Tuesday, December 30, 2008

A look back at 2008. A look ahead to 2009.

2008 was a memorable year; mostly good, some bad. There just isn't enough space to include everything, like birthdays, trick or treating with the boys, etc. But below is a recap of some of the events that stood out to me in 2008.

I decided to try and get some sponsor support for racing. Not because I think I am a high caliber athlete, but because I simply wanted to alleviate some of the costs associated with racing. I sought support only from the businesses I prefer, and luckily, they were all willing to help me out in some capacity: Infinit Nutrition, Personal Best Nutrition, and most of all, Schlegel Bicycles.

I graduated from OSU with my Ph.D. It was a long road, and difficult, but the satisfaction of finishing was well worth it.

Another highlight I'll never forget was the first airshow I got to take my boys, Alex and Brady, to go see. I posted a blog about it previously here.

After having sporadic training for the whole year, I finally had an opportunity to train consistently for a full month. It was a great month, and I really surprised myself when I took 5th place at the Rt. 66 sprint triathlon. I was the first Oklahoman across the line, which made me the state champ by default. It was a thrilling experience, which I blogged about here. Unfortunately, this was the only decent block of training I was able to do for the remainder of 2008; the rest of the season was essentually a bust.

One of my dissertation chapters was published in a prestigious journal, The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. I was elated. What was so unexpected was the media coverage that ensued. I was lucky enough to give radio interviews for NPR, CBC (fast forward to 15:25), and BBC. Our paper was also featured by Discovery Channel, National Geographic, Science News magazine, New Scientist magazine, Chronicles of Higher Education, National Science Foundation, Nature, Science, and popular news outlets including The New York Times, Fox News, and newspapers in Germany, UK, Italy, Austria, Czech Republic, Poland, Hungary, Spain, Netherlands, Denmark, South Africa, India, Indonesia, Viet Nam, Thailand, China, Mexico, Argentina, and Brazil. It was a very surreal, once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Also in July, I visited Chris and Justin Wolfe down in Austin, TX. What a blast. We rode 250.6 miles of massive hills in just 4 days, which included 2 Time Trials. The 4 day training fest was capped off with a 26.1 mph TT...I was real happy with that for as dead as my legs were. I ended up getting in 306 miles that week. Biggest block of riding I've ever done. Some bad memories, but lots and lots of good memories from that trip.

This was a busy month! I started my post doc position at TCU officially on August 1, so we put our house up for sale in Edmond, OK. Fortunately, it sold in just 2 weeks. Unfortunately, we had to close on it in 2 weeks, which gave us a small window to buy a house in Fort Worth. We house hunted constantly and aggressively, and luckily, we found a house we liked and were ready to move into within the 2 weeks. The horrible housing market meant that we got one heck of a good deal on a house we never thought we'd ever be able to have. It's much bigger than we need, but we love it and the price was low, so we took it. Because life was so crazy, I cancelled all my remaining races for August and September. Training stopped...completely.

We moved into our new house on Sept. 1. The moving process was horrible for many, many, many reasons and we racked up substantial cost from the move. But life was good. We loved our house, we love the area, and I love my job.

I still hadn't trained since late July, so I had to cancel racing at Nationals in Las Vegas. I was disappointed, but everything else in life was going well (but hectic). Did I mention that I absolutely love my job? :-)

After the move, Melanie continued to work for her employer in OKC. But this relationship was wearing out, so she looked for a new job. Talk about stressful. What if she didn't get one? What if the pay was much less? So many unknowns, but thankfully, she found a job. Most importantly, it was the job the liked the most. She absolutely loves working there now. With both our jobs going so well, our house, and loving the area, everything was shaping up to be nearly perfect. Oh, except for training...still hadn't done that since late July!!

Things were finally settling down with being so busy, so started training again. I also found out that I made 'Elite' ranking for the South Midwest region (OK, TX, AR, and LA). This was a fluke since I only had one good race, and I understand that, but I'm proud and happy anyway. This motivated me to get back to training after a 4 month layoff. I was ranked #4 out of 313 in the 30-34 AG, and #32 out of 2,010 overall. Again, that is skewed since my Rt. 66 race carried all the weight, but I'm still happy about it.

Just as I get back into training again, I was hit with a nasty finger infection. They were unable to culture it, but it was probably staph. While visiting family in MO, I ended up having to go the hospital for a few days and have surgery to clean it out. Not fun to be in the hospital on Christmas morning, but what can you do? Fortunately, looks like it's clean now and healing up. The downside is that it has to close up on its own (i.e., no stitches), so it's open but covered. As long as it's open, I can get it wet. That means no swimming and limited running and riding (sweat). One step forward, two steps back. Not the way I would have liked to have ended 2008, but could have been worse.

Overall, it was a good year. But I realized some areas that I wasn't happy with, so I've established resolutions for 2009 (I think of them more as goals or objectives).
  1. More pics of Melanie and the boys. She took so many good pictures of me with the boys, but I realized I had very few of her with the boys. I want to get more of her with them.
  2. Balance time budget. It's too easy to get focused on one area (usually work). Even when work is overwhelming, I need to make more time for family time and training time.
  3. Chip away at house stuff. We've got a lot of things we want to do to the house (mostly painting rooms, ceiling fans, etc). It's a lot, but instead of looking at everything, I just want to pick a small task and finish it every couple of weeks.
  4. Eliminate major gaps of no training. Looking back at my training log, it was scary how little I actually trained this year. I mean I had entire months with 0 yards swam, 0 miles ran, and only a few miles ridden. Once I start skipping workouts for a few days, it's easy for me to downward spiral and blow it off completely (see #2 above). I don't have to do a lot of training weekly, but I just have to do something. At least 2 swims, 2 runs, and 2 rides a week. I don't care if it's only 5 hours of training per week. 4 weeks of 5 hours is better than 4 weeks with 0 hours. Just be consistent.
  5. Keep blog and website at least moderately up-to-date. Once a month at the minimum seems feasible.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Route 66 Sprint Triathlon -- Oklahoma State Championship

This race took place on May 31, the day before the Oly distance race. It's taken me a while to get to finally posting this, but this was a great experience so I definitely wanted to capture it. Here it goes.

