Training Leading up to Los Cabos

It’s been a while since I wrote a blog about training. My performance at Los Cabos was nothing spectacular due in part to my breathing issues, but since it’s now the off season and I have more time to write, the training leading up to the race might be interesting to some. So here goes. First, a bit on the summer leading up to this final training block:

After injuring my sacrum at Raleigh 70.3 in early June, I had a fairly poor June and July of training. I wasn’t able to run for nearly two months and I had to cut back on swimming and riding for a number of weeks as well due to the injury. Finally, when I was able to race again I was too eager to race, and made the mistake of doing Boulder 70.3 and Steelhead 70.3 back to back. I had shitty performances at both. With all the tapering, traveling, and recovering, plus a week visiting my parents in Oregon, my form was shot once again by the end of August. Needless to say, Santa Cruz in early September did not go well, especially since I got sick a week before it. Having a DNF there after a summer of injury and bad races nearly ate up the rest of my motivation for the season. Then to add insult to injury I got sick again the night after Santa Cruz. I decided to take a week very easy after I recovered from the latest bout of illness to refresh my mental and emotional selves, then get back to work for the remainder of the season. That left my coach Chris Winn seven weeks to work with until Los Cabos.

At this late point in the season I wasn’t eager to rack up large hours, and for a professional triathlete I tend to train on the lower end of the volume spectrum to begin with. For one, I get sick when I train too many hours. It may sound like I was sick all summer long, but starting from the beginning of this season 52 weeks ago, I was only sick for a total of 3.5 weeks the whole year, meaning that I definitely didn’t overtrain this year. Secondly, I lose motivation when I do too many hours, quality drops, and I fall behind at work. I enjoy harder efforts anyways, and for now the shorter hours seem to be working.

I averaged 20 hours per week for six weeks leading up to Los Cabos, with the seventh week (race week) at just 12 hours since I like a nice taper. In fact, I began tapering the week before that, so it was really a 5.5 week hard block with the largest week at 23 hours and the shortest at 14 (by accident since I missed two long workouts that week due to life). I followed a similar pattern each week, which usually went something as follows:

Monday: Rest day, so usually some commuting on the bike to the pool/grocery store and a 4,000 to 4,5000 meter masters workout.

Tuesday: Morning Boulder Track Club group run. This would usually entail about four miles of intensity at 5:00 to 5:50 mile pace, and around 9 to 11 miles total for an 80 minute workout. I’d generally follow this up with a 2K easy swim later in the day.

Wednesday: 2-2.5 hours on the bike with intervals. A typical set of intervals would be 3-4×20 minutes at sweet spot, or possibly 2×20 minutes at threshold. Later into the training block I did more VO2 and zone 6. Usually these rides were scheduled for three hours, but in order to make noon masters on time I almost always cut them to 2-2.5 hours since I rarely make it out the door for a ride before 9. Next would be masters, which is usually a hard workout and a total of 4,000 to 4,800 meters.

Thursday: 3-4 hour ride, typically with at least some sort of intervals. Sometimes it would be 90 minutes of tempo, other days it might be up to 90 minutes of sweet spot, which is a hard workout.

Friday: Another Boulder Track Club morning group run with around 3-4 miles of intensity and 9 to 11 total, followed by noon masters, again 4 to 4.8K in length.

Saturday: Morning masters, 4-5K in length with more of an endurance focus, then a 3-5 hour endurance ride. Sometimes this ride would have intervals as well depending on what Wednesday and Thursday were like.

Sunday: Long endurance run (13 to 17 miles) followed by an easy 2-3K in the pool.

(I commuted on the bike a few hours each week as well, though I only include about a third of those hours in my totals since they’re easy and short efforts).

No two weeks were identical by any means, but I do like to get into a steady routine. I seemed to adapt well to this type of training and structure. However, my cardiovascular fitness seems to have surpassed by body. Like last year, I suffered from back injuries, hip injuries, and most plaguing of all, my damaged intercostal issue. They all stem from bad technique, stiffness, and imbalances. Hopefully, strength and mobility training will take care of most of those injuries. Looking at my training above, I neglected to include strength and mobility entirely (I did it through the winter and spring, then stopped in early summer).

