Coeur d’Alene 70.3

It’s taken weeks to get the spelling right on that. My google search history has everything from C0ure dlane to Courue d’Alaine. And the sad part is I used to speak Spanish.

Aside from the incredibly taxing effort to spell the town name correctly, this race was a walk in the park. The swim was easy, the bike was pretty much just a downhill coast, and the run was a saunter, at most. Except…all the exact opposite of that. I’m on crutches right now.

During the week leading up to the race I knew I was in for a painful treat because my right hip had been bothering me, especially after runs. It was the same hip pain that Adelaide has been dealing with for over a month now, which lead me to believe that it was somehow communicable.

I was hoping that taking some extra time off from running would help, (I usually take extra time off from running because it just hurts in general) but the day before the race came around and my hip was still feeling fragile, which is not how you want to feel going into what you know will be one of the top 1% of painful days in your life.

The swim, transition zone, and finish line are all located in a green park about a block from where we were staying at the Melbourne’s house. The location has made for some incredibly convenient race prep, and just a grand ‘ole time in general. And, the short commute meant that we all (myself, Adelaide, Christen, Nicole, and Cucho) got to sleep in to the late hour of 4:00 am the morning of the race.

I actually had a good start to the swim and was on the back of the front group for a few minutes before opting to drop off before blowing up and waiting for the next group to catch me so I could draft. In hindsight I wish I’d held on a few more minutes for that front pack to break apart into varying-speed groups, since I know I could have held onto the 26:30 guys. Instead, I drafted behind the lead guy in the group behind for the whole thing, feeling like we were going too slow the entire time (him probably wishing one of us lazy bastards would come around to take a turn). I came by with 300 meters to go and put a tiny gap into the guys behind, coming out at 28:04, which is a PR swim for me. Definitely not earth shattering by most standards, but enough to keep the gap down to five minutes from the leaders. Aside from my coach Michael Lovato I should give a shout out to Swim Labs and Eney Jones for helping me address some of the many issues I have with my stroke. It’s getting there, slowly but surely.

Once on the bike I worked on slowing my cadence to get my heart rate down, and taking huge, slow, deep breathes with full exhales. I really wanted to avoid the lung cramp that I’ve been getting off the bike lately. I passed two or three guys and the sea levels watts came rolling in at an average of 323 for the opening few dozen Ks. I hammered up the first few hills at miles 15-25ish after coming back through town and passed another three guys in the process. By the second turn around at mile 35 I began to fade a bit and the power dropped significantly from there. If it had been a time trial I could have kept the good times going all the way to the end, but since I had just caught Ben Hoffman I decided to work with him since I was beginning to worry about my legs for the run. Ben did more work than me on the way back, and I felt like he probably had more to lose than me so I let him take the longer pulls. However, I’m pretty sure that he and Luke Bell, who was sitting behind us, both knew that we were racing for 4th place at that point. First through third were long gone at that point and had been working together for the entire bike to build a big gap.

The three of us came off the bike together, with Jonathan Shearon a handful of seconds back. The race paid out six deep, which meant that I needed to not get last out of our group of four. I came out of T2 just a few paces behind Ben, but by a half mile he’d begun to vanish out of sight on the bends of the winding path we were on. His lead was out to 15 seconds by the time Luke passed me at mile 1.5. Luke gapped me but I caught back on and passed him a half mile later. I figured he’d drop off but he ended up sticking right on my heals for the next eight miles. My breathing was still very labored then, at mile two, but it was under control and the threat of developing a debilitating lung cramp had passed. The two of us hammered out a gap from Jonathan and tried to limit our loss to Ben, who instead continued to pull away.

By mile five or six I’d slowed down a bit, no longer being limited cardiovascularly, but muscularly. My hamstrings had tightened up considerably and my hip was beginning to ache like the backed-up colon of a hot dog eating contestant. The pain continued to grow with every pounding step on the asphalt. Adelaide was there on the sidewalk and yelled some encouragement, which lifted me temporarily until we were passed by a guy that flew around us at mile seven. Luke went around me and got onto his feet for a minute and I knew that I’d just been defeated and wasn’t going to place. Thankfully it turned out that the guy was an age grouper on his first lap (this was our second). Luke dropped off him because his pace was too fast and surging, and we let the loudmouth (he kept yaking at us) go on his own.

Luke got on him again after the last turn around and dropped me. This time Christen was there for the encouragement. She was on her first lap and I’d just passed her. She saw the gap and yelled (angrily I might add) to close it. I did, out of fear, and held on as long as my legs could. Luke took off with two miles to go and I couldn’t do much about it, even though he only upped the pace by a tiny margin. My legs were fucked through and through. Everything hurt from the pounding and my muscles couldn’t do more than what I was currently asking of them.