This was just 2 weeks after I had a very poor showing at Four States Triathlon, which was the Regional Sprint Championship. I was pissed after Four States...I knew I could do better, but then again, I had only trained for 2 weeks (and sporadic at that) after taking 5 weeks off, so I knew I shouldn't have hoped for more than I did. So I really pounded myself hard in training for the 2 weeks between Four States and Rt. 66. I figured being this out of shape, the fitness gains were more important than being well-rested. I did back off the few days before the race to make sure I wasn't completely trashed. But I didn't exactly have high hopes because of this, but felt very positive mentally and physically. This will sound like complete BS after you get to the end of this race report, but the night before the race I had trouble sleeping because I kept picturing myself coming out of T2 and starting the run in either first or second place. But then I'd tell myself, "Be realistic. You've never been that high up before in a big race, so don't aim too high." I didn't want to be disappointed if I didn't end up that high, so I checked myself back down to reality and said that if I were in the top 10 starting the run I'd be very happy, and even content if just the top 15.

So race day morning, here's the first of the weekend's two races for me. The sprint on Sat., the OK State Championship! I wanted to do well. Did my warm up and then got ready to go out and start the race. The swim went horrible. It was a good 150 meters too long!! Longer than expected swims do not bode well for someone like me that doesn't swim toward the front of the pack. In addition to being way long, the chop was ridiculous and several people got pulled from the water and were DNF. It was actually a scary situation from what I heard after the race. People were really panicking and there was a strong sense of urgency from the volunteers to get to these people before drownings occurred. Fortunately, we have the best race directors and volunteers in Tri-OKC members, so the race was safe for everyone involved. I got out of the water and saw my split and thought what the hell went wrong!!! But I figured if I was that slow, then maybe everyone else was too. I was 27th out of 164, which may sound good, but I'm so sick and tired of not being in the front after the swim!!

I hopped on the bike and got going. I tried a few new things for this race. First, I changed up my breakfast routine and I think I had more energy come race time. Second, I warmed up for 30 minutes on the bike since I always feel so tight starting that bike leg--that helped a lot. Third, instead of hitting a wattage target right off the bat, I worked into it. My goal was to hold 220 watts (my FTP is 230w). So I started out at 210, then 215, then within a few minutes I was up to 220. What a difference! I felt so loose and comfortable and I was passing people like they were standing still. By the time I got about 3 miles into the bike course, I could see the lead group up ahead of me. I kept thinking, "no way...that can't be them...I'm closing on them so fast that it wasn't possible." I caught the lead group of 5 right at the turnaround. Then we turned around into an absolutely atrocious wind and this was where I decided to make my move. I upped my watts into the 230 range and even let it go into the 250w for spurts. I made huge ground on people. Passed the 5th place guy, then the 4th, then I was hauling in the 3rd. Just ahead of me was the 2nd place guy and we only had about 1.5-2 miles left, so not a lot of time to make up ground. I knew I was having a great bike split because it was at this point that I threw up from going so hard. I was having the race of my life! I caught the 2nd place guy and then could see 1st place right in front of me. I had to remind myself that this wasn't some piddly little race, this was the State Championship and I was doing something special (for me). I caught everyone but the 1st place guy and felt awesome. I really wanted to come into T2 in first place, but I couldn't quite catch Michael White. Coming into T2 was the best part of the race for me, and a memory that I will probably never forget. I remember as I was coming in, I wondered what the reaction was going to be...I mean this was the State Championship and there were some really fast dudes there!! As I came in, I wanted to pay special attention to everyone I saw and see the reaction of people who I knew. I remember seeing just about everyone's jaw drop to the ground! It brought a smile to my face and a special sense of "you can do this!" I'll be damned: I had the #1 bike split out of 164 people at the State Championship! On one hand, I couldn't believe it. On the other, I knew I was capable of something like this some day, but it didn't seem real for it to actually be happening.

I came out of T2 ~20 seconds out of first. That is an amazing feeling and does wonders for sucking up the immense amount of pain and pushing on because you believe in yourself. I knew Michael was from KS (the guy in 1st place), so I wanted to at least be the first OK finisher. Pretty soon into the run, Tristan passed me and I knew he was from KS too. He was flying so I knew I couldn't stay with him. Right before the turnaround, this guy from MD caught me and he was flying too (I had heard about how good he was, so knew he was going to get me eventually). I knew Rick Rosales was closing in on me fast, so I ran with everything I could to try and stay ahead of him. Rick caught me with about 3/4 of a mile left and I stayed on his heels for a while. My thought was that I knew I wouldn't stay with him--he's a tremendous runner and even with my newfound confidence, I couldn't physically match that--but I knew Tommy Smith (#26 ranked triathlete in the South Midwest Region) was trying to come up on me, so by staying with Rick for as long as possible, I could hold off Tommy. It worked and I held on. I only had the 19th ranked run out of 164, but that was all I could muster after throwing down a monster bike split like that. I did what I could. But since Rick is from TX, that made me the first Oklahoman across the line!! I took 5th overall out of 164, 1st in age group out of 22, and I had the #1 bike split on the day. Because I was the first Oklahoma finisher across the line, by default, I was the 2008 Oklahoma State Champion! Holy $%!&!! Coming around the turn to come home to the finish line, I had the biggest damn grin on my face. I wanted to give a fist pump, but refrained since I was back in 5th place and not the overall winner. But damn, was I happy.

