be the same. Sigh.). Exited the water and then made the long, painful run through the soft sand and into the transition area.

Transition was fine, no real problems, but I should have peed again before hitting the bike course. I ended up carrying a full bladder for the entire bike leg. Oops.

Big props to the race organizers - this is the first race in recent memory that did NOT include some ginormous hill immediately out of T1. So, thanks for that. And, actually, although it is relatively rolling course, the bike leg was probably the smoothest and most pleasant biking experiences that I've ever had in triathlon. Seriously, most of the roads were smooth like butta. The only bad part was the winds, which picked up dramatically as the day moved along, making the last 20 miles a true test of will. I thought I was putting together a pretty great (for me) bike split up to that point, but those last 20 miles put an end to all that. Even so, except for my sore nether regions (standard tri shorts and a bike saddle just don't mix), I felt good going into T2, and, after polishing off a big cup of water, I hit the run course.

Here, the organizers were less generous, as they throw a pretty substantial hill at you before you've even hit the first mile marker. But, again, I was feeling pretty good, hitting the first mile mark in 7:43. The course then makes it's way through a little neighborhood before entering the Whirlpool corporate campus. The campus includes a nice shaded path through a wooded section, but always seems to be creeping ever so slightly up in elevation (which, strangely enough, you never seem to ever get back..hmmm...). Anyway, I continued feeling good through the first three miles, going 7:52, and 7:38, respectively, and then went through a bit of a rough patch (8:21) before taking in half of a banana and some Gatorade. I would continue to take either water or Gatorade at every aid station, which seemed to keep me pretty well hydrated/fueled.

The sun was now completely covered by clouds and the cooler weather was incredibly refreshing. Just outside of the Whirlpool campus, they turn you immediately up another steep hill and then wrap you around for a repeat of miles two through seven (splits: 8:10, 8:14, 8:01, 8:24, and 8:30). Although the running had been going well for me, I got to mile 10 and was looking to be done. Made it to the top of the final hill and started for home, wondering if I could keep this pace to the finish line. Hit the mile ten mark in 7:50, then went 8:29 for mile 11, and got to mile 12 in 7:50 (down that first killer hill).

There's always that fantastic feeling in any race when you can just start to hear the race announcer calling out people's names and you know your day is almost over and you can finally.stop.moving. The finish shoot is pretty long at Steelhead - they have you run the entire perimeter of the very long transition area - but I felt good and took it hard all the way to the line (8:10, including the last .1). Yikes, that last push really hurt something fierce, but there's nothing like emptying the tank going across the line. I actually had to take a knee a few steps across the finish to get my wind back, and then I just wanted to take a nap. In an ice bath. For a long time.

Total time (by my watch): 5:17:27. Thankfully, everyone in our little group finished, including Ross, who had never done a triathlon of any distance before! Quite an accomplishment.

I ended up PR-ing the distance by over 10 minutes, and, more importantly, felt really good for most of the race. Even though the IM course is much different than this one, I'm hoping that this as a good barometer of where I am, fitness-wise, and I actually think my nutrition plan worked out pretty well. I was never low on energy and I had no stomach issues all day.

My legs are really sore today, and we're taking the day off, but I hope to spin my legs on the Keiser bike tomorrow for a bit and swim on Tuesday. Just a few short weeks until the Big Dance!

Have a great week, and thanks for reading.