Monday, March 31, 2008

Oceanside 70.3

A race really begins at the Expo. We drove down to the lovely little town of Oceanside, got checked in to our lovely little motel, met our friends with whom we were sharing a room, and all headed off to the expo.

They did their packet pickup thing while I wandered around the expo and chatted with vendors. I listened to a panel interview with a number of pros, which was interesting. None of them wear socks, and all of them get blisters as a result. Except for those sponsored by Zoot who are wearing the new Zoot triathlon-specific shoes. No socks needed, no blisters. I must have a pair.

Basta and friends finished their registration obligations, then did the expo thing themselves. Basta bought an Ironman 70.3 bike jersey, because one simply must have one. A friend bought some compression socks, which seem to be all the rage right now. They look silly, but they appear to really work.

Then it was off to an early dinner. Italian, of course. We found a lovely little restaurant in the heart of downtown that had good food at good prices. Can't ask for more than that. A lot of other athletes found it, too. The waiters were looking a bit puzzled -- all these people coming in for dinner so early. None of them drinking wine. All asking for a pitcher of water. Apparently they didn't check the local events calendar or consider the ramifications . . .

Finally, back to the motel. Everyone futzed with their gear. Bike and helmet labeled with the sticky race numbers provided. Bib attached to race belt. Gu, Shot Bloks, Mojo bars in the Bento box and stuck in the little pockets of the singlet. Water bottles filled, ready for the Motor Tab to be added in the morning.

They start the event in waves based on your age group, and each wave has a different colored cap. Basta's wave was hot pink.

There he is, all set up and ready to go.

We watched a little tv, then turned it off at 9 and hit the sack in hopes of some sleep.

But alas, it was not to be. Our lovely little cheap motel turned out to be a busy place. People were coming and going, roaming around the parking lot, climbing stairs, and shouting (maybe just talking) to each other all night. It was a noisy place despite the double-paned windows. I slept on and off, as did everyone else. No one really expects to sleep much pre-event, anyway, so it was not that big a deal.

At 4:45 the alarm went off. We all jumped out of bed and launched into our final preparations. At 5:15 or so, we got on the bikes and rode down to the start of the race. They all had their wristbands that gave them entry into the transition area. I had to find my team leader to give me my volunteer wristband that would get me in, too. I kissed Basta goodbye, wished him luck, and went off to check in to volunteer.

I found my guy easily enough. I did this last year so I knew where to go and what he looks like this time. He handed me a wristband through the fence and told me where 'Volunteer Bike Parking' was to be found. This event is really organized, I tell you. I took my bike to the designated rack and locked it up. Then it was off to work!

My volunteer job was working Timing. I got through the fence and into the special area, right where the timing mats are at the start of the swim. I put on my official volunteer t-shirt over my regular shirt and became part of the team. Our job was to hand out new timing chips to people who had lost or forgotten theirs. This is a Very Bad Thing because they don't get an official time without a chip. So we have to register the new chip to the right person and disable their old one. We also had a small supply of essential parts, like swim caps, swim goggles, ankle bands for the chips, and safety pins for attaching bibs to shirts. We answer a lot of questions. We try to be as helpful as possible.

Some dude -- a "World Renowned Hip-Hop Artist" -- that I'd never heard of sang the National Anthem. He came in through the egress in the fence next to me and left the same way. He was a nice looking young man with very well-coifed hair. He put his heart and soul into the anthem and gave an impassioned rendition of it. Pity I didn't catch his name.

At last, it was time to begin. Everyone started to line up in their waves. First, the pro men. Their start was right after sunrise, 6:45am.

Here is Andy Potts, last year's winner, looking happy and confident, waiting for his start with the rest of the pro men in their yellow caps. He would go on to repeat as winner this day.

After the men came the pro women in their green caps. One of these came up to me and asked me if she could clean her goggles on my t-shirt. At first this seemed like an odd request, but then I considered that a wetsuit makes a poor cleaning cloth, indeed. She knew mine was a branny-new cotton volunteer shirt, perfectly good for lens cleaning. I offered up the bottom of my shirt, she cleaned her goggles and thanked me. I wished her good luck. She looked to be a good four inches shorter than me, and I'm a mere 5'3". How can anyone so short be fast enough to be a pro? The mind boggles.

