Monday, September 14, 2015

SOS (Survival of the Shawangunks)

This race's uniqueness is rivaled only by it's beauty. Not to mention it is put on by an incredible team of directors and volunteers. The 50.5 mile, 8 stage race is completely point to point and not for the faint of heart. 

Bike: 30 miles 
Run 4.5mi to Awosting 
Swim: 1.1mi Awosting 
Run 5.5mi to Minnewaska 
Swim .5mi Minnewaska 
Run 8mi to Mohonk 
Swim .5mi Mohonk 
Climb .7 mi to Albert K. Smiley Memorial Tower
This is a picture of the finish... from the start!

I have been trying to get in to this race for years and finally made it happen for 2015. It sells out in minutes as there are only 150 slots. Anyways, signing up was bittersweet after I realized it would be only two short weeks after the 140.6 in Muskoka. My legs were still a bit wobbly at the starting line but this thing was going to be a ton of fun no matter what.

The Bike 1hr 24min (21.4mph) 300watts
The 30 mile bike starts off with mostly flat rolling terrain for the first 25 miles and then ascends about 1200ft over the next 5 miles. Oh, you were looking forward to the descent? I am sorry to hear that because at the top of the climb you kiss your two wheels goodbye and begin the trek to the first pond. I lead the bike brigade for the first 10 miles which we hammered out in about 23 minutes. It was the first time I have been following the police escort car in a race before. I was robbed of this at about mile 11 but still managed to throw down the second best bike split of the day. We hammered the first 25 miles out in seconds over an hour and the next 5 miles took about 23 minutes climbing up the hill.

Here is the Strava file on the next 20.5miles with the breakdown below mostly in pictures.

I ditched my bike and grabbed all my gear I would need (goggles, cap, food) for the rest of the race. The run to Lake Awosting is a gradual uphill for about 4.5miles. I kept the leader in sight but he kept getting smaller smaller. Not a huge deal though; my legs were already screaming and I had beaten them so badly the past month that the crack of whip or jab of a spur no longer affected the motivation to move faster. This was expected and did not affect how awesome the race was for me mentally.

It had been about 36 minutes since I stopped pedaling and here is where the logistics get fun: you cross the timing mat and jump in the water. The shoes slid off you feet and into the back of the shorts, cap on, goggles on, and now you are swimming the length of this gorgeous lake. The 1.1mile swim took me about 28 minutes.

Again, like a transformer on the hunt you pop out of the water, get your balance, and throw your sopping wet shoes back on for the 5.5 mile trail. This trail is slightly downhill and it takes me about another 36 minutes until the sight of more water and cheering voices. I am horizontal and kicking again at one end of Lake Minnewaska - 16 minutes and half a mile later I am being helped out of the water and up rocks and putting my shoes back on!

My body has no idea what is going on at this point but I can't imagine it being too befuddled after some of the previous crazy tasks I have asked it to perform over the years. By now, it just says, "WTF, why not?" and goes with it. The run to the next lake is a long one; 8 miles and some decent hills but the scenery is a the most amazing form of distraction.

The 8 miles cruise by in a little over an hour. I get closer and closer to the lake entrance and the cheering is louder and louder. I looked from one end of the lake and the huge smile I have now had across my face for the last 4.5hrs stretched even wider to the number of tiny people at the other end of Lake Mohonk calling me over.

I let out a giant "WOOO HOOO" as I jumped in the lake and turned myself back into a swimmer for a half a mile and 13.5 minutes.

The grand finale after getting out of a lake for the third time of the day is a glorious 7 tenth of a mile hike up 500ft to the top of Mohonk Skytop Tower. The view is worth every vertical step.

With a total time of 4hrs 44min I finished 8th place and fastest male 25-29 (I was a dingus and signed up for OPEN so I forfeited the official award). This race should be on the bucket list of any fun seeking triathlete who prides themselves on taking on new and different challenges. You gotta step outside the box every now and again and TRY SOMETHING NEW! 

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

A game of inches...

I am going to keep this one relatively shorter with lots of pictures (more pictures at the end if you want to skip the words) mainly because there is not much of happy ending to this report. So much so that it even ends with me looking up from the flat of my back at the finish line; my lung muscles and breath confused as they were in full hysterics, sputtering, but my body and eyes not willing to expend the moisture necessary to actually produce tears to be able to call the act "crying". A few silver linings were that I finished fourth in my age group and a 21min PR in a 140.6. Which sounds pretty awesome but the line for the Kona slot allocation ended up being draw directly above my name. I missed it by one slot... by an inch.