Adelaide sprinted through the throngs of people on the sidewalk ahead of me, tauntingly, for the last two hundred meters to get to the finish line before me. I crossed in 6th, content. I went to my hands and knees immediately after the line. My entire chest clamped up instantly and my legs had become boneless bags of acid-tenderized meat. I hobbled back to the house and spent the rest of the day getting around on crutches. My hip was so painful that every step on it felt like a knife stab. It still does actually. It’s going to be a chore getting home with all my gear, especially since I have to leave the crutches here in Cure d’Alien.

Huge Let Down at Boulder 68.3

I got way too excited about this race and the race gods took their wrath because of it. The first thing that went wrong was the water temperature. The pros aren’t allowed to wear wetsuits if the water temperature is above 72ish degrees. “Ish” because there’s definitely wiggle room depending on the race director. Apparently it was on the wrong side of 72ish yesterday morning. I’d like to take a moment to point out how stupid this rule is–that the leanest people are forced to go without wetsuits when the water temperature may be on the verge of cold. I, for one, had numb fingers by the end of the swim, though that’s not the reason I had such a shitty race. The real reason is because I actually suck quite a bit… and don’t blow enough.

I’ll start from the beginning:

I blew up hard after about four minutes into the swim, got dropped from the chaotic froth of the group I was in, and had to go easy for a little while to catch my breath. A few guys came up on me a minute later and I swam behind them for the rest of it, finishing in 31 minutes. We were the last group out of the water, though 31 minutes without a wetsuit isn’t that bad for me. There were 35 starters and I figured I needed to be about 12th, at worst, off the bike to run down enough people to finish 8th, which was the last money spot. I needed to pass quite a few people on the bike.

My power was low and my legs burned pretty good for the first few miles. Although the burning went away, I wasn’t able to bring the power up to where I thought it should be. Despite that, I was still passing a lot of guys so my mood was pretty good. Not having realized that I was the third to last guy out of the water (or seeing that all but a few bikes were gone from the pro racks), I thought that I was sitting in 19th about eight miles into the ride. I passed more guys going up Jay road, four going up Nelson, and three more on 36. By that point, with some good maths, I calculated that I was in 8th or 9th place. I was passed by a guy I’d passed earlier, Sam Long, but a few miles later took over again. In hindsight I wish we’d worked together throughout the whole bike since we’d exited the water together and finished the bike leg in essentially the same time. In non-drafting triathlon you can legally sit six bike lengths back, which saves around 10-15 watts depending on the terrain and conditions.

Entering T2 I had calculated that I was in 6th or 7th place, and was pretty pumped about that, knowing that I have a decent run, especially off the bike (not always). I racked my bike, got my shoes one, decided to go without socks because that would save around 12 precious seconds, and set off.

Before I even exited transition I had developed a huge side stitch high up in my chest. It worsened over the next few hundred meters, during which five guys passed me instantly. I’d already lost almost a minute that I’d worked really hard to earn on the bike. I slowed even more as the cramp worsened and I became incapable of taking in full breathes. I contemplated stopping for a half minute to get it under control because the pain was that severe. After wheezing out,”what place?” to a spectator, I heard that I was currently in 17th after getting passed by those five others, meaning that I had not gotten off the bike in 6th or 7th, which completely destroyed my motivation. I took the pace down even more over the next mile until the lung cramp finally went away by mile two. I contemplated picking the pace back up but my ego and spirits were smashed to bits. I had no motivation to even run the second lap, now loping at around 8 minute pace in 25th place. Might as well just quit.

Nearing the finish, my coach, Michael, yelled at me to keep going for the training aspect and for my spirits after I told him I was done, making a slit throat gesture with my finger. If it weren’t for him and Adelaide I would have just pulled out at the start/finish. Instead, I decided to just finish out the damn run at a slow, grinding, demoralizing pace.

Four miles later I finally decided I was tired of running slow and getting passed by age groupers, so I upped the pace to just under six minutes/mile for two miles, hopping to prove to myself that I would have been capable of running a quick pace if the lung cramp hadn’t happened. Nope. Two miles of running hard and the cramp came back with full vengeance. I jogged the last few miles at 9:30 pace, incredibly pissed and wondering what the fuck was wrong with me. I ate four slices of gluten-rich pizza in the food tent, another half a pizza when we got home (a gluten free one this time), and later had five pieces of cake after a steak and chicken dinner at our friends’ wedding party.

A day later I decided that the swim wasn’t really that bad of a performance for me. I think it would have easily been under 28 minutes had I been in a wetsuit since I really benefit from the flotation, and that’s a time Id’ve been content with. The bike sucked a bit but it was still a decent enough time for doing the whole thing solo. I averaged 298 by the time I crossed the dismount line at 1:57:42 (it was two miles short of the standard 56 miles). That power was around 20 watts lower than I’d anticipated doing, so pretty significant and another bit of a blow to my ego. But, the run was obviously the biggest catastrophe and really the only thing that wrecked my day. I was confident that I was capable of running at least 1:19, and had planned on doing 1:17 or lower. Despite this year’s course seeming a bit slower than in 2015, I did 1:19 last year with almost no run training, and I figured that with the training and big improvements I’ve made this year already, I’d be able to be in the high teens no matter what. It was incredibly frustrating not being able to breathe properly and to not even have the chance to see what I could do. I did some interneting later and have decided that all my recent lung cramps are being caused by too shallow of breathes, which is exactly what Michael has been yelling at me for months.

