Monday, September 21, 2009

Race Report: Santa Cruz Triathlon (Olympic)

I'm so glad I decided to register and race the Santa Cruz Triathlon as part of SVTC's push to win the Southwest Club Championship again (we won). It was great to end the season with a PR at the international distance.

I wasn't sure just how well I'd do, given all my jet lag issues and lack of training the week leading up (I was on a business trip to Kenya from Sept 10 to Sept 17 and only did three 5km runs around the hotel property in Kenya in the "taper" leading up to the race). Hell, I wasn't sure I'd be able to break the 3:00 mark as I was hoping after seeing my progress during the club's training day on the Santa Cruz course back at the end of August.

No better way to find out than just doing the damn thing, so here's how it went down:

Woke up super early after about 5 hours sleep and made the drive down to the transition area across from the Dream Inn and got there just as it opened. Great spot near the bike out/in, just where I wanted it. Over the next hour, TONS of SVTC folks showed up for the day, so was in good company.

Lucky me, I'd done all my packing the night before, so I wasn't missing anything on my transition mat (unlike forgetting my Gu for Vineman). Got my wetsuit on and walked down to the beach with the 1000 other folks. We started waaaay off down the beach toward the roller coaster in a "swim pen" which I think shortened the course a little (?) but then they had buoys we had to stay outside away from the pier which probably made up for the off-angled start.

The water was smooth and the visibility was good (no fog). I was in the fifth wave, taking off at 8:20am, twenty minutes after the clock started. I felt good swimming in the pack, and it wasn't long before we were all strung out with lots of room between us. Yet, I couldn't quite repeat the form of the training day, and I kept drifting to the left, which meant I was drifting away from the pier, adding distance to the swim.

Nevertheless, I rounded the end of the pier faster than I expected to get there (took it wide, tho) and before I knew it, I was stripping off the top of my wetsuit running up the hill to transition. Seemed like I was in the back of my wave, but hadn't been overtaken by too many folks in the wave following, so felt ok going into T1.

My swim time was 34:19 (ugh!) ranking me in the bottom quartile of the race

T1 went smoothly (only 3:55 including the run up the hill) and I hopped on the bike and hammered through town, knowing this was my time to shine. I wanted to at least average 19mph to set me up with a cushion on the run should my wheels fall off from fatigue. As usual, I passed many more on the bike than I got passed by, and the 20 or so who passed me were all on tricked-out tri bikes, so I felt good at my pace/progress. By the time I got back to T2, I'd only spent 1:11:19 on the bike, for a pace of 20.8mph! (305th overall on the bike).

I made it through T2 as quick as I could (putting on socks this time!) but still managed to lose 3:08 in transition and then it was on to the run.

Unlike the weather on training day which started off with a foggy swim and then a hot run, the clouds never lifted during the race, so it was nice and cool the whole time, and was I grateful for that on the run.

My goal: don't get caught on someone else's faster pace on the way out. Then don't stop, don't walk: just push through. And with the exception of pausing to slam down gatorade and water at the aid stations, I didn't stop! Mind over matter brought me in with a 56:16 run time (9:04 pace).

I can't tell you how thrilled I was to approach the finish line at a sprint seeing that I could nip the race clock before it clicked over to 3:09:00 and I caught it just before it did, finishing in 2:48:57! (77th in my AG, 397th male, 500th overall)

Totally smoked my goal of 3 hours and couldn't be happier with the outcome. I'm already looking at where I can gain time next year. I'm pretty sure I can take at least 4 minutes off the swim, another 3 minutes off the bike and 3 minutes off the run.

And if I can recapture a minute from the transitions, I'll be breaking 2:40 next year :)

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Garmin Forerunner 310XT swim accuracy

I've owned my Garmin Forerunner 310XT for just over a month now, and the thing that has frustrated me most has been the accuracy of the 310XT on the swim.

See, I'd owned the Garmin Forerunner 305 for a year and really enjoyed using it to track my on-land legs of triathlon training and racing.

So when I saw the 310XT coming out, I knew I had to have it, even though the 305 was still functioning just fin. Imagine, I thought, with the 310XT I could track just how much I drifted off-line in the open water swims!

So, imagine my dismay when I wore my 310XT for the whole race in a sprint triathlon, and the map at right is how the 400m swim looked when uploaded to Garmin Connect. (click it to get to the activity details on GC)

Say what? I know for a fact I didn't do any loop-dee-loops on the swim course, and while my sighting is bad at times, there's no way I'm that jagged in a swim. And a half mile course? I don't think so.