After the race was such a whirlwind...so many people came up to me in total disbelief about the race I had, and to be honest, I was in complete shock. I didn't know I had it in me, at least not at this point in the season. But I had a big physical and mental breakthrough...I can compete at a high level. I told myself before the race: no excuses, you're better than you think you are, just race like you know you can.

Here is a pic of me with my State Champ plaque and Brady holding up my 1st place Age Group award. What a great day!

But still one more day of racing left...

Route 66 Olympic Distance Triathlon race report

This is being posted late due to being very busy, but this race was the day after the sprint on June 1, 2008.

Okay, onto the race on Sunday. Frankly, I didn't care what happened because I was still on Cloud 9 from the sprint on Sat. I hurt my shoulder the week before the race, and it was pretty sore on Sunday morning, so I almost decided not to race because I didn't want to have to go through the pain during the swim. Then thought, why not? My race goals were to avoid injury on the swim, hammer the bike, then walk the run if I had to. I had put out so much energy on Sat. that I was just freakin' exhausted. But then as we're prepping before the race, Buzz is on the mic naming off notables who are racing in the race. Now I'm a realist and completely understand that there are at least 2 dozen triathletes in OK that are faster than me--I'm not kidding myself thinking I'm better than I really am--but I can't tell you how amazing it is for someone like me, who's always been average, to hear "Kris Karsten, 2008 Oklahoma State Champion." Damn, it was an awesome feeling. So I decided to just give it everything I had. Weather was perfect...low wind (by OK standards), smoothish lake, cloud cover to keep the sun away on the run.

I start the swim and feel very tired. I coast for the first 500 meters or so and then pick it up after my shoulder loosened up a bit. I started passing a lot of people toward the end, but once again, swimming is my downfall. I swam a pretty slow 28:11 and came out of the water in 34th place out of 143.

I got out of T1 and onto the bike. My goal was to start out at 200 watts and ramp up from there. Worked perfectly again, just like on Sat. I hammered as hard as I possibly could, but I just didn't have it quite in me and I started slacking a little bit at the end. I did a 1:04:40 and had the 7th fastest bike split out of 143. I was content with this since my legs were already toast before I even started the race!

I thought I'd fall over from my legs giving out when I headed out of T2, but then the competitive juices started flowing. There were a few people ahead of me that I knew I could run down, so I gritted my teeth, sucked it up, and ran as best I could. I ended up not getting passed by anyone on the run and had a decent split, especially considering how tired I was. I ran a 42:44 for the 16th fastest run out of 143.

Overall, pretty good race and I'll take it. I met all my goals for the day and had a new PR of 2:17:04. I know I could have had a really great day if I could swim faster and wasn't so tired, so I didn't have any complaints. I finished 10th overall out of 143 (Pro, Daniel Agnew excluded from results) and finished 3rd out of 28 in a very competitive age group.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Polar RS800sd product review: update

Well, used my new running computer in a race for the first time this past weekend at the Rt 66 Sprint and Rt. 66 Oly (race reports coming soon). It didn't quite work out as picture-perfect as I thought it would. First, my old 625 would carry a HR signal while swimming. While I don't really monitor or care what my HR is during the swim, it is nice to download the data post-race and reflect back on how HR relates to pace and perceived effort. But really the bigger problem is that if you start the RS800 and it loses the signal, it doesn't automatically pick up the HR or footpod signal later on. So when you get out of the water, if you want it to pick up your HR, you have to stop the timer all the way back to the main screen and then restart everything. On the race Sat., I didn't have HR to watch on the bike. When I came into T2, I also found out that I had to do a stop-restart to also get it to find the footpod. This takes time and also creates gaps in your overall race time that you are trying to keep track of on your watch. I think there has to be a way around this, but I'll have to do some experimenting.

Second, I found that my calibration was reading a little short during the race. I was running a faster pace than my watch said I was. Although it's better than the 625 in having less fluctuation with changing speed, it seems as though I may need to take the time to calibrate it a little better during training to use on race day. I think this can be done quite easily though. I should be able to go run known 5K and 10K courses at race pace and determine the calibration factor for those. Then I can adjust the race day calibration number to whatever numbers I get from those and accuracy should improve.

It was nice to have cadence on the run portion of both races. Despite this, I still found it hard to lower my cadence and increase my stride length. My mind kept telling me to slow turnover a bit and get legs longer, buy my legs kept saying no, I don't want to. I kept wanting to run at a cadence of 92-94 with choppier steps. I think I just need to practice my speedwork more at a cadence of 90 to build that pattern into my neuro-muscular memory. More training sessions this year will improve that.

The good news is that I think these kinks are able to be fixed, I just have to figure out a good way to get around them. I'll probably post more updates on this later in the year as I use it more often.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Product review: Polar RS800sd running computer

Well, at Four States Triathlon last week my Polar s625x crapped out on me. Besides a power meter for my bike, that was one of the best investments I've made in my training/racing. Despite all its advantages, it had many shortcomings. That's why when the Polar RS800sd came out last year, I was all excited because it kept all the things I liked about my 625 and fixed most of the things I didn't like. The downside was an exorbatant price tag. I had saved up for this for a while, but never was ready to pull the trigger. But when my 625 bit the dust last week, I figured why not. So I ordered one from Schlegel's bike shop and was ready to try it out.

A power meter on the bike is a large reason why I've been competitive at cycling this year despite my lack of training. A running computer is basically the equivalent: I can track my pace in real time, download all my data to TrainingPeaks software, and design my training and racing around estimates of lactate threshold, VO2max, etc. Very useful and effective. But as much as I loved my 625, I disliked many things:
1. Pace and distance would sometimes be way off and difficult to calibrate.
2. Pace/distance measurements fluctuated greatly depending on whether I was running an easy pace or a fast pace.
3. Altitude measurements always drifted to negative and were inaccurate
4. Pace was updated only in 5 second intervals so there was a pretty significant time lag.
5. The footpod was large and bulky
6. The footpod required a 2-3 sec start-up time which made it difficult to use in a triathlon since every single second counts in transition.
7. The wrist unit was like a small phone book on my wrist.

