June 19, 2012

Banyoles ITU World Cup

When I woke up race morning I wasn’t sure how well my body had recovered from the Toulouse FGP, but when I rolled out of bed and tried to stand up I quickly found out the answer - I was worked. My legs were heavy and tight, and my entire body was fatigued and sluggish. I made it down the stairs and had a quality pre-race breakfast with Greg Billington and Lukas Verzbicas. After breakfast and getting the body moving a bit I was feeling slightly better, but not feeling like I was about to have a life changing performance.

The reason why I raced two races, in two days, in two countries (and the main reason why I’m not racing WTS Kitz) is because I was under contract with my French Grand Prix team to race Toulouse. I’m in Europe for racing, traveling, and training experience; this weekend combined all of these factors and after this experience I think I’m ready for most anything!

Since I was starting the race completely fatigued (and I knew the course was flat and fast so most likely there would end up being one group of 60 men on the bike) my plan was to do as little work as possible on the swim and the bike, then see how well I was able to run. Surprisingly, everything went perfectly to plan.

I got a great starting position on the pontoon, followed by a great start, followed by getting on some great feet! Everything was going perfectly. I stayed out of trouble on the swim, and conserved as much energy as possible. I was surprised at how slow the swim was despite there being about 8 or 9 Russians on the start line (the Russians are known for all being fast swimmers). After the first lap of the swim I was in about 10th position and comfortable, on the second lap the pace slowed to a float it seemed, and it was 4 wide at the front because no one wanted to take over the lead. I ended up swimming right up the middle of the field and exited the water first. I was the first person in T1 and had a great transition.

Once I was on the bike, I went straight into “sit-in mode”. It was the polar opposite of the day before, or of any race I’ve done in Europe so far. No one wanted to go to the front and push the pace, so even though our lead group of about 30 men out of the water had 25 seconds on the chase group, the chase group caught us after the 1st lap. I’m kind of embarrassed of how slow the bike ride was (in my opinion it was the slowest cycle leg of any race I’ve done) but I was sticking to my plan of not doing any work. The course was six un-technical laps of perfectly paved roads that go around the lake where we swam. There was only one section that goes through town right before transition that has three 90 degree turns and a couple of speed bumps, but other than that, it was easy peasy.

I made sure to stay near the front, but never on the front for more than I needed. The only time I was on the front was leading into the technical section and before transition. I ended up having the fastest T2 of the day and was on the run course 2nd (I was 1st out of the main group, but there was one guy who had broken away on the bike and was 30 seconds up on everyone).

I locked into a solid pace and found a group to run with. After lap one there were a few distinct groups formed, the leaders (Laurent Vidal, Dmitry Polyansky, and eventual winner Lukas Verzbicas), the first chase group of about 5 men, then our group of about 8. After the second lap it was starting to string out a bit and I found myself sitting in about 12th position running with one other guy. At this point I was really hurting. All I could do was tell myself “It will be over in 10 minutes, you can do it!” I was pushing myself as hard as I possibly could to stay with the guy in front of me, but I started to die. I got passed and passed, but also passed a few guys who were in front of me, so with about 1k to go I had no idea what position I was in. At this point I was hurting so bad that I was now telling myself “You can make it, even if you have to walk”.

With 600m to go I was closing in on one of my French Grand Prix Team mates Igor Polyansky from Russia. That gave me a little extra boost as I caught him with 400m to go. Right when we hit the blue carpet about 200m from the line I gave it everything! I started my sprint and about 8 steps into it I almost fell flat on my face. I got really dizzy, my legs buckled and I honestly don’t know how I stayed upright all the way to the finish line. I don’t know if I got passed or what (turns out I finished in 17th) but when I crossed the line I just clung onto the barrier for dear life. I couldn’t walk and had to be carried to the medical tent where I stayed for 20 minutes until I could walk again. My body temperature was 39 degrees C, or about 102F!

I drank two bottles on the bike and took two PowerBar gels, and I drank and poured water on me at EVERY aid station on the run. I played the race perfectly, but I guess I pushed myself a little too hard for having raced and traveled the day before. What I’m excited about is the fact that if I could go back and change one thing about the way I raced, I wouldn’t change anything!

June 18, 2012

Toulouse French Grand Prix

To keep this blog as short as possible I’m going to try and update you with bullet points on the lead up to the most hectic race weekend of my life.

Saturday – Drove from Saint Raphael, France to Cremona,Italy for a race.
Sunday – Raced then drove back to France.
Monday- Trained, did the rest of my laundry in the bathtub, went to the Saint Raphael team picnic, “packed” (I couldn’t fully pack because my bike is the first thing that goes in my bag and I needed to ride 3hrs the next day before I left).
Tuesday- woke up at 5:30am, cleaned my house, ate as much food as possible, rode 3 hours, did more laundry, then broke my bike down and finished packing ALL my stuff to move to Banyoles, Spain. Got a ride from my friend Kristian McCartney to the train station (I’ve never ridden a train in my entire life so I was scared out of my mind the entire time, and I have quite a few ridiculous stories about that travel session, but I will not bore you with those) and after 7.5 hours and a few trains I finally made it to Banyoles, Spain to meet up with the USAT development team and was able to run for 30 minutes (in the rain) before the sun went down.