So I gave the 310XT another try on an open water swim training over in Redwood Shores that I knew to be one mile long. As you see in the map at left, the jaggies were back, and while the time was good (just over 30 minutes), the distance was incorrectly logged at 2.15 miles. Again, click the map to get the activity details on GC.


So, before participating in the Silicon Valley Tri Club's practice session for the upcoming Santa Cruz Triathlon, I decided to consult the internet to see how to make the 310XT more reliable on the swim.

The verdict? Tuck the 310XT under your swim cap. Not at the top of your head, but at the back of your head, so when you're looking down in the water, the GPS unit is facing up. And lo and behold, it works!

Take a look at the map on the right, and you'll see just how smooth the path is (yes, I'm proud of my sight lines) and the distance accuracy is so very close to perfect as well! (with 10% which is a great improvement over the +100% accuracy of wearing it on my wrist).

By tucking the 310XT under your cap, the timing of the distance is a little longer than it should be what with turning it on before putting your cap on, but the accuracy of both distance and path can't be beat.

I'm now pleased as punch that I can more accurately track my sighting abilities on my open water swims using the 310XT.

Next thing to conquer? Getting the damn thing to pair to my Garmin Heart Rate Monitor that I've been using with my 305. Always something to tinker with!

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Racing and sweating: the sunscreen details

As a second-year triathlete, I'm now used to dealing with pain and discomfort as part of the training and racing process. But while my muscles are recovering more quickly the better shape I get into, I'm starting to feel the pain in other ways.

Specifically, I'm unable to avoid getting a bad sun burn on race day.

When I was doing sprints, I wasn't so bothered by the sun because I wasn't out in the sunshine more than an hour and a half.

But now that I'm racing longer distances, I'm spending a lot more time in the hot sun. And my sunscreen just doesn't seem to last me through the end of the run.

When do a long bike or long run in training, I use the same kind and amount of sunscreen (Bull Frog 30 SPF) as on race day, yet I don't get burned when training in the hot sun. Granted, I'm not wearing a tri top when training, but I'm exposed on my arms and legs and face the same way as when I race.

The only thing I can think is that my wetsuit is rubbing the sunscreen off? I'd hate to have to think I need to spend time in T1 and/or T2 re-applying sunscreen, but I also don't want to get in great shape only to succumb to melanoma.

What's your workaround?

Monday, July 20, 2009

Report from the Scene of the Tree Fall of 2009 Vineman 70.3

UPDATE: I'm glad to read the cyclists injured during Vineman 70.3 when an oak tree toppled over on them are doing much better today. When I first arrived at the scene, I though things could have been a lot worse.

Thanks to the confluence of a variety of events (my swim time, my T1 time, my pace on the bike), I was amongst the first to arrive at the scene of the freak accident where the tree fell across the bicycle course at mile 6.55 of the Vineman 70.3 race.

Here's my story, culled out separately from my race report:

I'd come off a good swim for me (middle of the pack overall), and over the first five miles of the bike from Johnson's Beach down River Road I was averaging over 23 mph, getting ready to turn off onto Sunset Ave and then onto the rollers of Westside Road.

I turned off River Rd and made the initial steep climb onto Westside. I was about a mile and a half into the twisty rollers, and that's when it happened.

I was about to crest a slightly uphill blind right curve when I heard what sounded like a a trash truck dropping an empty dumpster on the ground around the bend.

When I crested the curve, I could see there was a tree down by the side of the road. Wait, no, it was down in the other lane. Wait, no it was ACROSS THE WHOLE FRICKIN' ROAD! I slammed on my brakes and came to a stop. There were three cyclists stopped in front of me just staring at this tree down, and that's when we heard the screams of someone who must've been trapped under the tree.

I quickly dismounted as did the other triathletes around me and ran up to the tree blocking the road to see there were two cyclists caught underneath. I shouted at one of the triathletes who was still on his bike to run back to the crest of the hill to warn the long line of cyclists coming up behind us to prepare to stop. And then I ran into the tree to see what had happened.

One of the downed triathletes (cyclist 1: the guy moaning/screaming) had take the full brunt of a big branch across his body and bike. The other one (cyclist 2) looked like he'd been lucky and was knocked over in the relative void between the two thick trunks of the tree. Smaller branches were broken all around him, but he didn't have anything heavy directly on top of him like cyclist 1 did.