I've now had a handful of runs with my new RS800 and I have fallen in love with running all over again! Here is what I like about it so far, but I still have many more facets to discover as I use it more often.
1. Very slim on the wrist; fits like a normal watch.
2. Pace is updated in 1 sec. increments, so you can react without time lag.
3. Altitude feature doesn't drift anymore.
4. Pace/distance doesn't fluctuate that much when comparing my 8 min/mile pace to my 5:30 min/mile pace.
5. Footpod is small, compact, and lightweight.
6. Footpod turns on automatically. Now I can wear it in races and when I put my shoes on in T2, all I have to worry about is to start running...it kicks in automatically.
7. Pace/distance is very easy to calibrate. You can even change it on the fly...if you run 1 exact mile, you can quickly go the menu and put the exact distance in and it will recalibrate automatically. After trying this out a few times, I now have it to where it's accurate to within 0.01 miles regardless of whether I'm on an easy jog or doing sprint intervals.
8. It has run cadence!! This is huge...I'll talk more about it later.
9. Works seamlessly with TrainingPeaks so that I can calculate rTSS, ATL, CTL, and TSB for running with ease.

There are a few things I don't like, namely that you can only display 3 lines of info on the screen at a time. There are lots of things I like to keep track of, including heart rate, pace, cadence, distance, lap split, and stopwatch split (total time). But I have figured a way around this. You can customize each screen, so what I will do for races is have one screen with pace/distance/cadence and another screen with HR/lap split/stopwatch split. You can easily toggle between the screens with the push of a button, so I'll mostly keep it on the pace screen and flip to the HR screen when I want. Very easy to do during a race.

For biomechanical reasons that I won't get into here, it is often optimal (for most body types) to run with a cadence of 90 or so, and nearly all elite runners do this. I've always tried to stay around this number, but have had to rely on sporadic spot checks: I count my right arm swings for 20 seconds and multiply by 3 to get the number of same-sided steps per minute (my cadence). Now, all I have to do is look down and see where I am. Turns out I am really good about running at a cadence of 90 most of the time. But what I found was that during my hard, speedwork, I actually run with too high of cadence. Your overall speed is an interaction between stride length and cadence such that speed = stide length x cadence. If you increase your cadence and keep stride constant, speed increases, or vice versa. But since a cadence of 90 is generally preferred, this means the primary way to change speed is to manipulate stride length. If I run a marathon, I try to run a cadence of 90 with shorter stride lengths (too long of stride lenghts, and too much speed, means I'll bonk before I finish). If I run a 5K, I *should* run a cadence of 90 but increase stride length to the maximum that I can hold for that distance. What I found out after only one session with my RS800 was that during my speed work, I was increasing my cadence too much and not lengthening my stride enough. Once I identified this, I slowed my cadence back down to 90 and increased stride length by adjusting my arm positioning (I've already rambled too long, so won't go into how to do this, but trust me, you can manipulate stride length purely by adjusting arm carry). Once I made the adjustment of doing my speedwork with a cadence of 90 but longer stride length, my overall speed was way higher than I'd been running for my past interval sessions!! Eureka! Analyzing training data to improve performance at its finest.

Overall, I'm very happy with the purchase. The price tag is just absolutely ridiculous, but in my opinion, if you are going to drop a lot of money, it's best to drop it on things that help you train more than flashy items used for racing only. The logic is that training is what really makes you faster. This was definitely a good investment for training. I'll give it its first race performance this weekend at the Rt. 66 Sprint and Rt. 66 Oly. I'm still not in great running shape for the year yet, but I'm anxious to see how/if it helps me during the 5K on the sprint and the 10K for the Oly. I'll be watching cadence and pace like a hawk to push myself to the limit that I can withstand.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Airshow at Tinker AFB

I've loved going to airshows since I was a kid. Now that I've got 2 kids of my own, I got my first experience of going to an airshow as a dad. We packed up the double stroller, a couple of folding chairs, and Melanie and I headed out to the airshow with Brady and Alex last Saturday. This was going to be an interesting experiment: we were skipping naps for both the boys and it was hot and humid. We were expecting to have some cranky boys on our hands for most of the day.

Took a while to get in since it was on an AFB, and had to funnel into only one security checkpoint. Once we made it through, we started looking at all the planes. Brady is at that age where he thinks big things are cool, from a distance, but up close gets a little scared. I asked him if he wanted to go into the C-130, but he said no. I told him I wanted to go walk through a C-130 but that I was a little nervous, so I asked him if he'd go with me to make me feel better. He agreed if I held him and we went into the fuselage. He thought it was pretty cool and eventually wanted down to look around. We waited in line forever, but finally got to get up into the cockpit. Brady did pretty well.

We then set off to go watch the planes flying. First up was an F-15. It was really loud and Brady didn't like it at all. He was okay when it would come by for low speed passes, but the high speed passes he hated. He kept saying "I don't want him to come back!" We worked out a system though where I would tell him if he was coming in slow or fast. If slow, he'd lean forward and watch with interest. If fast, he'd just sit back in the stroller and try and prepare for the noise. He did pretty good. Alex...he wasn't bothered by their size, speed, or sound at all. Brady was a lot better with the Mig 17 demonstration...it's not nearly as loud. He liked all the WWII planes (Japanese Zeros and Kates, US P-40). His favorites were the Pitts biplanes. He liked their slow barrel rolls and when they'd criss-cross.