My high school football team used to play this clip in the locker room before every game. I hadn't seen it in quite some time but a friend sent it to me right before the race. IRONMAN MUSKOKA was the culmination of my racing life as of yet. There have been big races and a few training cycles/off seasons over the past few years but this was it as far as I was concerned. I had been training my ass off and most anyone who knows me, knows how much time and effort I had put into this race. I wanted that inch. And I was ready... 

More than ready...
Over the past 52 weeks I carefully planned each day and week out. I was mythodical with training and did not let anything distract me. I planned meetings around training sessions and carved out time for workouts when I didn't think possible. There were definitely ebbs and flows over the past year but I never allowed myself to get down too low or ride an extreme high for too long... I tracked everything and took notes. I adapted over time and made changes but to put it in perspective here's how the numbers shook out over the past 365days: 80hours swimming, 301hours on the bike, 148hours running, 136hours in the gym, and 27hours (about once every other week or so) in the yoga studio.

"The successful warrior is the average man with laser-like focus" -Bruce Lee....Socrates, on the same topic: "The secret to change is to focus all of you energy not on fighting the old, but building the new". I tried to emulate this focus and by the math above I was dedicating over 8% of all my energy on being the best I could be for race day. 714hours total out of 8760hours in the year is pretty focused. It was a lot of time but I also was careful not to overdue it for the most part.

The major thing about racing distance events like this is that none of it really matters if you do not show up primed and ready to go on race day. Just last year I had devoted another huge chunk of time like this to Ironman Mont Tremblant and come race day I was not ready to go. This resulted in a race extremely less than full potential for me. I was not going to let it happen again.

A few key technical changes I made over the last year:
Changing my diet. 100% plant based.
Focusing on increasing run cadence.
Meditating and putting yoga back into my schedule.

So here we are on race morning in the swim start line. The sun hasn't risen yet. 1297 hearts covered in neoprene beating all around me poised and waiting for the same cannon. It is 6:37am and the wetsuit is on. Goggles are taught to the black latex cap over my head and the drishti is set sharply on the first turn buoy. Each breath is deep, intentional, and connected. There is absolutely no way to describe this incredible feeling that overcame me race morning a few minutes before the start. If you have felt it, you know what I am talking about; if you haven't, I hope and pray that you will be overtaken by such a consciousness at some point. It was absolutely an unreal, out of body experience and I was totally at peace. I could literally feel the blood flowing in my veins.

The day was mine from the very beginning. 

I lined up with the "sub 1hr" group. The race was a rolling start (meaning that you place yourself at your expected swim time finish and they let you in to the water in a "rolling" fashion with people of similar swimming abilities. I have never swum 2.4miles in under an hour ever in my life. Never even come close. My best in training was was a 1:03 and my best racing was at Ironman South Africa this past March with a 1:04.

I wasn't being arrogant or cocky lining up seemingly "out of place" at the start line. I wasn't trying to stir the pot or take advantage of the somewhat of the "honor system" set up here. The blog is called "Act As If" for a reason. I was setting myself up as best I could mentally and physically for the race I wanted to have. Would Babe Ruth have knocked his last post season home run out of the park if he didn't point his bat to the centerfield stands first?

As the path cleared to the water edge I walked in smiling. I dove in and started pumping water. The swim seemed long as it often does and I hitched on to speedier swimmers when I could. Bouys were passed, water was swallowed, my face was kicked, turns were turned. It was overall a good swim but I did not feel that fast. I got thru it and as I clicked my Garmin to see 56min I really didn't get too excited. I just figured the course measured short.

It wasn't short. I was 10% into the day I envisioned for myself. Technically, my Garmin file actually measured the course eleven yards short but I am chalking that up to starting it a few seconds late as I pee'd my wet suit entering the water. What can I say? Things happen...

The swim ends on a green of the Deerhurst golf course where the wet suit strippers are set up. I wasn't exhausted by any means but it definitely took me a while to shake off my "sea legs". I was dizzy and the half a mile barefoot run on the cart path straight up 150ft to the bike/bag set up did not offer any type of mercy even to people who just hammered an ironman swim PR by well over 7min.

