Tuesday, March 24, 2015

From Zero To 70.3

(Note: this is a race report I wrote in November, but had no place to publish. So, a bit out of order here and a slightly different style than other writing on Cheaply Seeking Fitness. I thought I'd share it anyway.)

70.3’s not a distance I enjoy driving, much less fully powered by my legs and arms. Yet, there I was on Sunday November 9th, standing on the beach, looking at the cold and murky water and getting ready to run into it for a 70.3 half iron distance triathlon at the Miami Man Half Iron Triathlon. I was hit by mountains of anxiety as I waited. I hadn't really trained for the distance and had only been training for triathlons at all since June of this year. Swimming...yeah, I had lessons as a child, but playing around in the water is a very different thing than swimming freestyle in cold water with 1000 other people for 1.2 miles.

Fortunately, I had been training hard for some time, just not triathlon training specifically. I dipped my toe into CrossFit in June of 2013, and had been going to WODs since then 4-6 times per week. I had trained for a back-to-back Tough Mudder/Spartan Race weekend earlier this year, completing both with relative ease. I had been an off-and-on runner for several years. But I still stood on that beach staring at the first buoy about 100 meters away certain I was about to drown.

And then the start gun went off and we were in the water...

The CrossFit Benefits

My year and a half of CrossFit training provided several benefits that were very apparent on race day. Three primary benefits stand out to me as a reflect on race day: strength and overall fitness, mental resilience, and a desire to do something bad-ass.

The strength and overall fitness benefit is pretty obvious. Prior to beginning CrossFit, I had really only done endurance exercise...running. Over the years, I had completed a couple half marathons, mud races, and trained for one marathon (which I ultimately didn't run.) But CrossFit offered me an introduction to something new, strength training. After a year and a half, I’m still a rail skinny endurance guy, but my strength is far higher than it used to be. That strength brings with it confidence, confidence which was extremely helpful as I approached the triathlon. And my overall fitness level was high enough to be able to jump into triathlon specific training with fairly high volume. CrossFit offered a great fitness base to jump off from.

CrossFit metcons are often about mental resilience. As the body red-lines, heart rate goes through the roof and getting oxygen in the body becomes difficult, finishing a metcon is predominantly an exercise in mental willingness to continue. No WOD better captures this need for mental resilience than Kalsu, which I nearly quit twice before completing. That mental resilience helped me push through the hours of training needed to complete 70.3 (my highest week included 14 hours of movement) and helped me push through the final three miles of the race at an ever increasing pace.

Third, if it wasn't for CrossFit, I never would have registered for a triathlon at all. When I began CrossFit, I just wanted something different and something fun. As I continued to do more and more CrossFit, I began to build a desire to take on athletic challenges that really felt bad-ass. That why I decided to run a Tough Mudder on a Saturday, and a Spartan race the next Sunday. That’s why I registered for my first sprint triathlon at the end of August. And it’s why I decided to upgrade my registration at Miami Man from the International distance (0.6 mile swim, 22 mile bike, 6.6 mile run) to the Half Iron distance (1.2 mile swim, 56 mile bike, 13.1 mile run) only a month before the starting gun. It’s why I've already registered for the Great Floridian 140.6 Full Iron triathlon in 2015, one of the most grueling triathlons in the country.

Specificity Arrives

During my first few months of training for triathlons (first the sprint distance, then the international), I continued with CrossFit WODs. In June, July and August, my triathlon specific training was still short enough that the CrossFit didn't interfere and, in fact, seemed to be beneficial. So I kept at it as long as I felt able to. Besides, I love CrossFit...the community and the workouts. I was going to be there as much as possible.

However, at some point in September, it became clear that I couldn't continue with the regular WODs. The swimming, biking and running were taking more and more time and I was feeling increasingly worn down during WODs. The energy just wasn't there. Finally, I had a day where my wrist was so sore I couldn't manage a light strict press, and I had to make a decision. I knew I couldn't keep up with WODs and continue to increase triathlon-specific training volume, so I had to give Edwin Morales the news that I’d have to drop out for a few months.

After speaking about how things were going and my goals, we agreed on a plan that seems to have worked out wonderfully. No more WODs, no more high-intensity work at CrossFit CVI, but continue with a simple twice-per-week 5/3/1 strength program on Monday’s and Friday’s to try to maintain strength. Monday’s I worked on strict press and deadlift. Friday’s were bench press and squats. Those two days also happened to be my rest days from triathlon work. I was able to maintain (and even somewhat increase) strength over the next two months despite higher and higher endurance volume.

But the bulk of my work was outside of the box. My training was becoming very specific: two pool swims and one ocean swim (waves permitting) per week, bike on Tuesday and Thursday, run Wednesday and Saturday, then a long run or long bike or brick workout on Sunday.

The endurance increased, the swimming improved, and strength didn't seem to be going away. Training was a win all-around. In particular, in early October I was able to complete a 1 mile ocean swim without rest. This was the moment I wondered if my training had gone so well that I could try for the half iron distance instead of the international distance I was training for. After a really long bike ride to test the distance, I decided to make the change. Half Iron it would be!

