Race Report: Escape From Alcatraz 2014

AlcatrazNothing like dipping your toe back into racing with one of the most difficult short course races in the world, among one of the most competitive fields. Given my early year update, the epic Escape from Alcatraz seemed like a heck of a way to return. It was going to be tough to follow up last year’s podium effort, but in the end, I was happy to be back at the start line.

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY:

  • Very happy to be racing and healthy.
  • Bike and run times are as competitive as anyone and are showing improvement
  • Apparently cold water and the threat of sharks still isn’t enough to make me swim fast, as I swam myself out of a solid result.
  • Plenty of positives on which to build the year.

EFA Indices

PRE-RACE:

2,000+ athletes chilling on a boat, waiting to jump in the bay

2,000+ athletes chilling on a boat, waiting to jump in the bay

EFA Boat Outside Nothing can match the badass EFA Boat Jumpfeeling of being out on that boat and watching the doors open to the fogged over city and rough waters off Alcatraz.

EFA continues to do an awesome job of organizing and expediting the process of getting 2,000 athletes to the start and off the boat in less than 6 minutes. It was great to race with my man Vince this year, as we chilled on the boat beforehand and discussed our master plan to swim, bike and run together (didn’t happen).

THE SWIM:

Hopping off the boat into the Bay is truly like something out of a war movie. Only ~20 people had jumped before me and still the water was white with foam as the ongoing flow of bodies churned the waves. As soon as I hit the water, I popped up and swam hard to catch some feet and to get out of the way of other jumpers. I was in a pack that I felt comfortable with.

As was the case last year, this didn’t last for long and before I knew it I was on my own. I entered some chop and for what seemed like 5 minutes, I remained in line with Fort Mason. I wasn’t going anywhere. I tried to find someone, anyone to swim with. Eventually I did, and “crossed the river” of the tide, working hard just to get on dry land. Like replay of last year, I got out of the water, looked around, and knew I had work to do.

M2 in-house mechanic, Mike Cole, had the P3 humming!

M2 in-house mechanic, Mike Cole, had the P3 humming!

THE BIKE:

Unlike last year, however, I felt good immediately on the bike. No cramps, all business and I started to hammer away. There was plenty of traffic to pass given how far behind I was, but I managed to keep steady, agressive watts.

After climbing and descending out of The Presidio, Sea Cliff and Land’s End, I hit descended to Golden Gate Park, where I was able to see just how far behind I was as guys I was racing against were already coming back.

The rest of the bike was just truly a hammerfest, aggressive flats and fly up the climbs.

After five months of biking like a mad man as I recovered from the running injury, I was happy to have easily the highest weighted average watts I’ve had in a race.

Great shot by Justin Green with 'traz in the background! I of course had the blinders on, so I saw neither.

Great shot by Justin Green with ‘traz in the background! I of course had the blinders on, so I saw neither.

Pace seems to be directly correlated with elevation...

Pace seems to be directly correlated with elevation…

THE RUN:

As I headed out on the run, I had two thoughts: 1.) run as fast as you can and make up as much ground as possible; 2.) it’s your second time running this hard in 9 months. As you’d guess, not only did this play out as a battle of short and long term prospects, but also between excitement and actual fitness level.

It does take some mental convincing to keep the foot on the gas when you realize how far out of the race you are. Never the less, I motored along Crissy Field until the climb to the Golden Gate Bridge. Just like the bike, it’s up, down, up, down. On the first down, I saw M2 standing in the same spot as last year. This was a really great pick-me-up and he let me know Vinny was doing well.

Only 400 steps made out of sand and boards up a cliff. Got this.

Only 400 steps made out of sand and boards up a cliff. Got this.

After that first down, it’s about a mile cruise on Barker Beach. Last year I felt so confident picking folks off through the sand, but this year it just felt so much…flatter. Not the sand, mind you. I didn’t even seem to find flat sand on the way back. As I ran as closely to the water line as possible, the seconds shrank between me and the beast, the monster, the beeyatch –  the sand ladder. And just like the beach, the sand ladder just felt slow. The pop from last year just wasn’t there.

Once you get to the top of the sand ladder, your climb is only half way over. So I took that as an opportunity to reset mentally and just drive the rest of the hill until I could let it fly home. I saw M2 again and as I let it fly through the Golden Gate Bridge common area, he rode his bike to the stair junction and let me know that I was running well and to catch as many people as possible.