He wasn't a fan of the F/A-18C, which was one of my favorites (along with the F-15). I forgot how incredible it is to see a plane going streaking by without a sound only to be followed seconds later with the loud roar of the engines! The F/A-18 pilot was definitely into pleasing the crowd...he pushed some hard maneuvers and speeds. At one point, the announcer said he was planning for a very high speed pass with a roll...and he was coming in really low. But as he was coming in (maybe 1/4 mile away), I could swear I saw the "boom" of air starting to form as he approached supersonic. You can't pass over a crowd at supersonic, so he shut it down pretty darn fast and actually came through not that fast and without a roll. I think he got a little too excited to push close to mach 1 and eventually had to abort the maneuver as he slowed the plane down. He did some incredible tight turns at almost 9 G's and also demonstrated the great thrust:weight ratio by shooting straight up to >20,000 feet in a matter of seconds. It was very impressive.

We finished the day by watching the Air Force Thunderbirds in their F-16s. By this time, Brady was becoming accustomed to the loudness of the jets and wasn't as scared. It's amazing how crisp their maneuvers are compared to the "regular" pilots that flew the F-15 and F/A-18. You could draw a perfectly straight line through their rolls and knife-edge passes. After the Thunderbirds, we strolled around the tarmac looking at all the planes up close. Alex slept in the stroller while we still went around.

So 5-6 hours of being there, and skipping naps, the boys were both really good and I had one of the best times of my life. It was so cool to share that experience with my boys, since I remember what it was like loving airshows growing up. Luckily, we did a good job with the sunblock and neither of the boys got sunburned, although Melanie had one spot on her leg that got red and my arms and forehead got too much sun even though I had sunblock on. All in all, it was a very hot and tiring day, but absolutely great!

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Four States Race Report

A small group of Tri-OKCers went down to do the Regional Sprint Championship in Texarkana this weekend: Clint Honnoll, Bob and Jen Atkins, Travis Newton, and myself. Desiree Margagliano was the official for the race. To sum it up succinctly: I GOT SMOKED. The lack of training really came around to bite me...it really showed out there. To top it off, this was one of the fastest "front of the pack" races I've participated in. Just some ultra-fast guys at this one. Several guys ranked as SMW Elites didn't even crack the top 10, and a few pros were there.

The 650 yards swim was a clockwise triangle (my favorite layout). The chop wasn't too terribly bad, but the water certainly wasn't smooth. Distance seemed right on. We ended up going in 3 waves because of the # of participants, but even at that, I was jostled around more on this swim than I have at any of the other open water swim races I've done so far. Not enough to make me feel panicky, but more contact than I'd prefer. One great thing though is that I've been working on something to keep my core a little more rigid, and I've been swimming a lot straighter in the pool...now I don't even have to sight anymore in open water!! It was such a cool feeling. I just put my head down, and swam. For the first leg, I would glance up periodically just to make sure. But since I was dead-on with the buoy each time I just started trusting it. Not having to sight made the swim much more enjoyable. Swim time wasn't good, but I went pretty easy and was out of shape, so that was expected. Ranked 53 on the swim out of 153...not very good.

I wore my wetsuit since the water temp was 73, and I was worried about having a slow T1, but actually did pretty good: 15th out of 153. Out of T1 and onto the bike. Desiree and I drove the course on Sat. and found a broken beer bottle on the dam. We told the organizers about it and they cleaned it up. Unfortunately, by race time the next morning, there was another broken beer bottle at a different section of the dam. A final check and sweep through immediately before race time would have been nice. Both Travis and I went through it but came out lucky, but I heard through the grapevine that at least 2 guys flatted there. That sucks to have your regional championship ruined by something that could have been prevented. The bike course is about as flat as you can imagine, and a good section of it is on a lake dam. Wind was moderate, but nothing that we're not used to in Oklahoma. It was just a little stiffer wind than I would have liked. I was hoping to go in and drop a good bike split, pushing myself to the point of nearly blowing up, but I just couldn't seem to get it clicking on the day. My wattage output was pretty low...roughly the same as I put out for a 30 mile ride last week, but this was only 13 miles...still not sure what went wrong. Bike split was 15th out of 153 at 23.8 mph, which may sound good, but I have really high expectations on the bike this year. So I wasn't very thrilled with it. Had a good T2, 21st out of 153, then off to the run.

The run course was great. It's not flat, but there are no hills. It goes on a twisty-turny road through thick pine trees. It was mostly shaded, very scenic, and closed course so you could run tangents. My Polar HR monitor crapped out so I couldn't keep track of pace or split time, so just tried to keep up with some people. I saw my friend, Travis, with about 1.5 miles left. He was so far ahead of me that I lost a lot of motivation and pretty much put it on cruise control for the rest of the race. A pretty mediocre effort in my opinion, but my mind thought I could do one thing and my legs said another. Oh well. Ranked 46th out of 153, which is way lower than I normally am on the run.

Post race spread was incredible. All the pizza, hot dogs, hamburgers, cookies, fruit, etc. you can imagine. Several kegs of beer (3 I think, which were all floating by the end), lots of Gatorade and water. And all the food was available to athletes and family/fans, which was very cool. There's also a really neat park for the kids to play on, so it would be a great race to bring the family. The announcer at the finish line was funny and entertaining. Many, many great things about this race. Ranks as one of the favorites I've done so far, just behind Rivercities.

My friend, and [used to be] close rival (he's now way faster than I), Travis, had a great race. He put together a phenomenal race despite the fact he had a swollen knee that had to have fluid drained off of it the week of the race. He couldn't even walk without limping, but despite not being 100%, he won the 30-34 AG and posted the 3rd fastest bike split OA. He added a very fast swim and a breakthrough run split to go along with that. He beat me by a good 4 minutes, whereas at March in Okarche he beat me by 4 seconds. He's getting a lot faster and I'm getting slower. I hope to catch back up to him later in the season as I start training again.