Back to the Beach and Race Day

Before the start gun went off, I had jumped in the water for a warm up swim. I couldn't breath...not even for one stroke. The race anxiety and the colder than expected water was overwhelming. I was in trouble. I couldn't swim ten meters much less 2000! I was in a near panic, certain that my race was ruined before it even began. Ah...but that CrossFit produced resilience! I returned to the beach, took a few deep breaths and gathered myself.  Then I headed out for another try at warming up in the water. This time, while labored, I was able to swim about 100 meters. It wasn’t great swimming, but at least I could move and breath.

And then the start gun went off and we were back in the water. The swim sucked. It took me 300 meters to get any rhythm and I was extremely slow all the way around. I couldn't sight buoys at all, and zig zagged across the course. This was always going to be the case, but it was still demoralizing to be passed by people who’s wave started 10-15 minutes after mine. But I eventually finished after 50:42, placing 46 of 53 in my age group...not last!
My Cannondale looks out of place in transition

Next we were on the bike. My poor old 1982 Cannondale road bike which I had bought from another member at the box for $100 looked really out of place next to the carbon triathlon bikes all costing several thousand dollars in transition. But it had done well in training, and did well on this day as well. The weather forecast had included rain showers for later in the day, but they hit during the bike ride. And these were no showers, but torrential tropical downpour. It was a bit scary, riding around slick corners and riding half blind at times as the rain came down so fast and heavy. However, the bike went well, faster than anticipated and on-bike nutrition was a success. Tailwind is a wonderful endurance energy drink that seems to cause no stomach issues for me. I finished in 2:52:57, placing 35/53.

Finally, I was on to the run, my strongest discipline. The Miami Man run is made up of two 6.55 mile loops through Zoo Miami. I was excited to see the zoo, having never visited, but the animals were almost all inside due to the weather. A disappointment, but one I could understand particularly after the thunder and lightning began during the second lap.

My goal for the race had been simple: just finish. Then, if finishing seemed likely, to finish in under seven hours. It’s a slow time, but felt realistic considering my training, or lack thereof. However, as I came around the finish line after the first run loop, I noticed the race clock read 5:01. I realized that I might be able to finish in under 6 hours if I pushed the second lap. The first lap had taken just over an hour. I decided to maintain my pace, around 10 minutes per mile, until the 10 mile marker and then would push if all felt good. I got to the 10 mile marker, and the CrossFit resilience kicked in again. I began to kick up the pace, and met with so much pain! But I continued pushing. Mile 11 - 8:50, mile 12 - 8:20, mile 13 - 7:50. I came around the final corner and saw the race clock...5:58 and I was only meters away.

A final kick and I finished at 5:59:09! My timing chip time was actually 5:54:09 my wave having started five minutes after the race clock. This placed me 29 out of 53 in my age group. (This isn't a particularly good time, middle of the pack, but is a great time for me as far as I’m concerned.)

Run time was 2:01:26, placing 13 out of 53 in my age group.

CrossFit as a Base
I don’t believe I could have finished the race without the training specificity I eventually introduced. However, I do strongly believe that the overall fitness CrossFit had built in me was a large part of my success. I completed the race on considerably less training than many others, having heard people talking about 8-12 months of training instead of my 4 months. And without the mental resilience built in CrossFit WODs, I might never have gotten back in the water after my warm up disaster. And I certainly would not have had the fire to push the final three miles at quicker and quicker pace. Plus, without CrossFit, I never would have signed up in the first place.

Now, it’s off to train for a 50 mile ultramarathon in January, then back to CrossFit WODs for several months before diving into specific triathlon training for the 140.6 next October.

Gear List
  • Shoes: Merrell Road Glove (on the bike), Merrell Bare Access Ultra (on the run)
  • Socks: Icebreaker Hike+ Lite mini
  • Shorts: Pearl Izumi Elite In-R-Cool Tri Shorts
  • Shirt: Pearl Izumi Elite In-R-Cool Tri Singlet
  • Bike: 1982ish Cannondalte SR300
  • Hydration: Tailwind & water on the bike, lived off the course on the run
  • Nutrition: a nut and chocolate trail mix in a baggie taped to my handlebars on the bike, lived off the course on the run
  • Headwear: Buff - UV
  • Eyewear: Speedo Vanquisher 2.0 swim goggles (the best!), Optimum Nerve Omnium PM Sunglasses
  • Technology:  Nexus 5 with Strava app
  • Miscellaneous: TriGlide

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Well, That Wasn't Body Glide!

Just a silly quick-hit post today, a bit of triathlete daylight savings morning humor.

Got home from a group bike ride with some fellow Boca Raton Triathletes this morning and discovered that, in my sleep-deprived stupor, I had slathered up with deodorant instead of Body Glide on the way out the door.

Gotta say, the deodorant performed admirably.


On a separate note, I recently had the opportunity to speak with Scott Johnson from the UltraFinishers podcast. Whether you listen to my interview or not, make sure to check his podcasts out. Really cool, inspirational stuff talking to ultramarathon finishers from the middle and back of the pack, instead of elites.