September 29, 2009

ChesapeakeMan AquaVelo - longest swim and ride of my life

This past weekend I took my family down to Cambridge Maryland to be with me when I raced the AquaVelo race during the ChesapeakeMan festival of races. Along side the full Ironman distance race there is an option to swim 2.4 mile (the aqua option) or swim and bike (aqua velo option - the race I was doing). This was actually very first attempt at swimming 2.4 miles and biking 112 miles. The longest ride leading up to this race was about 80 miles on the rolling hills around my house and the longest swim I ever did was the 1.2 miles in half iron races. But I had no doubt going into this race that if I paced the event well I will finish in good position.

We left the house on Friday morning to make it down to the race venue in time to pickup the packet, check-in the bike, get groceries, and get some sleep before the long day.

Grocery shopping on the way to Cambridge

We got to Cambridge around little after the time when the transition opened and after picking up the race packet we made our way to the transition. I checked the bike, made sure the new batteries in power meter work and took the bike for short spin up and down the road. Ian made sure my pedals worked so I can get through the whole 112 miles on the bike. Then I just dropped off the bike at my rack.

Dasa and Ian
Final tweaks before dropping off the bike

Ian had a blast with Dasa and Lada and he even went with me to check out the swim buoys that were already in the water ready for the morning swim. The swim did not look all that long - I guess I got used to the idea of longer swims. My only concern was the wind for both the swim and bike.

Look Ian do you see that far buoy - I'll swim to it tomorrow...twice

Then it was time to check out the swim to bike transition rack where we will put our bike gear. Ian actually tested my bike helmet and got very aero before we went to the hotel to get some late lunch.

Ian very aero

The rest of the day was fairly uneventful - trip to the hotel, lunch and pre-race meeting where we heard a bit about the course and how the day is planned out to unfold. Then it was time to mix my drinks for next day and get to bed. Surprisingly I slept well and got pretty solid 5.5 hours of sleep. Which is always good.

Next morning Dasa drove me to Cambridge to the race start, I setup my bike and got ready for the start. Wind picked up quite a bit from the day before which meant that both swim and bike will be interesting. Still I did not mind it at all - I did swim in this area before and was ready for pretty bad conditions. This seemed like a mild version of what I was expecting. Around 6 Dasa took off to catch some more ZZZs and make sure Ian is OK. I just went through my pre-race routine - walk the transition, take care of my business and suit up for the swim. I met with few friends from my local races, said hello and wished good luck in the long day ahead of us. Erica and Craig arrived as well as did my buddies Chris and Herb. Erica and Craig were doing the full iron distance race (Erica as part of relay with her sister Katie) and both Chris and Herb raced AquaVelo with me.


Shortly before 7am we were directed to the water which was very nice and generally warmer than the air outside - especially in the wetsuit. Few seconds after 7am the gun went off and we were under way. I took Erica's advice and made sure to start at the pace I expected to swim through the whole race. No sprinting from the crowd - I left that to other people. The swim is two loops of triangular course. First leg was easy as we swam with the current and wind, only towards the end of the leg the waves started to pick-up. They were more significant after turn buoy and even more significant on the way back. But I just found the right rhythm and kept sighting. It was pretty hard at times and I found myself swimming to the start buoy instead of the turn buoy. Luckily one of the kayakers yelled at me and I corrected my direction. I probably lost few minutes with this, but that made me sight even more on the second loop which was almost perfect. I swam the out leg pushing little more and had someone draft of off me - I did not mind someone drafting, but I was not happy with him touching my feet with every stroke. That was just not cool. I decided not to pay attention to it - since I'll probably shake him after the turn buoy - which actually happened. On the way back I kept sighting little more and swam to the right buoy before returning back to the water exit. I exited the water at 1:08:55 which is pretty good swim time for the conditions we were facing. I'm not sure what my place was after the swim, but by the first turnaround (10 miles) on the bike I was in 22nd place. But let's not get too much ahead.

Transition was pretty good - I ran on the wrong side of the rack, but did not lose much time with that. Then I was in changing tent taking off my wetsuit and putting on my helmet. I stuck my wetsuit to my transition bag, ran to my bike rack and was on my way. The transition was about 2:20, but I do not know for sure as my watch switched off about 3 minutes into the swim - I probably hit someone with my hand and stopped the watch. I did not really mind it as race takes the splits from the chip (luckily my chip did not die on the swim, but did on the bike).

