Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Triathlon Season Recap

I feel like this has been the first season that I've actually been a triathlete, and I want to document the decisions I made and how they created that feeling.
There are a couple things that make this season feel more real, and mostly it's because I was actually strategic. Being 3 years into the sport with people looking at me as a veteran helps, as does the fact that I'm not the last to finish each leg.
So, here's what I did strategically this year, and my intent is to do it again next year!
This is kind of the Garden Planning post, but for triathlon.

Last fall I decided I wanted a break from the stress and intensity of worrying that I didn't put in enough miles/yards, and would shorten my distance focus for 2013 to Sprints and Olympics/Internationals. But mostly, I wanted to put some effort into increasing speed on the run. My Shamrock half marathon in 2011 was at a 9-something min/mi, and at the end of last summer, after two seasons of long distances (Half IMs and a marathon), my pace was closer to 12. I wanted that 9 back!

I asked our track coach if she would help me PR a 5K turkey trot. She gave me a pace-based training plan, and I went to work! My friend Janet was a huge help. She would run next to me and call out our pace to make sure we stayed at the required number. When I was huffing for breathe and form was going out the window, she would remind me that pain was the point!
Finding that pain point, and then pushing through it; realizing that you can still go on, and you can run in pain was a huge breakthrough. My times kept improving, and we both had excellent runs at that 5K. From that point on, it was easy to keep improving and I run as many 5Ks and 5mile runs as I could fit into my schedule.

My next goal was to put some focus on the bike! I had to find a way to get over my fears!
I was feeling very empowered by our computrainer sessions and knew what I was capable of in the safe setting of a classroom with no cars passing and my bike mounted to the ground! I knew that my FTP was, basically, the same as Janet's and spent the winter racing her on those virtual courses. I knew from these sessions that when I wanted to, I could get double my FTP to sprint to a finish. So why couldn't I do this on the road?
I decided to give it a try at one of our time trials. Our computrainer coach recommended I use cadence and heart rate to approximate power. I went out there and executed as if I was in computrainer class, and there goes Janet, screaming past me. What the...!
Back to paying attention to my HR relative to power in computrainer, and attempt two at execution was during the Kinetic Sprint. Once again, Janet goes SCREAMING past me as if I were standing still. I caught up to her on a climb, and when I pointed out that I was about to overtake her, she bit down and flew so far ahead that I couldn't even see her. Why couldn't I do that?!
Kinetic Sprint: Swim - 18:56 T1 - 3:45 Bike - 1:00:07 T2 - 1:37 Run - 27:38

I needed to get it together... I had to find that pain point on the bike, and I needed something equivalent to pace to track my performance while I was riding. I was looking for a number to tell me what my brain and body couldn't - push harder!
So, I thanked the IRS for giving me my annual investment distribution, and went out and bought a powertap.
My first race with the powertap Williamsburg Olympic. I hadn't had the powermeter for very long, so didn't have any experience by which to use it. After talking with my peeps, I decided to put out 90% FTP, and push 100% FTP for the last 5 miles (there were some hills in that stretch).
I was able to execute my strategy and came into T2 really proud of myself for having the most aggressive bike ride of my (short) racing career.
and then... I totally bonked on the run after mile 2... One of our older teammates, who always beats me because she is such a strong rider, saw me at the turn around and called out "come and get me, Lisa!; let's cross the finish line together". No matter what I did - run/walk, walk break, yell at my legs, yell at myself - I just couldn't catch her! She beat me by 2 mins.
Williamsburg Olympic: Swim - 42:57 T1 - 6:08 Bike - 1:28:25 T2 - 0:27 Run - 1:07:21

I had a conversation with my Coach about how bad that run was, and he pointed out that this is a common problem with triathletes - bang out the bike, and not have anything left for the run. Who knew? I guess I had really never put out any energy on the bike before. And here is the start of my bike education.