So that’s what I did! Chin tucked, shoulders pinched I finished with a 5:27 mile and 5:12 pace for the last 0.6 mile. Not bad for a gimp! The finish at EFA is always great – lined with people and flags, grandstands, a nice long chute. And I knew my mom and Kathy D. (Vince’s mom) cheering us in. After taking a second to catch my breath and come to terms with how much like poo I felt, I gave Vince a big ole hug and high five for his great day. He really killed it on a huge stage.

EFA Run

I’ll take it

SUMMARY AND THANKS:

There were plenty of takeaways for the season in this first race. The swim does need to continue to improve, but with lake or river swims for the rest of the year, I’d have a chance to see where my “non-Alcatraz” fitness was soon. My bike improved immensely since last year, and I attribute that to the Tahoe build and then not being able to run for months. And lastly, the run. I ran a couple hard sessions in 2014 and managed to nab the 6th overall run split. This built volumes of confidence for the year that I likely lost very little run fitness while gaining immense bike fitness. Silver linings, folks!

As always, thanks to M2 and the M2 Revolution gang, including Mike Cole who seriously Pimped My Ride for this one. Eric Gilsenan and the EFA crew for always putting on a world class, safe, well-run event. Amy Schmerl! for trekking across Marina Blvd. at way-to-early of an hour on a Sunday to support, along with everyone else that was out there. And of course, Momma V. for coming out to visit and always being excited to support the races.

Rock and roll!

Checking In – Early 2014

This past weekend was Ironman Oceanside 70.3 and if you read my 2014 Preview – and retained any of it – you may recall that it was the first race in a season full of fun and challenging races.

I’m happy to report that I reduced my time by 4h 24min and 10 seconds over last year with a time of 00:00:00. I’m less happy to report that it was because I am still coming back from my running injury discovered in late 2013 and I’m still not fully up and running. Definitely bummed to have missed this incredible race, but my buddies Brett and Pat did well to carry the M2 flag and set a strong tone for the year.

Still, I’m having some awesome training, gaining a lot of fitness and eating the food:

I'll take all of the Nutella, please.

I’ll take all of the Nutella, please.

What is the injury and why has it taken so long?

IM-0001-0001_1

Standing tall and “straight” for the camera

My left leg has been a problem child since leading up to and through Tahoe. After time off in the fall, it continued to be a problem at Christmas. I went to see Dr. Shepherd in Powell, Ohio while home for the holidays and we found some serious imbalance and misalignment with my hips and spine. This is either because my left leg is longer than my right (by birth or growth patterns), which would be consistent with the 4mm difference in my legs during my bike fit last year, or because my muscular imbalances have thrown this platform out of whack, making my left leg “longer,” but not actually longer.

If that sounds like a bunch of jargon, just know that it means that everything is more injury prone in my left leg and it stinks. I worked with Talitha at Individual Fitness Solutions while in Dublin to develop a strength and flexibility program to try and stabilize the platform. I do this strength program at least twice a week and my attention to post workout stretching and rolling has increased ten-fold (so, so important). I also continue my body work with my main man, Andy Tubbs, who induces eye crossing pain (i.e. massage therapy). Lastly, I run in a bubble:

Shirt off, thumbs up, bro out

Shirt off, thumbs up, bro out

The Alter-G at M2 Revolution continues to be an absolutely essential tool for coming back from injury in a controlled, healthy manner. I’ve progress from 75% to 77% and currently 80% of my body weight, while I begin to run at speeds that look much more familiar.

The goal remains the same

It can be easy to have a negative mindset when you miss a race and the road back to health is taking much longer than originally planned. But that’s the thing – you can’t plan it and it’s silly to think you have more control over the circumstances than the hard work you put into it allows. That’s all you can do, work hard to be healthy and the return will hopefully follow.

I entered this year as one of the best triathletes in my age group in America. My goal for this year was to race well at a level that removes that qualifier – I want to be one of the best amateur triathletes, not just in my age group. The goal still remains, and the race calendar has shifted a bit later.

Stay tuned to see how it unfolds!

A big thanks to friends, family, the sports med folks I’ve worked with, M2 Revolution and GU.

2013 Review | 2014 Preview

2013 Tri collage

Howdy and happy New Year to all! After three months of non-Iron things, I’m looking forward to get crackin’ on 2014. During the off-season, I’ve been dealing with a nagging running injury to my left leg. Looking at the positive, it’s allowed me to get stronger on the bike and spend quality time doing normal human things.

The 2013 season was a great one. I continued my upward trajectory as a triathlete that I started in 2009 and set myself up to keep it rolling in 2014. Here are some highlights, things learned (always plenty) and goals for 2014.