From Wednesday to Friday it was just the usual race prep week. We were basically all on our own, but we were able to work out a schedule and get some solid sessions in with each other. The second day there I did my long run with Greg Billington, the third day I swam with the USAT crew (Greg Billington, Gwen Jorgansen, Kelly Whitley, and Lukas Verzbicas) and did a solid 2 hour ride with Erin Densham. Friday was a cruise day because things were about to get real the next day.
So come Saturday, Jono Hall (the USAT high performance director) and I decided it would be more efficient and cheaper to drive from Banyoles, Spain to my French Grand Prix race in Toulouse and back instead of me having to pack my bike and catch a train to Toulouse, race, then pack my bike again, take a train back to Banyoles to race the next day. Once again, I could spend hours writing stories about the things that got mixed up in communication with my French team, but instead I’ll just breakdown the race:

So Toulouse FGP is a super sprint team relay where you get to draft with other teams. All the teams start off with two people, then those two people tag an individual person, who then tags the final two people. Everyone does the same course, which is a 400m swim, 10k bike, and a 3k run. This sounds easy compared to an Olympic distance event, or even a regular sprint distance triathlon, but the pace is so high the entire time the challenge is completely different, but just as difficult as the other distances.

My team mate Pierre Antoine and I ended up getting chosen to lead the relay out, and I was under instruction to swim as hard as I could. I ended up being second out of the water behind Vincent Luis from France. A bonus was that I ended up not having to swim very hard because I got into Luis’ draft right away and we gapped the rest of the field around the first buoy. After that I knew if I just stayed with him we would have a solid lead and I would have more energy for the rest of the race. We ended up having about a 10 second gap after the 400m swim and decided to try to stay away on the bike. We maintained our lead to the first turnaround point 2.5k into the bike leg, but then Luis decided it was too much effort to keep that pace up with just the two of us and we both sat up and let the chase pack of 20 men catch us.

After that it was a high paced tactical race where I took an effort wasting gamble. A breakaway of 3 men attacked the field and got a gap, when I realized our pack was going to let them go, I signaled to my team mate to bridge me up to them. We both attacked the group and got a gap. We made it to within 25 meters of the breakaway, and my team mate popped. He was completely shattered and wasn’t able to get me up to the three men. I decided to try to bridge the rest of the way on my own and got out of the saddle and sprinted for about 30 seconds but literally only made up about 10-15 more meters. I was getting close to maxing out and was stuck in a terrible position. What do I do, use the rest of my energy to bridge up and then have to walk the run, or just sit up and wait for the group? I decided to sit up and wait and ended up getting bad positioning going into T2. At the time I thought it was a good idea and had it worked it would have been (that group of 3 had a 25 second gap into T2), but  I was pretty toasted on the run because of those two efforts. In these races you can’t afford to waste any energy because the quality of the field is extremely high. A lot of the guys in these races have already qualified for the Olympics this year, so this isn’t just an ordinary field of triathletes, these guys can fly! I ended up tagging my team mate in about 8th position or so. After that the race was out of my hands and I warmed down while my team finished in a strong 6th place. It was insanely hot outside and considering the amount of talent racing this race I think we did pretty well!

It was about a 5.5-6 hour drive round trip, but Jono and I made it back to Banyoles by 9pm, just in time for some dinner and a good night sleep to get ready for Banyoles ITU World Cup the next day.

June 10, 2012

ITU Cremona

After learning a major lesson post WTS Madrid, I regrouped and got back into MY training program. It felt great physically and mentally! It was definitely challenging to be doing 90% of my training by myself, but after having been in France for a month I was able to adapt much easier. The past two weeks have been the best weeks of training I’ve had since I’ve been here, and I was finally back to the volume I was doing in Santa Cruz. I’m on a three week block  of training which is preparing me for the weekend of June 16-17 where I will be racing a French Grand Prix race in Toulouse, France on the 16th and ITU world cup Banyoles, Spain on the 17th. Since some people from the Saint Raphael team were driving to race in Cremona, I decided it would be a great (and inexpensive) opportunity to get race experience, ITU points, and hopefully some cash. Since a bigger focus for me is getting through the FGP and Banyoles WC races next weekend, I came into this race completely unrested.

