Monday, April 6, 2009

Hard Times in the Big Easy

I am on my way home from New Orleans after competing in yesterday’s inaugural 70.3 event.  Over 3000 racers toed the starting line, comprising the largest 70.3 field yet!  The pro field had some big names and reasonable depth in both genders.  My goal for the day was just to get out and race – warm up well, swim with a solid group, build into the bike and run strong while not worrying too much about what everybody else is doing.

I had a rough day out there yesterday – probably one of my toughest yet. 

My swim was pretty good.  I had wanted to mark Chris McCormack but I lost him when we were getting in the water.  (It was an in-water start.)  I still ended up in his group, though, after trying to follow Brandon Marsh at the start, losing track of Brandon and then finding and following TJ Tollakson.  The swim felt a bit long to me – especially when I saw the halfway buoy and realized that I still had 1000m to go!  This is more of a comment on my fitness than on the true length of the course!  I was able to respond to a few surges in the group’s pace but eventually lost contact with around 400m to go.  I hadn’t scouted the swim exit and it cost me a few seconds as I actually asked a kayaker for directions!

Swim: 26:23. 14th MPRO.  I lost about 30 seconds to the Tollakson/McCormack/Lieto group in that last 400m.

My T1 was a bit lackadaisical.  I’m normally sharp for the run-outs but I felt like I just wasn’t running as fast as I would for a draft-legal race.  I haven’t seen transition splits yet, but I don’t think I was in my usual spot near/at the top of the list.

Once I mounted my bike and started pedaling I realized that it could be a hard day out there.  My lower back was immediately sore and both hips felt really tight.  I pedaled on top of my shoes a bit longer than normal as my legs seemed a bit inclined to cramp when I tried to put the shoes on.  2 or 3 guys passed me while I was still shoes-out and I couldn’t go with any of them.  My tight hips and back just wouldn’t let me put out power.  I remembered Matt’s advice to “build into the bike and let the legs come to you” and tried to not worry about it.  In 4-4.5 hours of racing you’ll have times where you don’t feel great and your response to such adversity can make or break your race.

I stayed in my aero position and tried to focus on form but each man who passed me just steadily moved away from me.  It was a bit discouraging, but I tried to just focus on what I was doing.  That sore back kept limiting me.  When I saw some of the other guys on the out-and-back stretches I could see that they were working hard in a very different way than I was – they were putting power into the pedals while I was fighting my back.  Near mile 20 I started getting passed by the women’s field.  I think that eleven ladies passed me before T2.  I made sure to get a bottle at each aid station and made a few attempts to eat my gel blocks and bars, but not often enough.  I think that something about the physical discomfort in my back made me reluctant to eat, even though those two are reasonably independent from one another.

Bike: 2:32:03, 26th of 28 MPROs. Ouch.

T2 was also a bit weak.  Both of my legs cramped a bit as I tried to put my shoes on.  I jogged through transition but was ready to pick ‘er up once I went over the timing mat.

I hoped to salvage some pride on the run by reeling in a lot of the ladies and some of the guys and I left T2 in high spirits.  A volunteer yelled “you’re a strong runner” as I exited – I figured he didn’t know me and just said that to everyone, but it still helped.

Matt probably wouldn’t want me to carry a watch on the run but I couldn’t help myself.  I passed Heather Gollnick about a half-mile in and I clicked off a 6:25 for the first mile.  After holding 6:00s at Lake Stevens last year I was hoping for a bit more speed but I figured it was okay to build into things.  Sure enough, I crossed the 2-mile at 12:35 for a 6:10 split.  I was chasing down Kate Major and Lisa Bentley but my approach speed seemed to lag as I got closer.  At the time I thought that they were accelerating but in retrospect I think that I was slowing down.  I hit mile 3 around 19:05, IIRC.  I caught the two ladies and they accelerated to keep up with me.  Mile 4 was ~25:30 and 5 was ~31:50, so I was reasonably consistent.  We traded off a bit on the front.  I tried let them go through the aid stations first since they were still in contention for their race. 

I lost them in the mile 7 aid station and my run steadily slid into “damage control” mode for the remainder.  I had some stomach sloshing after trying to rock some Gatorade … and of course my socks were eventually soaked from my efforts to stay cool by pouring water over my head … I continued to try to run as hard as I could and that pace just kept slowing.  I didn’t feel hungry, but I think that lack of calories and/or lack of salt played a big role in my meltdown.  I went through the half-marathon with a sub-6:30 average pace and finished slowly enough to drag my average up to 6:58/mile.  Ouch.  And unlike the back trouble on the bike I felt like this should have been within my control.

Run: 1:31:26, 20th of 28 MPROs.  Not quite as bad as I thought, in a relative sense.  Lots of people had trouble out there yesterday.

After the race I had a lot of cramping in my calves and a bit in other parts of my legs.  This is rather common for me at hotter, longer races and it probably has something to do with my hydration and nutrition/electrolytes.  I should start experimenting with salt/electrolyte tablets again.  I had used Endurolytes a bit two years ago.

Overall: 4:33:29, 24th of 28 MPROs.  On a positive note, if I can still clock a 4:33 with a painful/ineffective bike and a meltdown on the run, then I’m ready to clock some impressive times once I put in a good performance.


  1. nice report. i am guessing you didn't see any alligators.

    what's going on with your back and hips? that sucks.

  2. Nice write-up. Somehow I lost you in my Reader (again)...but you're back again. Which is solid.

    Hopefully you'll be able to sort out the hips/back issues...and then spit out some sweet times.

  3. I have answers for both of those.

    My back issue is an alignment problem at my L5/S1 joint ... tends to manifest itself as soreness in my lower back, tightness in my mid back and weakness/soreness in my hips, especially on the right side. I thought that I'd mostly figured out how to manage it with strength work and PT, but apparently I need more work.

    As for the blog disappearing from your reader, Ray -- that is probably because I recently moved the blog from to Blogger after my CS instance crashed and I couldn't revive it. I managed to transfer most of the content but not the comments, and I haven't found a way to redirect traffic yet.

  4. I think probably another problem may have been all the chocolate. Yo Chris, just posted my race report for NO at