Quick Stats:

  • 6,000 miles swam/biked/ran/stumbled/poked
  • 500 hours staring at black, white or yellow lines on the ground
  • 80 hours of Netflx with Ali
  • 615 coffees/espressos
  • 27 pounds of peanut/almond/Nutella butter (conservative)

Top wins of 2013:

1. Another great year with old and new training buddies. Notable training events:

  • M2 Amgen Tour of California Stage Ride
  • M2/Ultra-U Tahoe Training Camp
  • Mt. Shasta Century (M2 training weekend edition)

2. Raced competitively within a schedule of world renown top-tier races:

  • USAT Ranking (25-29M): 3rd in California; 17th in US
  • Age group podiums in every race except IM Tahoe
  • Top 10 amateur at EFA, Wildflower, IM Boise 70.3

3. Became a more “complete athlete” instead of a runner-triathlete:

  • Won Boise AG on bike
  • Dropped swim time at SVIT by over 5 min
  • 2nd and 3rd amateur runs @ EFA and Oceanside respectively

4. The best training block of my life in the “second half” of my season:

  • Ironman Lake Tahoe build after 70.3s and Olympics.

5. Completed the hardest Ironman I could have chosen for my first:

  • IM Lake Tahoe – started off calculated, finished gutty.

Top learning moments of 2013:

1. Unforced errors in races. All scenarios that could have been avoided with better planning and patience during the race.

2. Stomach shutting down at Boise 70.3 and IMLT. A lot of variables at play, but closer attention to nutrition will be a good start.

3. More strength, stability and flexibility throughout season. M2 TBT (total body training) at the beginning of the year and I was healthy through mid year. As volume increased and time for training stayed the same, injury prevention took a back seat and I paid for it.

4. I can go faster: Must swim with faster swimmers; bike gets better every day, continue to challenge myself; I can still run faster, goal is to get 10K down to 31 min.

5. Balance: My training was at an all time high this year, but it’s tough as a full-time working person. I learned a lot this year about how I can do this better next year.

2013 Season in Review

And up we go

EFA Podium_crop

Escape From Alcatraz

A race I’ve always wanted to do and finally got in via lottery. The course is one of the most challenging short courses in the world and competition is premier.

Highlights:

  • Fumbled swim
  • Took “new watts” into the race, biked well
  • Ran into podium finish
  • Great way to start the season 
2013 Races, Results Date Type Time Age Group Overall Notes
Escape from Alcatraz 3-Mar Tri 2:29:17 3 36 2nd Amateur run, Sand Ladder
Oceanside Transition

Oceanside Podium

Ironman 70.3 California – Oceanside

Another race that I’d been chomping at the bit to do, Oceanside is another incredibly competitive race, attracting California’s best. A fun weekend with guys in a house by the ocean, this set up for a fast race and fun times.

Highlights:

  • Competitive swim
  • Solid bike, but could have been more aggressive
  • Ran into an “IM” AG podium (4th)
  • John and Vince bread eating challenge
2013 Races, Results Date Type Time Age Group Overall Notes
Iron Man 70.3 California (Oceanside) 30-Mar LC  4:24:10 4 63 PR @ Half, PR Swim, PR Run, 3rd amateur Run
Cruising step for step against the pace plan. Rocky and Apollo, in that order.

Full extension was so good, had to post again.

Silicon Valley International 

USA Productions puts on great races local to the Bay Area that attract a lot of local talent. For perspective, the overall winner was age grouper Yoni Doron-Peters (a stud by any classification).

Highlights:

  • Swim +5min faster than last year
  • Biked hard, but couldn’t respond as well to moves as would have liked
  • Same run as last year (34min), dropped by Vince when we’d planned to turn up the pace
2013 Races, Results Date Type Time Age Group Overall Notes
Silicon Valley Tri 21-Apr Oly 2:01:53  3  9  Woof
Just some dudes goin' to drink beer on a lake. Maybe a little racing.

Wildflower medals M2

Wildflower Long Course

One of the most storied and classic races in the world, the Woodstock of Triathlon was true to itself: hot, hilly, naked Cal Poly co-eds and campfire beers.

Highlights:

  • Swim to be improved
  • Solid bike that trailed off in the last few miles
  • Studying course elevation profile pays off en route to running down AG podium and top 10 amateur spots
  • Congratulating Jesse Thomas on his 3-peat & Virgilio on beating me, shortly before dry heaving by food and being ushered to med-tent
2013 Races, Results Date Type Time Age Group Overall Notes
Wildflower Lake San Antonio 4-May LC  4:41:48  3 34  10th Amateur
Doing my best Jaws impression into the wind

Stare into the sun and show everyone how happy you are to have a trophy!