Areas to Focus on Next Year

My biggest issue right now is my chest. Improper chest-dominant breathing, which I’ve done for a decade at this point, may be responsible for straining my intercostal muscles. I have abnormally large lungs (7.3 liters but who’s counting), which have helped me get away with this poor breathing technique all these years. Loosening up my chest and back, stretching and training my body to ‘breath correctly,’ and then strengthening my core may help solve that problem. Next, weak glutes are failing me on the run and late into the bike, so I need to fix that issue as well. Finally, I drag the lower half of my body like an anchor. I need to invest more time and energy fixing my stroke.

Throw in two or three hours in the gym and another 90 minutes in the pool and I guess I’ll be hitting 24-26 hours per week like everyone else. Maybe doing more with less isn’t possible in this sport after all, because if you slack on training within any of the three sports, you get dropped; if you slack on mobility/strength, you get injured; if you slack on sleep or recovery you get sick or burned out; and if you slack on your wife and dog you sleep on the couch (metaphorically that is. I would never be able to actually fall asleep on our couch. I’m way too fragile for that). I work from home and only part time and there still aren’t enough hours in the day. This sport is bullshit!

Los Cabos 70.3 Race Report

The Swim

 

My right goggle only filled part way with warm, salty sea water after diving, which was an improvement over the other two beach starts I’ve done this year. I veered left, then right before finding a pair of feet to sit on. After the first turn buoy, about 300 meters out, I bullied someone out of the way so I could get the first pair of feet in the group, an unnecessary maneuver but I thought it was wise nonetheless. As the saying goes, “The best form of defense is to drown someone else.” Right?

About half way through the swim I began developing a painful chest cramp on my right side. “Shit, it’s way too early for this to start happening,” I thought.  I focused on pulling in air with my stomach and only breathing on the right side, to let that half of my torso take a break from having to brace when I breathed to the left. The cramp subsided five or six minutes later, only to start up again on the left side. At this point I decided to say fuck it, and went around the guy leading at the last turn buoy. Maybe I just needed to blow it all out and it would go away once and for all.

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I came onto land 11th out of the water after putting in half a minute to my previous group behind, with a time of 27:41. Slightly better than last year here, but still over three minutes down on the leaders, most of whom were strong cyclists. I had some serious work to do.

The Bike

My legs were good early on but not terrific. My chest was in fine shape though, which was the most important thing. A mile or two in, hoping that I would see a large group up the road, I could see just one guy, and I realized that I was farther back in the swim than I’d hoped. No matter. I’d seen some pretty good gains on the bike and run in the past month and was ready to put them to good use.

Three or four miles in, I realized that my bars and steering felt strange. Suddenly I noticed, while looking down at the road through my bars, that my wheel was poking out to the right of my right aero bar. They were incredibly crooked. Fuck. I pulled up on them and found out that my headset was loose too. Double fuck. I’d failed to tighten the stem and the headset while building my bike, most likely in my haste to figure out how to come up with a solution to secure Adelaide’s seat post (we forget the seat post binder). Read her blog here.

I let out a few top of the lung profanities believing that my day was done. Two months of quality training down the drain. There’s no way I was going to be able to do the ride with my steering that loose. Images of myself flying over the front end flashed in my mind. Years ago at a training camp I’d sprinted out of the parking lot as a joke and hopped over a speed bump; my steer tube broke off and I’d spent a split second with my bars in my hands, thinking, “well shit this isn’t right,” before I was on the pavement. That was at 20 miles per hour. Crashing on one of these rolling descents would be at 40 miles per hour.

My coach, Chris Winn, has been giving me tips on mental fortitude lately, and the importance of mind over body. The previous day I’d written out a few paragraphs detailing my process goals and what to do if something went wrong. While “serious mechanical issue” wasn’t on my list, I was somewhat more prepared to deal with this fiasco than I would have been otherwise.

I stopped at the crest of a hill, pushed my bars back into place, and carried on, ready to wave down the next motorcyclist I saw who might have an allen wrench on him/her. I pushed conservatively hard for the next half hour and still hadn’t been able to get an allen wrench from anyone. I’d been passing guys along the way and was just about to come up on 6th place before I decided that I had to stop again. My bars were way out of alignment, and I had a fast, long descent coming up. I repeated the process from before, and jammed my bars into alignment before starting up again.

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I was taking corners like a bulldozer, sitting up high so I could see bumps and cracks, and going slower than normal on any fast section, just in case my bars suddenly fell off or went sideways, but I was making progress regardless. I was back into 6th place and minutes ahead of anyone behind. Seeing how far off the top five I was, my new goal became to hold onto 6th.

By mile 40 my glutes began seizing up something fierce. I’d been refraining from standing out of the saddle, since standing made my bars go sideways even worse, and my glutes were feeling the affects of staying seated for so long.