I was the 6th person in my age group to start turning pedals. I was extremely excited for this bike course. In fact, the reason I decided to race this course was for the short punchy hills it offered. No serious climbing like IMLP, IMMT, or IMSA but I knew that the steepness of the hills would take a serious toll on the legs of any unprepared or inexperienced triathlete. The 140.6 distance offers no room for error. Racers can afford to make a number of mistakes at other distances and aren't really a big deal. Not with 140.6 though. You will pay dearly for early mistakes in a race like this on a course like this. I wanted to take advantage of that and I was ready to not make any mistakes.

That being said, I knew I had to ride steady and I was prepared to do so. I knew riders would be up ahead of me gear grinding their legs away standing on pedals and I didn't care one bit. I was locked in to my game plan and I executed relentlessly. The goal power number was 240watts and the watch was set to lap and alarm every 10miles. This was to give myself an idea of pace and to remind myself to eat/drink every half an hour (I arbitrarily guessed the ride would take a little less than 5.5hrs).

Getting off the bike was in under 5:15 was another unreal feeling. As the ride went on I knew I was cruising and expecting a good split by the end of it but after I clocked the first 100miles in about 4:35 I decided to ease up a bit for the final push. Don't get me wrong, my legs were feeling incredibly good, I just figured I would back off just a bit  and put some energy in the bank as my bike time would not suffer by dialing it back a bit. There was a man at one of the aid stations counting riders and I as I passed "fifteen" came out of his mouth... WTF?? I had never been within counting numbers of any race. This was insane. 

I was just in my zone. I stayed in my areobars pretty much all race. Popping up on only steep climbs and aid stations. The aid stations are always a fun relief though. I joke with the volunteers quickly each time and shoot the empty bottles behind my back or over my head into the goals or trash can targets and make sure to thank everyone I can. After that though, I quickly get back down on my forearms and back to work. As much as I can, I interlace my fingers over the torpedo style bottle between the bars. It is my mind's way of telling my body that it is relaxed - and to keep it that way.

There was a single "out and back" section of the course that provided a quick little update on where everyone was in the race... As I turned right on my "out" the lead car with a ticking red clock guided the leader completing his "back" on the same road. It was glorious being up so close the lead car - never had I ever been that close. I knew I wouldn't make the two miles fully but even as I saw it on the 2nd lap at the exact same spot as the first lap I knew I was playing with the big boys on this ride. I was riding consistent. My legs felt perfect. And it was awesome.

Statistically it was the "smoothest" ride of my life. I was disciplined with every decision I made. I broke my numbers one time. This was at the end of an aid station after I had already reloaded my bottle holders with Gatorade and water. I saw another rider up ahead miss a bottle exchange with the very last volunteer holding a full bottle of water out. Just as fast as the bottle hit his hand and dropped to the ground, I changed my path, grabbed a full bottle from another volunteer, and sped up to hand the bottle off to thirsty rider. I quickly fell back into my zone after he thanked me in disbelief. A missed bottle of water on a course with aid stations every 12-15miles is tough to make up.

I pee'd a couple times on the bike. For anyone that has not attempted this, I can only equate it to trying to squeeze a bite of an ice pop or frozen GoGurt out of its tube when you don't quite cut the top off wide enough. It is not pleasant at all. But it is faster than stopping, if you are smart you can wash it off with a bit of water and if you are fast enough it dries soon.

As the ride went around for the 2nd loop every single person who was standing up gear grinding up hills dropped off and the steady pedaling paid off. A few of us joked around a bit about it as we cruised back to the golf course on really fresh legs seemingly ready for a marathon.

The biggest thing being that I had spun passed half the people in front of me. I was sitting in 3rd place in my AG, 16th overall. The race was still in my control.

                                                        T2 - 1:58
The shoes were off as my bare feet pedaled back to the resort. I was quick about everything and I apologized to the sunscreen volunteer who came at me pretty aggressively with two sopping hands of sunscreen I didn't want any of it. I did my best to avoid her with a spin move but my legs now had 114.4 miles under them and my hands were busy trying to fasten the race belt. Crash.