This race was a VERY technical and fast sprint race with a separate T1 and T2 which mixed things up a bit. We had to ride our bikes from our hotel down to the race site at 8am to put our shoes in T2 even though the men’s race didn’t start until 11:30am (It’s a weird feeling only leaving shoes there, you feel like you’re forgetting something the whole time). After we set our shoes down, it was business as usual.

I was #6 out of 75 competitors and was able to get a sweet starting position on the pontoon. I had a good start and was in fairly clear water from the get-go. Even though I had team mates from Saint Raphael French Grand Prix team, I wasn’t racing tactically for St. Raphael because this was an ITU (International Triathlon Union) event so I was flying solo representing USA. On my right after the start was a St. Raphael team mate, Igor Poliansky from Russia, and since I knew he was a strong swimmer I got in his draft right away. Approaching the first buoy, another St. Raphael team mate, Raoul Shaw from France, was in the lead with two Russians in front of me. From the first turn buoy to the second turn buoy Raoul gapped the Russians and had about a 10-15m lead heading towards the swim exit. Since the Russians weren’t bridging up I decided to cruise up to Raoul on my own. I went around Igor and swam up to Raoul and exited the water at the same time as him.

I had a solid T1 and was on the bike first, I got my feet in my shoes comfortably and was able to get a drink and recover before the pack cruised up. From there it was a very fast paced, fairly well organized ride. Our lead group thinned out to about 12 guys (with only 6 doing any work), and at the first turnaround we only had 10 seconds on the chase group of about 20 men. Since I hadn’t rested for this race, I raced it smart, but I definitely did more work on the bike then I would have if I was at this event to win it and crush it. I stayed near or on the front for the majority of the ride which was actually a good thing because there were TONS of sketchy turns and hectic cobbles, and many other random dangerous things going on. Since the pace was very high our group was able to put 1:05 on the chase group by the end of the ride, and good for us too because there were A LOT of fast runners in the chase group.

I had a great T2 and was on the run in 3rd position. Once I bridged up to the leaders I just stayed right behind them comfortably and was planning on being joined by other runners shortly. I played this card hoping that the run would become one lead group and be a tactical race rather than a straight 5k TT, but around the 2nd corner eventual winner Tom Bishop came flying through. That broke our lead group up and strung everyone out and after that it was every man for himself. On lap two I came around a corner and rolled my ankle on a crack in the cobbles. I think my skateboarding experience came into play and I was somehow able to stay upright. I lost a lot of momentum and my ankle felt funny the rest of the run, but I ended up holding my own and finished in 5th. Racing a sprint triathlon on legs that aren’t fully rested is a challenge, so I’m very happy with that result and being able to see first-hand the benefits of getting back into my own personal training groove.

Lessons Learned

I’ve never lived or trained anywhere except Santa Cruz, so living and training in a new environment is something I’ve never experienced before. Because everything is brand new to me (schedule, location, routine, transportation, culture, etc.) I made a major mistake in my training program leading up to Madrid WTS that I will never make again. The reason I am here in France racing and traveling like crazy, isn’t for vacation, isn’t for ITU points, and definitely isn’t for money, but to learn and develop as much as possible so that I will be ready to perform when the 2016 Olympic Qualification starts. I would normally say “What my mistake was…” but I don’t consider what I did a mistake because I just didn’t know any better, but If I repeat what I did wrong then we can call it a mistake; instead I will say “What I learned was…” because a valuable lesson was taken away.

When I came to France I didn’t know anyone, I couldn’t speak the language, I didn’t know my way around, I hate traveling, and I’ve never taken even a slight step, let alone a giant leap, out of my comfort zone before. So when I got here I had a rough draft of my training schedule, but it was full of mostly “fill in the blank” and “follow what the other guys are doing”. This schedule left me not knowing what I was going to do each day, and ultimately, changed everything that I had worked for to get here. My training program was completely flip-flopped and I wasn’t training like I had been when I was really fit in Santa Cruz before I came here. It really showed when I raced Madrid WTS and couldn’t hang on that lead group on the bike (even though 90% of that breakaway are going to the Olympics this year, I still think I should have been able to hold on longer than 1.1 laps).

After that race I really reevaluated myself and went over my preparation for that race. I was shocked when I realized what I had done. You don’t need to be a brain surgeon to know that completely changing your training regimen three weeks out from the biggest race of your entire life isn’t a very smart move! The transition happened so smoothly from “setting up my training program around what I need” to “setting up my training program around what’s easier and more comfortable” that I didn’t even realize I had done anything wrong until I looked back at the three week block of training as a whole.

The lesson learned is that I need to be proficient in maintaining MY OWN training while traveling to new places. It seems like an easy task, but it is definitely a major challenge and takes a lot of sacrifice, and a lot of stepping out of your comfort zone. Now I have a clear glimpse of what happens when I stray from my own training to be more comfortable. I won’t make that mistake again, and with that added lesson, I am one step closer to being able to race my best in any situation.