ChesapeakeMan 09 bike special needs

I started my bike computer before crossing the mat to have proper time for the bike leg. I was aiming to complete the 112 miles in 5 hours and 15 minutes which meant about 21.5 - 21.7 mph through out. The course is pancake flat so this is very doable if the wind is not too strong. The plan was to take the first 20 miles easy as a warm-up to settle into the position, then bump up the power output a little and hold it for the first whole loop (up to about 64 miles) and then increase the effort and keep pushing to the finish. I did not have to run (well at least not in the race) so I could afford to push higher wattage than in the full race.

Even on my warm-up out and back 20 miles I moved-up few positions and at the turnaround I was about 10-12 minutes down on the leaders and in about 22nd place which was a good position this early in the race. On the way out we were really moving - with little power output we were all doing comfortable 26 mph - it was after turnaround that we had to fight the wind and the speed immediately dropped to 21 mph with higher power output - even in perfect aero position. Poor guys that were already tired at that point and were stretching out or rode upright like sails. I did not know where I was relative to the AquaVelo folks and while my goal was to finish in the top 10 I knew the best way to reach that goal is to stick to the race plan. And I did. I had no interest in chasing people or fighting for position. I got into the few packs - well we all rode legally, but you have 2-4 guys constantly trading places and pacing off of each other. That makes the miles fly by like nothing. The wind seemed quite OK on the first 20-30 miles, but when we turned to the marshes it seemed to beat at us from all directions. At times I had to come out of aero to grab my handlebars to keep the bike from running off the road. According to some people there were wind gusts of 20 mph at times and pretty constant wind of 10mph. I was actually very happy to be done with the first loop and I was not disappointed missing to see my family as I finished the loop about 10 minutes faster than planned.

ChesapeakeMan 09 bike special needs

As I started the second loop of the remaining 48 miles things started to get uncomfortable - it was tough to find comfortable position on the seat, aero was not comfortable either. But I knew if I wanted to be fast I had to stay aero as much as possible so I forced myself stick in aero position and only stretched from time to time. The worst part of the second loop were miles 70-80 - that is the gray area of the race. You are not close to finish to start counting down the miles and mind can play games with you. I was determined to keep pushing especially after being passed by fellow AquaVelo competitor that probably stopped for special needs bag (I did not as I treated special needs bag as bag for case something went wrong on loop 1 - I was good after loop 1 so I just blew by the special needs area). Shortly after being passed I saw that there was another AquaVelo competitor ahead. So I stuck close to the guy that passed me and we caught up to Herb. It was good to see fellow EnMu athlete and we exchanged few pleasantries as we traded places. We pushed each other quite nicely for the next about 7-10 miles and completely lost contact with the man that brought us together. I kept my pace going and after few miles I checked if Herb is still behind me and found he was falling back a little. I just stuck to my plan and as I was getting close to mile 90 I opened up the pace even more. Now the goal was to break 5 hours mark. It was entirely possible to do it since I still had time to get to the finish with about 30-40 seconds to spare. So I concentrated on pushing hard, staying aero and keeping my back relaxed with regular stretching every few miles. I blew past few competitors that were finishing their first loop and encouraged most of them to keep pushing to the finish. The cutoff was still some 4 hours away so they had plenty of time to finish the bike leg. I rolled past the last aid station, took water and kept pushing. It was only few miles to the finish. I was almost like in a dream - you may know the out of body experience when everything just seems going well and you do not even notice the effort you are putting out on the bike - fluid state. This stuck with me all the way to the finish. I was actually little sad that the day is done for me. I did indeed get my sub-5 hours bike split - with about 25 seconds to spare (not sure of the exact time from the chip as it died on me, but my bike computer shows clearly that I stopped moving my bike before 5 hours were over on the bike.

Me rolling towards the finish
Just moments from getting off and crossing the line with seconds to spare to 5 hour bike

After I finished I was greeted by my family and the race director who handed me 5th overall award for the AquaVelo - great I like being 5th more than being 10th. It will have prominent place in my library next to all the other AG and overall awards from the past few years of racing. I was genuinely pleased with the result.

OK bike is done, here is your medal Ian

And well then it was time to tie on my shoes and go for a nice jog with new found friends - David who finished before me and his wife who were doing transition run as well.