I and two other triathletes made a beeline for cyclist 1 as he was making a lot of noise and had to be badly injured. He was scraped up pretty badly, and there was a good sized trickle of blood coming out from under him onto the pavement. We picked away the branches from on top of him and from around him and then the two guys with me started attending to his injuries right away.

I then jumped into the middle of the downed tree to help clear the branches from around cyclist 2. He was ambulatory and seemed to have his wits about him, but you could tell his day was over.

I then got back out of the tree to see there were about 15 triathletes gathered around wanting to do something to help but also wanting to race on. I saw one of them whip out a cell phone and tried to reach 911 (limited cell coverage out there), so I knew help was coming.

I also noticed that there were many triathletes who'd found a 5-foot-tall break around the left side of the felled tree where they could squeeze through and get back on their bikes. The only problem? The break was caused by a line (power? telephone? cable?) that was keeping that side of the tree from crashing to the ground. Some folks were simply clipping out to push their way through while others were dismounting fully, so I decided it was time to play traffic cop.

The last thing we needed was 100s of triathletes bunched up at the tree, so I thought the best thing to do was to help guide folks around the blockade.

The guy at the crest of the hill continued to warn people to slow down, and as they got to me at the tree, I told them to dismount and pass through the opening but DO NOT TOUCH THE WIRE! (later found out it was just a telephone wire). I could see a lot of the triathletes were shocked at the scene (nothing can prepare you for something like this), and they seemed grateful to be able to get around and keep going.

As I was directing people around the scene, cyclist 2 climbed out of the tree debris and came up to me asking how his shoulder looked. I looked at his shoulder muscle, above his race number, and only noticed some scratches and told him so, and he said "no, I mean did the collarbone pop?" It did look large, but I asked to see his other one to compare. Yup, sure enough, he'd broken his collarbone. His day was done.

I went back to directing traffic and not too long after, a fellow triathlete in a UK flag jersey told me he'd take over and let me ride on. I don't know how long I'd been there already (my Garmin would later show I'd spent 5 minutes at the crash site) but I was relieved to get back on the road. I grabbed my bike off the ground, ducked under wire and paused as I saw that cyclist 1 appeared to be doing better (he was no longer moaning) and he'd been cleared from under the tree.

I proceeded to mount up and pedaled quickly away, realizing that if I'd only been a few seconds faster on the swim or in T1 or hadn't sat up to take in some liquid in the first 5 miles, that could've been me.

The newspapers report there was a third man who broke his collarbone when he crashed into the felled tree, but I only saw the two. Maybe the third guy came in too hot after I'd left? There was a cyclist about two miles up the road (beyond) from the felled tree who was stretched out in the middle of the road next to his bike. He was clutching his shoulder as two other cyclists stood over him, waving us on.

As I rode the rest of the course, I felt a comraderie with the other triathletes who'd stopped to tend our fellow triathletes. I wish I'd remembered their numbers to give them shoutouts here. It's good to know we've got each others' backs.

Sure, we can compete against each other, but when you're going 70.3 miles as an age grouper, you're in it together to make it to the finish line.

That's what being a triathlete is all about.

Vineman 70.3 race report

Just 24 hours ago, I was finishing the hottest half marathon I've ever run. Hell, it was my hottest run, period. Yet, I persevered the 90+ degree heat, and made it to the end to complete my first ever Ironman 70.3!

My race plan had a target of six hours to finish my first half Ironman: I'd do the 1.2 mile swim in about 45 minutes, the 56 mile bike in 3 hours and the 13.1 mile run in 2 hours. That'd leave me with 15 minutes for transition times and for leaks on the run pace and still bring me in under six hours.

The week leading up to the race was an unintentionally severe taper. I had two big work projects land on the same week, which had me sleeping less than 5 hours a night from Monday through Thursday, and a flourish of 28 hours at the keyboard Thursday and Friday alone. I kept assuring myself I'd get my frustrations out on the course, and sure enough, that was a help come race day.

The Swim
My wave (men 40-44) took off at 6:38am in a warm (75 degree) Russian River. Compared to my previous tri, the Escape from Alcatraz, where the water was just 58 degrees, the river felt positively balmy. Didn't stop me from wearing my wetsuit, though, so I could take advantage of the extra buoyancy.

As we waited in the deep water for the horn to sound, I got a chance to admire the scenery, looking upriver to the two bridges we'd swim under. The sun hadn't yet come up over the hills, and there was a beautiful mist rising from the surface of the river providing a little blanket of fog for us to swim through.