With 20 or 30 minutes to go, disaster struck (sort of). The chest cramps came back full force. I attempted to push through, but that only made the stabbing pain even more severe, and my lungs started closing down. I have no idea what’s causing this, other than tight chest and rib muscles, and I don’t know how to fix it. It’s the single greatest thing holding me back currently, though it usually doesn’t strike on the bike, just the swim and run.

I had to sit up and pedal at zone two on the last climb, then took a wrong turn on the descent where there was a serious lack of course markings. At the base of the descent I had to cut back over through an intersection and I duck under some tape that a volunteer held up for me, hoping that my bars wouldn’t come off going over a small lip in the pavement. They held on, but I’d lost another half minute or more. I came into T2 with around a 30 second lead on 7th place, which had been 2.5 minutes just 10 miles before.

The Run

Pain. 90 percent of doing well in triathlon, or any endurance sport for that matter, is pain tolerance. Plagued with my mysterious chest cramps from mile zero of the run, I kept the effort at just below intolerable for the entire 1:20:53 that it would take for me to finish the course.

I got passed at mile one by 7th place, Alan Carillo Avila. I picked up the pace a bit and tried to keep him within striking distance. A mile or so later he’d only pulled out nine seconds and I was holding him there. When I’d first started the run my chest cramp was so bad that I would have been happy with 8th, the last paying place. But my goal changed back to 6th at mile two when I saw that I might be able to beat him as long as I paced myself well and didn’t push the chest cramp so far that it caused my lungs to seize up. I passed him back at mile 3.5 and kept the pace on.

Half way into the run, soaking wet from sweat and buckets-worth of water that I’d poured on myself, I saw that Robbie Deckard, who’d been 8th, was making a pass on Avila and coming on strong. Both of them were around 50-40 seconds back at the time. (The Los Cabos run course has a ton of out and backs, so you can easily keep tabs on where people are). I calculated that in the past few miles Deckard was running at least five seconds per mile faster than me, if not more. If I could hold him off from passing me until two miles to go, I thought I’d have a good shot at staying on his feet and out sprinting him in the last quarter mile, if that’s what it came down to. At this point I was willing to come close to death in order to not get beaten. I increased my cadence and upped my pace as much as I could, which was probably just keeping the pace the same, but still an improvement over the slow decline that usually happens in the last half of the run.

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By mile 9.5 I saw that I’d extended my lead to over a minute and knew that I had it. Only in the last 1.5 miles did I begin to feel the effort in my legs. Before that, the limiting factor had been the stabbing chest cramps, which were on both sides of my chest throughout the run. What the hell is wrong with me?!

I continued running scared and kept the pace high enough to eek out a few more seconds, just in case Robbie came out of nowhere in the last half mile. I crossed the line and the pain was finally over. I drank a gallon each of water and Gatorade in the next hour and lounged in the kiddie pool, waiting for Adelaide to finish her own slog through the heat and pain of Los Cabos.

Thank you to A-Squared Bikes, Vision Tech wheels and components, CUORE of Swiss clothing, and Hammer Nutrition. I’m incredibly fortunate to have such great support from these companies, and even more fortunate to be able to live this life. No thank you to my mechanics skills and my damn chest/rib muscles!

Thoughts

6th was not what I wanted out of this race, but given the talent in the field and the obstacles that I had to overcome (both mechanical and physical), I’m content. In order to break through to the next level I need to figure out what’s causing these lung cramps, as well as knock off another minute on my swim. If anyone has any idea why I’m getting these debilitating cramps, I’d like to hear your hypothesis. A little information on them:

  • They’re not side stitches. They’re up in my rib cage, usually lower to mid rib cage.
  • They’re not caused by too much food or too little salt. I’ve played around with both of those factors and they have nothing to do with it.
  • I have regular old asthma and take an inhaler, though it doesn’t seem to do anything for these cramps. I feel like the failing body part in this case is the muscles within the ribs and the intercostals, not the lungs themselves.
  • I never had these cramps as a cyclist. Not once. I believe that they’re caused from swimming and made worse during running.
  • I already belly breath, though maybe I need to do more.

Adelaide and I stayed in Los Cabos until Wednesday, surfing, playing in the ocean, sitting on the beach, eating nachos, and drinking margaritas and piña coladas at Zippers. If you haven’t raced it, I highly suggest this one. It’s a tough course, but San Jose del Cabo is awesome.

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