I ended up 29th out of 153 OA, and 4th out of 19 in AG with a time of 1:06:22. I wasn't thrilled with my splits or time, but I suppose it's all I could have done at my current fitness level, which has been sacrificed for the last month and a half due to career stuff. And I couldn't quite get my breathing under control for the race...I think it was the thicker air I wasn't used to. Despite my disappontment, I still had fun and overall was a great race.

Next up is Rt. 66 Sprint, which is the OK State Championship. I'm hoping to have a much better showing, but there isn't a whole lot you can improve with your fitness in just 2 weeks. I'll give it a good try, though.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

The give and take of life

This is something that every triathlete has to deal with. I'm usually pretty good about balancing life's needs, but I was just buried in April. As a result, I ended up sacrificing training for all of April and the first half of May in order to finish my Ph.D. and get out some manuscripts for peer-review. But what a great month it's been career-wise! I was awarded the Outstanding Graduate Student Award for the Dept. of Zoology, Oklahoma State University. I successfully defended my dissertation and graduated at commencement on May 2nd. And the best of all: I had one of my dissertation chapters accepted for publication in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, or PNAS for short. This was a major accomplishment that I can't even describe how good it felt. Of course, I think I've just hit the pinnacle of my career already!

So some really great things and proud accomplishments over the month of April and May, but now the downside. I didn't swim once, I rode my bike only 4-5 times, and ran maybe a half dozen times. I'm very out of shape and am about 10-15 lbs over my optimal race weight. This is a bummer because I have a string of races coming up that I wanted to do well in: Four States Triathlon (Regional Championship), Route 66 Sprint Tri (Oklahoma State Championship), and the Route 66 International Distance Tri. Four States is this weekend, so it should be really ugly! But I'm going to have fun anyway and try and hit training real hard in June/July/August to get ready for the big races at the end of the year.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Great sponsorship opportunity

In the ever-expensive sport of triathlon, it gets harder and harder to get the fun little goodies that help you get faster. With my big push this year to really have a good showing at the National Long Course Championships in Las Vegas in October, I started talking to businesses that have already helped me out through the years about some modest sponsorship opportunities. I'm excited to report that my local bike shop that I've used since starting multisport, Schlegel Bicycles, has agreed to support me in my efforts to improve my abilities this year. Steve, the owner of Schlegel Bicycles, is an avid (and skilled) cyclist who has really embraced triathlon here in Oklahoma City and is a big supporter of our local tri club, Tri-OKC. I've already received some really cool benefits from this relationship with his business, thanks to he and Ted...I'll be making a completely separate post on that eye-opening experience! My goal is to represent his store in a positive manner and hopefully increase his business through referrals; the growth of his tri-friendly store can only be a positive impact on the local tri and cycling communities.

Feel free to support his store by purchasing me a Cervelo P3C. :)

Schlegel Bicycles
900 N. Broadway
Oklahoma City, OK
6066 S. Western Ave.
Oklahoma City, OK

Monday, March 10, 2008

March in Okarche Duathlon race report

Well, first race of the multisport season, and a State Championship to boot. I wasn't too keen on having an important race as my first one of the year, but what can you do?

I was clearly rusty with even the basic stuff: preparation. I didn't get everything ready that I needed to on Sat., so I finished up the loose ends on Sunday morning. I normally like to get to the race about 1.5 hours before start; I showed up 25 minutes prior to start on this one. DOH! I barely had enough time to set up my transition area before they were kicking people out of transition. I thought surely I would forget something in such haste, but amazingly, I didn't. I went over to get my timing chip and they were already put away! DOH!...again. Desiree the race director saw I was panicking and offered her chip, so I got that set up. Then I had just enough time while everyone was on the start line to jog to the end of the block and back. Yep, a whopping 2-block warm-up! DOH!! Desiree found my chip and we quickly switched it out just before the gun went off. I really had given up hope for a decent race with all the fiascos thus far. But it was a beautiful day, great temperature, clear skies, and light wind...should make for a fast course.

Once the gun goes off, it's a great feeling. All sense of panic and worry dissipates and you just get into your groove and rhythm. I wore my Polar with a footpod pace sensor so I knew exactly how fast I should be running. It always amazes me how fast people start out. I was probably in about 50th to 60th place at the first mile. As everyone faded, I stayed constant and came in with a 19:44 5K split, which was good for me. It was about 30 seconds faster than I expected, so the course may have been about a tenth of a mile short. Was feeling pretty good on the run...stayed nice and easy the whole time and even chatted with Talbot Cox (a really fast 15 year old who has a lot of potential) for most of it. He knew I was gunning for my good friend, and big rival, Travis Newton. As we approached T1, he said go get him and we went our separate ways. I was in 29th place out of 121 coming into transition.

The start of the bike was where I could really tell I hadn't warmed up. I got settled in and ramped up to my target wattage pace and my legs were burning from no warm up. I eased off a tad until getting loose, then picked it back up. I was having a great bike split. My pace was right where it was supposed to be and I caught Travis before the bike turnaround, but then I started to get a really bad cramp in my right calf. Travis saw me at the turnaround and knew I was on him, so he dropped the hammer. I kept cramping and couldn't keep up with him, so he pulled back away. Then cramps started in my left calf too. I had to do a lot of coasting to stretch them out on the way back in, but they just kept getting worse. I turned in the 8th fastest bike split with an avg. speed of 22.3 mph. I think I was around 14th place at this point or so...not sure.