Then the horn sounded and all enjoyment of the scenery ended abruptly when two minutes into the swim I got a foot to the face knocking my goggles off, I stopped to readjust them and got bumped into/run over by a couple guys from behind (totally expected) and when I finally slipped into a nice steady rhythm, I noticed just how narrow the swim course was. It was impossible to get more than a couple feet away from anyone at any time, unless you wanted to fall way off the back.

About a third of the way up the out-and-back course, we passed under the second bridge, and shortly thereafter got into about 3.5 feet of water. As I was swimming along in half-foggy goggles, I was startled to see shapes looming above me before realizing it was some of my fellow age-groupers actually wading through the water! I tentatively put my feet down on the rocky river bank and waded alongside them (was this legal? was this smart? was this tiring my legs prematurely? was this dangerous?) before dropping back into my freestyle for the remainder of the swim.

The turnaround for the swim was just over half-way, and while the current of the river was negligible thanks to the dam at Johnson's Beach where we started, I could swear my swimming was faster coming back to the beach. I touched down at the swim out and quickly scampered to my bike, making it out of T1 just 46:06 after the race started. My race plan was holding!

The Bike
After a short steep climb away from the beach, the first five miles of the ride is nice and flat. I was feeling good about the swim and my legs felt strong for the bike, I just knew I had to keep some in reserve for the run at the end. I'd broken the bike course into thirds and knew if I could hit my targets on the hour, I'd stick to the race plan.

Over the first five miles, thanks to my aero bars, I averaged over 23 mph, giving me some ground to lose on the rollers of Westside Road. We turned off River Rd and began the initial climb onto Westside and about a mile and a half into the twisty rollers, that's when it happened: just seconds ahead of me, an oak tree fell across the road, pinning two triathletes underneath it.

You can read my separate post on being one of the first on the scene of the tree fall, but for this race report, suffice to say I spent about 5 minutes at the crash scene before things look like they'd stabilized and I was relieved by a fellow triathlete so I could push on.

I proceeded to mount up and pedaled quickly away, realizing that if I'd only been a few seconds faster on the swim or in T1 or hadn't sat up to take in some liquid in the first 5 miles, that could've been me under the tree. Of course, thinking like that will quickly make you crazy, so I continued to push on. At about mile 9, I came across the first spectators since the crash scene and I stopped to tell them there was a tree across the road pinning two cyclists at milepost 1.5 of Westside and please call 911. Whether or not they did, I'm not sure, but by the time I got to mile 17, a CHP car was flying the other direction with it's lights flashing. The calvary was on its way.

Adrenaline must've been on my side after the crash, because I made my target of 19 miles in the first hour of riding, and then I made it to the 38-mile mark in 1:45. The steep climb on Chalk Hill Road at the 45-mile mark, which seemed so big back in April when I recon'd the route, was relatively easy and from there it was a quick downhill to T2. Even though I'd forgotten my gels in the hotel room (DUH!) and only managed to choke down half a Clif bar on the ride to supplement my energy drinks, I was feeling pretty good.

After all, I'd finished the ride in 2:54:53, still on track for my race plan!

The Run
Ugh, the run. My legs felt wobbly coming off the bike into transition, and when I got to my transition spot, I could already feel the heat was going to suck. How I managed to piddle away 5:48 in T2 is a mystery, but poof! there went some of my cushion for a six-hour finish.

I pushed out onto the run course and the first two miles seemed to go pretty well. I was averaging 8:30 pace, but I knew it was unsustainable given the heat and how my reserves felt.

I slowed to a walk on the first big uphill and resolved to run wherever the road was flat or downhill. If I could just manage a 10-minute mile over the course, I could make my goal!

But I could feel my legs start to tighten, and I spent more time walking than running as I tried to coax as much out of my quads and calves as I could without seizing them up.

A highlight for me was seeing my friend Dan at the aid station at mile 4 (and mile 9). He's done several Ironmans and was/is an inspiration to me as I've started doing triathlons. He checked in with me as he handed me Gatorade and water, walked with me through the aid station and told me to pace myself (unlike the yahoos on the side of the road screaming "push it!").

Another highlight was seeing all the other SVTC club members out on the course and giving/getting encouragement and high-fives as we passed each other. I'm so glad I got the SVTC tri top to wear in competition to stand out from all the other age-groupers sloughing along.

The turnaround loop at La Crema winery was beautiful what with the ponds and vines, if only there'd been some shade out there! And the run back was more of a fast-walk/slow-jog. More encouragement from Dan at mile 9. A fellow SVTCer passed me at mile 9.5 with a "less than 4 miles to go, let's run it in!"