Ironman 70.3 Boise

Traveled alone to and survived a logistical pickle at this unpredictable western race. Despite a late start (1:00pm) and some killer headwinds, it would be my first AG win at an Ironman race.

Highlights:

  • Swim through the masses as the last wave of the day
  • Assert self on bike through headwinds, stomach queasy by end
  • Fought stomach and poor mojo on run, but strong bike allowed to hold off pursuers
2013 Races, Results Date Type Time Age Group Overall Notes
Iron Man 70.3 Boise 8-Jun LC  4:32:44  1 30  9th  Amateur
Enter the abyss

Overcome. Family and Vince, arms raised in the background.

Ironman Lake Tahoe

The Bay Area went into a frenzy when California got its first Ironman and it was in Tahoe. I’m sure many people were second guessing their decision on race morning at 30 degrees. A day on a challenging course at altitude had an extra wrinkle on race day.

Highlights:

  • Swim was warmer than air temperature; swam slower to set up a solid day at altitude
  • Transition one was a nightmare with a full change in a crowded tent
  • Biked according to plan, but altitude bells rang in Martis Camp; slowed final 10 miles
  • Transition two wasn’t much better
  • Run started off well, wheels fell off at mile 13 and it was all guts to the finish
2013 Races, Results Date Type Time Age Group Overall Notes
Iron Man Lake Tahoe 22-Sep IM  11:23:12  8  118 Ironman Plus. Wow.
Berkeley Hills RR

Fitbit JP Morgan race

Non-tri races

Berkeley Hills Road Race:

7th

First cycling road race, Cat 5. Played domestique to Virgilio’s podium race and nabbed a 7th place for myself. Very fun change of pace from tri racing.

JP Morgan Corporate Challenge:

8th

Fitbit represented itself well among 11K runners from companies all over the Bay Area.

Competition was stiff and the 3.6 mile race was a good ole-fashioned, elbow bumping road race. I traded surges with the chase group for an 8th place finish in 18:12.

happy-new-year-wallpaper-2014

2014 Goals:

  1. Get left leg better, sustain strength to run healthy.
  2. Sport specific goals: swim with faster people, get 100m down; up watts on bike by 10%; get run to 31 min 10K.
  3. Age group podiums are great, but trajectory means overall amateur podiums, higher USAT national ranking
  4. Ironman 70.3 World Championship Mont-Tremblont
  5. Strike balance across training, relationships, work

If all goes according to plan, this is the tentative schedule for this year:

RACE DATE EVENT PRODUCTION CITY STATE/COUNTRY Notes
3/29/2014 California 70.3 IRONMAN Oceanside CA Pending run status
4/20/2014 Silicon Valley International Triathlon USA Productions Morgan Hill CA
5/3/2014 Wildflower Long Course Tri California Lake San Antonio CA
5/18/2014 Morgan Hill Sprint Triathlon (23rd Annual) USA Productions Morgan Hill CA
6/1/2014 Escape From Alcatraz IMC San Francisco CA
6/7/2014 Boise 70.3 IRONMAN Boise ID
6/8/2014 Folsom International Triathlon USA Productions Folsom CA If no Boise
6/8/2014 Folsom Long Course Triathlon USA Productions Folsom CA If no Boise
6/29/2014 California International Triathlon USA Productions Pleasanton CA
7/13/2014 Vineman 70.3 IRONMAN Santa Rosa CA
8/10/2014 USAT AG Nat’ls USAT Milwaukee WI Maybe
9/7/2014 70.3 WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP IRONMAN Mont-Tremblant Quebec Goal
10/5/2014 Rancho Cordova International Triathlon USA Productions Rancho Cordova CA Maybe
10/20/2014 Oceanside Olympic Lifetime Oceanside CA Maybe

 

Thank Yous

Friends and family – Thanks to the Ohio gang, Ali and all my friends and family for your ongoing interest in and support of my progress. It fuels me to keep rippin’!

M2 – I would not have seen the progress I have seen had I not started training with M2 and the crew. Studio sessions and weekend training are all hugely imperative to development and super fun with such a great group.

GU – Thanks to GU for the products to help me to fuel and refuel this successful year. Racing for you in Boise was a great and I was happy to bring home some hardware.

SFTri Club – It was great seeing all of you out at races this year. Being a part of the community is stellar always, but especially on race day!

Fitbit – The crew at Fitbit HQ was very supportive of my racing this year, either in the office, on the after work runs or on the bike (track cycling!). Using our products allowed me to keep on my activity beyond the workouts, monitor my rest and stick to my race weight.

So that’s all for 2013! It’s been a great year and looking forward to training with my buddies and getting better with the M2 group in 2014. Health, happiness and PRs to all!

- MV