The first loop was at 7:32min/mile pace. A pace at which if I was able to maintain for the anticipated 100 minute second loop I would be typing this story having achieved my goal of a ticket to the Ironman World Championship race in Kona next year but if you can read between the lines you know that it didn't actually happen that way.

So, I felt pretty amazing the first 15miles. The plan was to hit the first loop at 7:45-7:50s then buckle down for the 2nd loop. But I was feeling soooo good. As my watch buzzed off the first few miles around a 7:20 pace it didn't even phase me. I knew (read: thought) I had this. I could't even imagine my legs rebelling against me the way they did. I even belly laughed with two separate camera guys on two separate occasions as I pee'd myself, in full stride, at a speed 8mph, all the while pointing with both fingers at the scene of the crime. A lot of people don't know what it is like to let loose at this speed... again, you just have got to try it sometime I guess.

Well, no surprises here... I slowed down quite a bit. Even walked thru a few aid stations to get more nutrition in me. By the end of this thing I was delusional and I don't remember starting the 2nd loop. I called out for my special needs bag which contained some comedic effect because it contained nothing but a few caffeine tablets. I took them out but I don't know where they went. I didn't eat them. I was planning on taking them but still don't remember what happened exactly.

I was trying to rack my brain as to what would cause such a distress in my muscles. To this point I had executed my day pretty perfectly. The only mishap was at the last aid station of the bike. I went 0 for 3 grabbing Gatorade bottles from volunteers. I didn't think it would affect me that much but other than that there is nothing I can account for that would result in such a muscular tumult. The past 2 hours had gotten quite a bit hotter but I wasn't suffering heat-wise at all.

Inexplicably, my legs went wobbly as my mind succumbed to the distress. I made the decision to slow down and recoup a bit. I wasn't walking but I was trying to game plan a quick mental recovery and then saddle back up on the horse and hit at least 8min/miles for the rest of the day.

Almost right after that, another devastating blow came running by at a blistering 7:20min/mile pace. A pace I was laughing and joking with people at about an hour ago was now laughing back at me in the form of a calf that had two big black numbers on it... 28. This was the last I'd see of that calf. I was back and forth between a shuffle and an 8:30min/mile pace for the rest of the race. The end result was the second loop taking about a little under 2hrs with a hell of a fight. I wanted to throw in the towel and just walk the rest of it. It had been too good of a day for that though. I wanted to honor the previous almost 8hrs of work by scratching for every last second no matter how far of my goal pace I was getting.

And I did. I fought pretty hard for each step and never threw in the towel completely. There were times when the over sized ego of my tired legs won me over for a few minutes... "It is no use. You've slowed down so much. It doesn't matter. You don't have to keep it up. It was an OK day, you almost had it, and you can tell everyone about how awesome your 127mile race was..." but saying those thoughts to myself caused a knee-jerk reaction immediately defibrillated my brain. It sprung back to life with a resounding double middle finger gesture right back to my legs and I was back in step for a few more minutes...

This battle went on... and on... and on... for the last 10miles. It ended with me crossing the finish line eight minutes and thirty-six seconds behind 3rd place. A fateful amount of time that would serve as the dividing line between the Kona-bound champions and the people praying for a non-existent roll down slot. I didn't want to leave it up to chance like this...

...but I did. I lined up with the webbed feet swimmers at the start and I pushed a pace (albeit steady) on the bike. It did not leave much room for error. I went for it. And I ran the first half of the marathon without fear. Perhaps it was a little too much. It's hard to say from my perspective because I know how good I was feeling right up until the point where I crashed and switched into survival mode. Maybe if I had started the run at a 7:45 pace I would have been able to maintain it for the 26.2miles and I wouldn't be here second guessing myself. I will never know. But my life thus far has been slightly out of a comfort zone for better or worse. It is where you learn about yourself and grow. Sometimes it works out - sometimes you are left wanting. There is no room for complacency though (in any aspect of life for that matter...).

It's a funny feeling thinking about it now... After Lake Placid in 2013 (my first) I couldn't wait to do another; then came Mont Tremblant in 2014, again I new I could have done better and couldn't wait to prove it; South Africa back this March, I IMMEDIATELY NEEDED another 140.6 race... but this feeling a few days after Muskoka is so bittersweet that I honestly can't even fathom the thought of signing up of another 140.6.