Yep there are other crazy people that need to run after just doing 112 miles on the bike

The run did not go all that well - first mile was fine, then I got some GI issues and then my head started to spin - I seriously did not fuel for run after bike and it was time to get back to the finish line and get some food before collapsing. Pizza did me good and I was ready to go for some serious meal. We packed my stuff and headed over to next town over to get some pasta and meat - carbs and protein is always good after races. I felt like a pig - I ate everything I saw. No wonder I burned some 4500 - 5000 calories in the race so I needed to refuel. Since then I kind of toned down my eating, but I seem to be in this pig out mode since the weekend.

It was great to spend the afternoon with my family, have quite dinner and then just chill in our hotel room. My legs were hurting like hell on the day of the race, but they got better on Sunday and I had almost no residual soreness on Monday. I love AquaVelo races - I was less beat up than after half iron race. And as usual here are few pictures showing the blast Ian had at the race - he was so happy the whole weekend. It was great watching him - and he actually slept from 4pm on Sunday all the way to 8am on Monday. So in a way he had his race as well.

Ian had lots of fun at the race venue
Running Ian
Ian running around

September 18, 2009

Quakerman 70.3 - rainy day at the lake with great finale

About a week before the race it looked like we will have some light sunshine and pleasant 70's for the run. It was not to be - the weather forecast changed from partly cloudy to cloudy and then to rainy over the 2-3 days before the race. Oh well I thought - another wet one which seems to be the rule this season. I was hoping this will not turn into duathlon and at least that prayer was heard and we did have a full tri.


I'll spare you all the details about my waking time and eating habits. After I got on site I got quickly body marked - only on my hand which I did not like much. I prefer knowing who just passed me especially if I can not see if they are in my race or the olympic race. Oh well I guess they did not have enough volunteers to do proper body marking. After that I went back to my car to get my stuff and setup transition. I picked spot close to bike exit right next to Lenny and across the aisle from Chris - my EnMu buddies. While we were getting setup we were being checked by the USAT referee - well our helmets that is. Funny is that the same referee gave Chris hard time during Steelman and we were joking about it just before she showed up. It all turned up to be good fun and she actually came back once again to tell me jokingly that she needs to check the helmet again just as we were getting ready for practice swim.

I got into my wetsuit, stuck extra ear plug into the wetsuit in case I lose the ones I have in my ears - last OWS was a big learning - I got such motion sickness without ear plug that I almost passed out in calm lake after I lost one of my ear plugs. The water was cold for my taste, but after 400m warm-up it got better. I was ready to go. Just before the start I said hi to Leah and Garen who were doing the Olympic distance and came to check out our start. Then it was time to rock - went to the water, lined up up front and took the inside line. After the horn I went ahead and pushed quite a bit to get out of the pack. Well that lasted a little while, but once we got to the first buoy I got in the middle of few people and had to speed up again. Then I got caught in between two guys and could not go through or around them. At that point my HR was too high so I decided to let it settle by swimming on my back for about 30-60 seconds. Once I regrouped I continued freestyle only little more paced. At the second turn we turned back against the wind and pretty good chop. I had to stop once or twice to check where we are swimming as sighting was not easy in these conditions. But I remembered the Chesapeake mile swim and the chop was not all that bad. Well it was washing over my head and I swallowed some water before I got into the rhythm. On the second lap it was much calmer - less people to fight with and I was able to settle into my pace and just keep going without any breaks. I exited the water about 2 minutes slower than I planned, but given conditions it was an OK swim. Based on results I had 11th swim out of the 90 finishers. Not bad. Definitely an improvement from last year where I was further back even though I had great swim. I guess the hours in the pool are showing some results. I still have to have a stellar swim though.