I was melting on the run, yet thankful my day had started at 6:38 so I could avoid the heat that the last waves would be enduring two hours later (at my pace). I pushed myself as hard as I could, knowing my two race buddies, Neil and Thom, were behind me, trying to catch me.

By mile 10, I knew I wouldn't make my six hour goal. I was averaging 11 minutes per mile in my combined run/walk approach. My quads and calves and hamstrings were thisclose to seizing up on me. I was gulping down water and gaterade and cola and gels at each station to try and fuel me to the finish.

I managed to run the last mile in, cheered on by the crowds and their cowbells. And when I made it to the finish chute, I knew there was nothing to stop me from making it to the end of my first Ironman 70.3

The Finish
When I heard the announcer say my name halfway down the chute, I couldn't help but crack a huge smile at the achievement. I crossed the line, arms outstretched, sweating to beat the band with just shy of 6:21 showing on the race clock.

I'd strung together a 2:26 run to finish my first half ironman in a time of 6:12:58

I've already started going through the if-onlys in analyzing this race, and to me that's a sign I'll be doing more of them. (maybe even a full Ironman?)

But for now I'm trying to simply savor the accomplishment. I've got the mettle to do it, and the medal to prove it.

Final Vineman 70.3 Stats

Swim + T1= 46:06
Bike = 2:54:53
T2 = 5:48
Run = 2:26:09
Total = 6:12:58

Overall 1040 of 2286
Men 779 of 1517
Age Group (40-44) 158 of 320

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Follow me @TriTweetGroup

Not much blogging going on recently, I know. I've been spending my triathlon-related efforts on training for my marquee races (Wildflower done, Escape from Alcatraz next and peaking for Vineman 70.3).

But I've also been spending my time tweeting updates, links to advice and resources and sharing inspirational bits 140 characters at a time as @TriTweetGroup.

It started out as a way to experiment with the group feature of a new Twitter client called ginx, but it's grown into something bigger for me.

In just three short months, I've picked up over 700 followers to @TriTweetGroup, and it's great to see all these triathletes and other endurance athletes sharing their own race achievements and training goals and heartaches and high-fives.

If you'd like to try out the ginx Twitter client and join the @TriTweetGroup, simply use invitation code "C4A8E2311563" (without the quotes) at

Friday, March 6, 2009

fixing leaks: venous closure and phlebectomy post-op report

My surgery to close and remove the defective veins in my left calf went well yesterday (as well as could be expected). Interesting to note that if not for my tri training, I'd have gotten DQ'd prior to surgery as my pulse was a measly 43 bpm at check-in. As it was, the anesthetist attributed my slow heart rate to my being in great shape and gave the thumbs up.

The pretty picture to the right shows some of the nicks in my leg. The purple lines are pre-op markers of the veins to remove; the yellow is the iodine cleaner they neglected to cleanup afterward (don't know how I'm going to get it off).

Surgery prep involved shaving my left leg from mid-thigh down (what a luxury!). I couldn't persuade the nurse to shave the other leg while she was at it, so I'll either look like a half-shaved beast during recovery or I'll bite the bullet and clear the field of hair from my right leg, too.

The anesthetist did a great job of things, and shortly after I was wheeled into the operating room I was out before I knew it. I woke up two hours later to find that surgery had taken a bit longer than expected... they had to shave the inside of my thigh all the way up to my waist (yep, there too, just the left side) to get at the top of the vein that runs from your groin to your toe. The doc made 26 incisions, each about half a centimeter long, all over my thigh and calf to strip out the now-useless pieces of vein and leg wrapped tight to staunch the bleeding. Bonus to the small size of incision: no stitches!

Tylenol kept the pain at bay yesterday. No sharp pains involved, it just felt like someone used my calf as a punching bag. I took Tylenol when I woke up this morning but haven't taken any since, as I figure I'm past the worst of it.

I just took off the bandages (thus the picture above) for my first survey of the damage: lots of cuts and bruising, but all in all, I am on the mend. The picture to the left shows my leg pre-op with all its pretty popped-out failed veins (it's not just because I'm flexing).

I have to stay off my feet and keep my leg elevated until I go in for the followup ultrasound Monday morning. The standard instructions say no strenuous activity for two weeks (huh?!) which conflicts with the doc's earlier indication that I'd only be out a week.

I really hope I can get back to swimming/biking/running soon. Our practice weekend for Wildflower is April 4-5 and I'd like to get some significant hours of training in before then.

The trick to the next few days is to keep cabin fever away. Wish me luck!