Exercise-related transient abdominal pain (ETAP) is most likely caused by the cramping of the thoracic diaphragm, which is a sheet-like muscle that expands and collapses the lungs. The only time the thoracic diaphragm is relaxed is when you fully exhale, which I don’t do enough. I tend to take a lot of short, shallow, wheezing breathes on the bike and on the run. By not fully exhaling and letting it relax, the thoracic muscle will apparently cramp when put under duress. There are other hypothesis as to why lung cramps, or stitches, occur. One is from the ligaments that are attached to the thoracic being tugged on by the up and down movement of the guts. I’m not convinced that my cramping is related to gut jostling because my lungs had also cramped up earlier when during the last few hundred meters of the swim, and there is no jostling during swimming, except for position. The only time I never get a chest cramp like this is on the bike. So, during the next two weeks before Coeur d’Alene I’ll be working on longer, fully exhaled breathes, more belly breathing, some intercostal core work (pilates are apparently good for that), and a lot of finger crossing. If that fails, simply not breathing in should solve it.

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It was a super nice day: perfect warm weather and tons of cheerful spectators, each of whom I despised if they told me I was doing a good job. I hate compliments, especially when they’re meant to encourage me. They make me want to do even worse, out of spite. (Don’t try to understand me. You’ll just get confused and angry).

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Chris on his way to 2nd overall. Another one of my training partners, Christen, also had a great race for 6th.

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A sad sight. Last group out of the water. I did not get passed by the lead women this time, so there’s that at least.

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Adelaide, by sheer coincidence of me needing it, got that swim skin for me the night before. For free. That, combined with a free race T-shirt and two handfuls of pepperoni pizza made it an okay weekend.

Colorado Sprint

I did another race last weekend as a warm up for this Saturday’s Boulder 70.3, plus it was just some good plain fun. The best part was that Adelaide and I actually started in the same wave, which was a first for us.

If you want to read about Adelaide’s race, click here.

Right from the gun, or bullhorn siren noise, I made sure to find a good pair of feet to follow for the swim. I found my victim and quickly set about to clawing at his ankles as hard as I could, forcing his legs down a good two and a half feet below the surface. That slowed him enough for my breathing and heart rate to go down to a comfortable level.

I jumped over to a different pair of feet when that guy got tired, and after a few minutes on that second set of feet I finally decided that I should speed up and just go off on my own. Focusing solely on drafting, I’d let my form go to shit.

My first transition went smoothly and after a mile or two I was in the lead. The first quarter of the race was false flat uphill, so I hammered pretty hard until I got to the slight downhill heading east. I let my breathing come down so that I could eat a package of Clif bloks, which had had a hole in them during the swim and had soaked up quite a bit of lake water.

My power goal was not within reach at that point unless I killed myself on the false flat downhill section, which would have been dumb. Nevertheless, I was pretty content with how the bike was going and was happy to see an improvement from two weeks prior at the Summer Open/Superior Morgul.

As I entered transition two I got confused about which way to go, since course marshalls often aren’t pay attention when the first person comes by. I slammed on the brakes, cursed, skidded around a corner, sprinted out of it, then realized I had to get my shoes off in about four seconds. I only managed to get one foot out by the time I had to dismount. I jog-loped to where my bike rack and gear were, only to end up in the wrong row. It took me a good 15 seconds, running my bike from row to row, in order to find my stuff, using loud cursing as a form of echo location.

The run course went uphill for the first 500 meters, which meant that I promptly got a massively painful lung cramp, just like the last race. As the road evened out, the cramp dissipated and I got into a good rhythm. The rhythm didn’t last long since the run was only 5K and at the turn around I saw that I had a big lead. I cruised through the second half of the run with almost three minutes on the next guy, Steve Johnson. About 1K from the finish I saw Adelaide, who was the third female at that point. We gave each other a hoot of encouragement and I hammered on back down the other side of the hill.

I crossed the finish line and collapsed onto the slip and slide, making it 98% of the way to the end. There is absolutely no better way to end the suffering than that.

Adelaide came in a short while later, just 11 seconds behind the first woman. She’d run a solid 5K, averaging 6:47 per mile and had been gaining on 1st place all throughout the run. The up side to 2nd is that I often find that losing is the best way to regain my passion for pain and hard training.

I’ll have my chance at losing this Saturday. The start list is stacked. Realistically, I think that if I have a great day, 5th or 6th place is possible, and I should be super happy with that. But I’m not realistic.

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2nd Steve Johnson, 3rd Eric Kenney