I dismounted my bike and then all hell broke loose. Both calves and both hamstrings started to cramp. I used my bike as a crutch to support my weight and came into transition. I took my sweet time in T2, debating whether or not to take my very first DNF. I didn't feel like continuing, but I decided to give it a go. With about a mile left, I saw Talbot going the other way; he saw Travis in front of me and said "there he is, go get him!" I sucked it up and made a huge push to close the gap. He seemed so close that I could have thrown a rock at him (maybe I should have), but I just couldn't close that last gap. The only good thing working for me was that I paced the 1st run and the bike so well, that even with cramps in my legs, I turned out a decent 2nd run: a 20:43, but that was only good enough for the 17th ranked 2nd run.

I ended up 13th overall (out of 121), 3rd in age group (out of 20), with a time of 1:31:48. Our age group was tight: Trey Cone won it and he passed Travis and I with about a quarter mile left (Trey's a superb runner). I closed the gap on Travis, but just couldn't make that last push. So Trey took first in AG (11th OA) and beat Travis by 8 seconds. Travis took 2nd AG (12th OA), and beat me by 4 seconds. Tight finish! It was fun!!!

All in all, I can't complain. The start was a fiasco, but I did what I could do with it. I haven't trained much this year, but still turned in a decent performance and didn't embarrass myself. This year's race was ultra-competitive...one of the best fields I've seen in a duathlon in a long time. I finished close to people that used to crush me, which was encouraging. Such a good outing on so little training makes me think that I may be able to surprise myself this season, and maybe even surprise a few other people along the way.

Monday, February 11, 2008

rTSS part 2

My friend, Lee Robb (who tends to see things more clearly than I do at times), had the following comment regarding my unhappiness with running TSS in WKO+ (see previous blog post for my take on it):

"Maybe I'm misunderstanding. Daniels defines T-pace as a 50-60 minute effort, that which elicites a steady state of lactate accululation. 10k intervals for a 30' runner is a vo2max workout (I-pace), wherease 10k intervals for a 60' runner is a threshold workout (T-pace). Threshold pace for a 30' runner is closer to their 20k race pace. "

Initially, I was irritated...not because of what Lee said, but because immediately after reading it, I knew I was wrong in my "logic" somewhere. His point made sense, and worse yet, was right. So I re-evaluated my position and tried to figure out where I went wrong and why despite the above being true, I still didn't like how rTSS was calculated in WKO+.

Physiologically, I have no problem with the threshold pace being set as an hour. LT is usually defined as lactate accumulation over a period of about an hour, regardless of sport. Many swimmers judge their training paces based on their 3K swim time (about an hour), which sould be their approximate LT pace. Okay, so I'm at peace with the idea that WKO+ uses a 1-hour pace as threshold. But there is still something that doesn't sit right with me, and that's what I had to put a lot of thought into.

I finally figured it out. I don't like it from an aesthetic standpoint. I'm planning my season based around TSS for each sport, not time or distance (here). What I would like is to have TSS broadly comparable among the 3 sports so that a TSS of 80 on the bike feels like a run TSS of 80 feels like a swim TSS of 80. But with threshold run pace as a function of a 1-hour time, they aren't that comparable. In my opinion, WKO+ still underestimates the "true" TSS for running. For example, a TSS of 150 on the bike feels nothing like TSS of 150 on the run. The latter would have me taking several days rest, whereas the former would require 1 day rest max. So, I finally figured out why I don't like it...turns out I have to eat crow about it not accurately reflecting a good LT pace, but I still think I'm right on how it underestimates rTSS.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Planning a training season around TSS

I know I just posted yesterday, but I've been kicking these ideas around for a few weeks and wanted to get them down while fresh in my mind. I'm completely revamping the way I train this year for two reasons: 1) out of necessity. I don't have as much time this year due to career stuff, so I have to find a way to get faster with less time. I ran across these articles (by Mark van Akkeren and the other by Terry Kerrigan and Phil Skiba). They really made me think about how to train to get faster. And 2) I think I can train more effectively on less time using a training plan based on TSS (see TrainingPeaks WKO+) rather than distance or time. Overall, the goal is to get faster without putting in 20 hr training weeks!

I've picked up some ideas on message boards and kicked around a few of my own on how to train most efficiently with the above two limitations. Here's what I've developed so far:

General progression
  • Workouts with TSS greater than CTL provide stress stimulus.
  • Workouts with TSS = CTL are maintenance.
  • Workouts with TSS less than CTL are recovery.
  • Increase CTL 5-7 points per week (bike), 3-5 points per week (run), and 3-5 points per week (swim)
  • Increase CTL using stress stimulus workouts until I reach a threshold CTL, at which time I'll incorporate more of the 2nd and 3rd types of workouts to avoid overtraining.

Bike workouts

  • If 3x per week: 1 at FTP, 1 with VO2max intervals, 1 in L2 (endurance; my long ride).
  • If 4x per week: the above, plus 1 FTP/tempo.
  • Replace intervals with maintenance/recovery if bordering on overtraining.

Run workouts

  • If 3x per week: 1 at threshold/10K pace, 1 speedwork (VO2max intervals at track), 1 in L2 (long, endurance run).
  • If 4x per week: the above, plus 1 threshold/tempo.
  • If 5-6x per week: the above plus recovery run(s).

Swim workouts...well, I haven't quite figured those out yet.

Really the goal of all the above workouts is to achieve the right stress to show consistent improvement without progressing too fast (injury) or too far (overtraining). I'll do that by continually monitoring CTL (fitness) and managing the amount of stress using TSS. After I start to get that figured out, then I'll next be figuring out how to maximize TSB (training stress balance) on race day!!

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Running TSS

For those of you who use TrainingPeaks WKO+ software, it's a great tool to analyze data and train efficiently (and if you don't use it, you should!). I'm not a long time user or fan of TSS (training stress scores), but have recently adopted using them after I got a power meter in November. I'm finding that for the bike, it has been quite useful and I'm growing in support of the idea. As I started to really embrace it for the bike, I found that I longingly wished for it on the swim and run. While I waited for the latest version of WKO+ to include a running TSS (rTSS), I made my own spreadsheet that calculated it in the interim. It worked well. But now, WKO+ does have rTSS (still no swim yet), which is supposed to make my life easier since I don't have to calculate it on my own, right? Well, I can't get over a hump that I see as a fundamental flaw in how it is currently designed to calculate in WKO+.