I spent the next couple of weeks playing on the trainer with percents... what percent of FTP could I put out on the bike, and still knock out the run?
Luray was my next race, and in my mind somewhat of the measure point of improvement since it was the only repeat race from last year. I was very stressed!
I used the Luray course (well, part of it, that course MF'ing SUX on a trainer!!) and a 5mi hilly route in my neighborhood as a brick, and calculated that I'd need to do about 75% power on the bike. Man, I was stressed before that race! worried that I couldn't/wouldn't do it.
My swim time was 2 mins slower than last year. So I went into the bike with focus.
That course is excessive false flats with some nice downhills and some hefty ups. Practicing on the trainer really worked to empower me because I knew I needed to NOT BREAK on the downhill, and stay patient on the false flats. I was pleasantly surprised at how much easier the course was in real life and while everyone POWERED up the last steep climb, I calmly kept a steady cadence with as lower a power output as possible.
I always think about T2 on the bike ride, and I decided that at this race I'd see how fast I could do it! 1:08... and thus starts my focus on T2 efficiency ;-)
I had my virtual runner set to 9:30, and I tried hard to stick to that. With the hills and heat, that course is brutal! I fell behind, but focused on staying as close as I could.
Well - strategy worked! I finished that bike strong (PR'd) and ran my fastest 10K ever! About a 20min PR overall from last year (times in parenthesis below).
Luray International: Swim - 39:46 (37:41) T1 - 3:25 Bike - 1:47:43 (1:59:10) T2 - 1:08 Run - 59:39 (1:09:24)

So what should I do for Patriots, my last race of the season? I was not really looking forward to racing and went to bed wishing I didn't have to get wet.
Last minute I looked at my race stats and decided:
beat 18mins on the swim (my Kinetic swim time)
keep 16mph on the bike, or 85% of max power (my Williamsburg bike speed, some area so figured I could be more aggressive than Luray, and picked the FPT % thinking I could push it a little since it was my last tri of the season, flat, and shorter than Luray)
Beat 8:30 min/mi on the run (this would make Patriots my fastest triathlon run of the season, beating my relay run time at General Smallwood)
oh... and the MOST important one! I wanted T2 to be < minute.

The swim was messed up because by the time the "old lady" wave started, the first turn buoy had mutinied and left the course, they gave us instructions to "aim for the boat" and "aim for the white kayak"... everyone was clueless, and so I just followed the pack. I didn't look at my watch at the finish, focusing instead of getting my wetsuit off ASAP so that I could run more easily the long distance to the transition area.
I made another tactical error. The transition area was wet with recently cut grass, I thought I would carry my shoes and put them on at the mount line. I forgot that, umm, there's nowhere to put your bike at the line! so I was balancing on one foot with my bike balancing on me, putting on my shoes. The ride was uneventful, I forced myself to let go of the people leapfrogging me and pushing up the "hills", forcing myself to look at my power and keep that number at 85%. When I got off the bike, I was very focused on hitting "lap" right on the mat... I RAN down to my rack, threw things down, grabbed things, and pressed lap as I crossed the mat at the exit. I heard Daniel say "nice fast transition, Lisa"; but my watch had a big 1:05 on it :-( oh well... keep going.
Everyone has been telling me to work on negative splits on the run, so I went out looking at 9min/mi and held that for the first half mile, then I varied between 9 and 8:45 until I got to the turn around (I think it was at 1.75). After the turnaround, I picked up the pace. My virtual partner said I was behind by 38 seconds. It's REALLY hard to gain time on that stupid little guy! and with just over a mile to do it, I was worried. I looked down every couple seconds to see what that deficit was and it was slowly moving up by 2 seconds. I would use that as motivation to push a little harder! I was conceptualizing sprinting the last quarter mile. When I got to my mental milestone, it said I was 2 seconds behind. I thought to myself... do you really want to finish this race at this point and know that you had 2 seconds and you didn't do it? is that really what you want?! no it isn't, so make it happen!
When I crossed the finish, that time was a positive 2 secs :-)
Patriots Sprint: Swim - 13:55 T1 - 3:57 Bike - 46:45 T2 - 0:57 Run - 26:39
I made every goal I set!
Swim was fastest race pace ever, my ave power was 85% on the nose, T2 <1min (I need to see what my Garmin is displaying on that screen, cause it's not total time), run was my fastest in a triathlon ever!
This is a 20 min PR over Kinetic, I was 9/18 in my AG (15 mins off of the AG winner)

So, yeah, I am super happy with my whole season and really impressed with myself for learning, practicing, figuring, and making it happen. I am not one of those people who is athletically gifted - I was a couch-potato until I was 38 - every second I get is hard hard earned!
My big lessons this year:
If you are pushing yourself to the edge of your capability, it is supposed to hurt!
Your brain is a bigger obstacle than your body. Enlist your brain to help!
Once you get focused on feeling the pain, and pushing past the limit that your brain gives you, improving gets easier.

Not sure if I can do it again, but here's my plan to give it a try...

Get my run down to 8:30min/mi for the 5 mile distance.
Hold that 9:00min/mi pace for a longer distance (Half marathon in spring?)
Really find some more power in computrainer, and see if I can increase my FTP.
Put it all together and execute at Sprints and Olympics/Internationals next year.
and the big one... work at holding that 9 for 26.2 miles! I'm thinking towards the end of the summer!!

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