Swim Exit

After fairly fast transition - slower than usual as I was getting my arm warmers for the bike - I was biking out of the park and pacing myself up the hill. Poor guy I passed on that hill he was clearly struggling on the incline I wonder how he did on all the other hills especially on the RT313 climb that can be a bitch especially the third time around. Unfortunately my bike prep was not stellar for this race and I forgot to check my power meter - it did not work. Oh well what can I do I'll just go by feel. I have done enough riding on these hills to know when I'm pushing over threshold and when I'm slacking off. So I went. The race loops three times around lake Nockamixon which is rolling hills course with few good climbs. I wanted to do the first loop little more conservatively, then second loop little harder and third loop little bit harder than second. But not too hard to kill my legs before the run. Tough balance to keep on these climbs even with power meter. I was hoping for 21.5 - 21.8 average speed on the course in dry conditions. Wet roads make for slightly slower bike as I do not risk as much on the bike since the last year wipe out during JerseyMan that put me out of training for few weeks. It is not worth it. I ended-up averaging 20.8 over the 56 miles which is about mile per hour slower than I wanted, but it still gave me 3rd fastest bike split of the day. There was some wind and rain so people were not as fast as in dry conditions. Plus there was a lot of debree on the roads from the rain storms we had few days before the race. Also quite a few people ended up with flat tire (one poor guy actually had two flats and still finished in top 10 - great run for him - his legs got a good break waiting for the sag wagon with technician). After the race I noticed that I was about 1 mm away from flat myself. I got a sharp rock stuck in my tire and it went all the way to casing of the tubular - yeah big luck for me.

Bike 1

Transition two was fast - just got my socks, shoes and off I went. After the experience during Patriot's tri I will not do any run longer than 10k sock-less. That Patriot's run was the most stupid idea of this season resulting in blisters that took about week to heal. My goal for the run was to keep pace between 7:50 and 8:00 minute mile. First half a mile was a huge struggle as my quads were hurting from the bike and the left one was really bad. Luckily as I was closing on second mile most of the pain went away and I was able to run solid pace even on the uphills. I focused on good form, breathing and pacing myself - it is a long run and as I learned during the BlackBear you will only hurt yourself if you try to go out too fast. Even on downhills I was sure not to go much faster than 7 minute mile. Surprisingly I felt great after the first 3.25 miles (first turnaround).

Run 1

I was in second place (well technically third, but the girl running in front of me was part of relay). I felt great the half of the second loop and only stated to fade after the turnaround - well time to get the boost - I took three salt tables and chewed them - yuk it was nasty, but helped a bit. I washed them down with gel water mix and in about 2 minutes I was back in the game. Unfortunately just at that point when I was starting mile 12 the guy behind me made his move and passed me. He was going much too fast for me to sustain the pace for 2 miles (we still had about 2 miles to the finish at this point). So I just kept my pace and focused on my race. After aid station where I got last cup of water I saw him about 50 meters in front of me and kept him in my sight for next mile. Then I lost contact completely. But that was OK I was running my race at that point and I knew I had only one more mile to go - so I opened it up and ran what seemed like 7 minute mile - all the way to the finish. If anything I was picking up speed and not slowing thanks to friend of mine who was cooling down on the race course and ran in front of me - his cool down is 6 minute mile I guess. He is really fast (and placed real well in the Olympic race).

Finish sprint

And there it was finish line - I almost took down one poor lady in the finish shoot as I passed her (she was in the Oly race). After I crossed the finish line I simply collapsed to the ground to give my legs a break. I was not exhausted I just needed to sit down and that was the fastest way to sit. I returned the chip, git back up and grabbed some food.

Finish line

Then I re-united with my family and shared the moment with my son and wife. They are my greatest supporters. Later I met with Leah, then Chris crossed the finish line and we shared a moment.


Then it was time to change to something dry and collect my stuff from transition. After that I checked the results and there it was - I was third overall male finisher. That is the first time placing in top three for me and it feels great. This is certainly thanks to the great support and training guidance I'm getting from my coaches Erica and Craig. I'm looking forward to my next race which is the Chesapeake Man Aqua Velo - which is 2.4mi swim and 112mi bike race (so Ironman distances with no marathon). After that I'll be training for Philly marathon with goal to break the 3:30 mark that escaped me last year with few stupid first timer mistakes I plan to avoid this year.


September 14, 2009

Quakerman 70.3 - quick update

This is just a short update after few weeks of silence. I have been busy training and at work. This past Saturday I competed in 70.3 race around lake Nockamixon. It was cold and rainy day which was not all that bad - I take it rather than the 95 degrees humid day we had 2 years ago. I did very well during this one and placed third overall in field shy of 100 people. Proper race report with pictures will follow. Sunday was family day and tomorrow back to work. I'm sure I'll find some time to post more details some day this week.