I don't really have any particular issues with the bike TSS. In short, it uses the quotient of your normalized power (NP) output from your functional threshold power (FTP) to calculate an intensity factor (IF), where IF = FTP/NP. FTP is defined around a 40K TT, so they use a general time of an hour. TSS is then calculated for each workout using the formula (workout duration * IF^2 * 100). The "100" standardizes the score to 1 hour. For the bike, I'm okay with this. Really fast guys may do a 40K TT in 55 min, and slower guys at 1:05, but that's still pretty close to an hour. Probably not enough to drastically change TSS one way or another, or worse yet, change training zones (based on FTP) to less efficient ones.

But I do have a problem with the run TSS. Instead of using FTP to calculate IF, it uses Normalized Graded Pace and Threshold Pace to calculate IF. I'm okay with this part...it's the same concept, just a different metric. But the formula is identical to the bike TSS from what I can tell: duration * IF^2 * 100. In my opinion, it shouldn't be standardized to an hour! Here's why: in the bike scenario, fast/slow people don't differ much from an hour for 40K TT. In a running scnerio, using a 10K as the surrogate for the 40K TT, there is a huge difference between fast/slow people, with faster runners being in the low 30-minute times and slower being near an hour. So if you are a faster runner and use your 10K time as Threshold Pace, the current formula of rTSS in WKO+ severely underestimates your stress for the workout. If you wanted to solve for this, all you have to do is change your Threshold Pace to be your 1-hr run pace. However, there are problems with that, too. Since running/riding near threshold is *supposed* in target LT the most, running at a slower pace for intervals doesn't seem to be as effective at improving LT than it would be to run near 10K pace for the intervals. Entering a Threshold Pace based on a 1-hour run completely changes the training zones to ineffective ranges. Entering your 10K pace underestimates your rTSS, inhibiting your potential to maximize training/racing.

It seems that rTSS is a good idea in principle, but it was designed by people that think like cyclists, not like a runner. In my opinion, the way to solve this is to change the "100" in the formula to calculate rTSS. Instead of a fixed 100 value (= 1 hour), it needs to adjust to a specific 10K time. This would be very easy to do. Just replace the "100" in the above formula for rTSS with "(60 / (threshold pace * 6.2)) * 100" if you use min./mile or "(60 / (threshold pace * 10)) * 100" if you use min./km. The resulting formula for min/mile would be "rTSS = duration * IF^2 * ((60 / (threshold pace * 6.2)) * 100)." Sure, I could do this in a spreadsheet and then override the existing values in WKO+, but then what's the point of having the software calculate rTSS in the first place?

Monday, January 14, 2008

What a busy 3+ weeks

Been a while since I updated, so no better time than the present. What a whirlwind the last 3 weeks have been. A short summary: driving 1560 miles visiting family, driving 960 miles for meetings, and working endless hours trying to get work done. I'm beat.

Started off the weekend before Christmas. Drove to southern Missouri to visit family, then Kansas City, MO for more family, then northern Missouri for more family, then back to KC, then back home to Oklahoma. Rested for a few days, then down to Dallas to visit more family and wrap up our holiday season. I am amazed (and lucky!) at how well my 3 yr old and 7 month old travel. I probably wouldn't have survived if they weren't so good on trips. So, nearly 1600 miles and a week and a half later, I finally get back to my own bed. Only bad thing is that I have to get up early the next morning to head to San Antonio for some meetings (more driving!).

The meetings in San Antonio were great. They were for the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology. I gave a talk that went fairly well, and met some new, really great, fun people while I was there. As tired and stressed as I was, it was both very productive and very fun. After getting back, I had several manuscripts to put the finishing touches on (4 of them) and also send in an application package for a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Massachusetts. It's highly competitive, so I don't have my hopes up, but it certainly would be nice to get the postdoc and not have to worry about what my next job is going to be.

As for triathlon, well...haven't been able to train too much. Went on maybe 2 runs and 1 trainer ride. Because of that, and the fact that I'm just dead-tired, I've decided to cancel my race at the Frost Yer Fanny Duathlon in Austin, TX. It's only 5 days away and I'm out of shape, tired, and haven't been able to spend much time with my wife and kids. I'm not that bummed about it, other than the fact I was really looking forward to seeing my old "training partners", Chris and Justin Wolfe. I use that term in quotes because getting smoked by them on the bike all the time isn't exactly training with someone...it was more of we started our workouts together and I held on for as long as possible. From what I can tell, they are happy as can be in Austin and even faster than they already were. I'm hoping to get down there some time in spring to ride with them again.

This last Saturday was great. Brady (my 3 yr old for anyone who doesn't know me well) has been obsessed with triathlon for the last few months. I swear I don't force it on him! He watches Ironman races on the DVR constantly, as much as he watches movies and cartoons. His favorite is Kona. He keeps saying he wants to race in a triathlon. I have to admit, it certainly puts a smile on my face. So we decided to sign him up for swim lessons; something we've planned on doing for a while now. His first lesson was Sat. While he did that, I did water babies with Alex, who, even for a 7 month old, takes to water like a fish. I certainly hope they become faster swimmers than I am! They both did great and Melanie and I had a blast watching them. As soon as we got home, Brady begged and pleaded to go ride his bike. How funny is that? Just like Dad, he wants to go ride after his swim. Too cute.

Well, enough rambling. Still have a lot of work to do on my 4th (and last!) dissertation chapter and I need to start getting back into the swing of training. I've gained 17 lbs since I raced at Redman, so I need to get going again.