Each wave continued on afterwards. Men 20-24 in blue caps. Women 35-39 in red. On and on, each with their own cap color. Basta's pink wave was up at 7:17, 33 minutes after the first.

Here he is looking quite serious and focused, as is everyone.

And then he was off. Other waves followed. Soon enough the first swimmers came out of the water and sprinted up to transition. One pro ran up so fast that he missed the turn down the Swim In chute and tried to run back down the Swim Out chute. Volunteers and race officials yelled and steered him to the right way. He spun around, zipped back to the right chute, and bashed right into another pro. They both went down, spun around and rolled around on each other in their slick wetsuits on the wet carpet. They looked just like puppies on ice.

But they recovered quickly and sprinted down the chute as if nothing had happened. In a blink of the eye they were off on their bikes. Those pros do amazing transitions. After that they stationed 3 volunteers to stand in the way so that swimmers had no choice but to go down the right chute.

More and more people came slogging out of the water. Eventually the first pink-capped guy came through. I know Basta isn't a fast swimmer and didn't expect him to be anywhere close to the first guy, so I kept my camera in its case. Soon enough, the next pink-capped guy came out. Caps of all different colors were coming out of the water at a rapid pace. The starts are staggered but there is such a wide variety of swimming skills in each wave that the assortment of caps finishing at any given time looks much like a handful of M&M's.

I broke out the camera, expecting Basta any minute. More and more pink caps finished. A big clot of them finished together and I thought Basta might be in that group, but no. A skinny guy about his height came stumbling up the ramp and I was sure that was him, but no. I kept waiting, camera poised.

At last, Basta finished the swim. He trotted up the ramp quickly and made his speedy way to transition.

Official swim time: 43:54. We had estimated 50 minutes, so this was actually good. But it was 77th out of 88 in his age group. Have I mentioned lately how competitive his age group is?

He had a very speedy transition and was in and out before I spotted him. Another tri-club member was working Transition as a volunteer. He helped strip Basta out of his wetsuit quickly and then snapped this picture of him getting ready for the bike.

In 4 minutes, 32 seconds he was off on his bike.

Anddddd . . . then we had some time on our hands. There was still plenty of volunteery stuff to do, but I wouldn't see Basta again for over 3 hours. After the last swimmer was out of the water we broke down the Swim Out path and set up the Bike In path. They lined us volunteers up along the final couple hundred yards of the bike course to yell at bikers as they rode by, "Slow Down!!" "No Passing!!" "Ride to the End!!" Riders get easily confused as to where they are supposed to dismount and it's our job to keep them riding to the dismount area that is much farther than expected down the route.

I kept looking at the legs of people as they rode by. In triathlon they write your age on your left calf. This way you can tell who is in your age group. After around 3 hours I had seen lots of men with an age between 50 and 54 ride through. Crap. Basta was having a tough ride, I was afraid.

But I also saw loads of women, all who seemed to have the number 43 marked on their calf. My age. These women push a bike a good 5 miles an hour faster than I can. Grr. If they can do it, why can't I? It was both frustrating and inspirational.

I had hoped Basta could do a 3:15 bike. That time came and went, and I started to get worried. I had seen several people come into the medical tent with scraped shoulders and road rash. They'd gone down. Unfortunately, it happens. I hoped it hadn't happened to Basta.

At last, in he came:

3 hours, 26 minutes, 17 seconds. 72nd out of 88 in his age group. I'd forecast 3:15, so he was 11 minutes over. There were some big hills on this course and a good headwind for the last section. Who was regretting his skipped bike workouts now? His missed hill training sessions? His shortened courses? Mmm hmmm.

So a 6:00 or 6:15 finish probably wasn't going to happen. If he'd had a tough ride chances were he'd have a tough run, too. If the bike had taken it out of him he wouldn't have much left for the run. I did a few calculations and figured we'd be happy if he got a sub-7 at this point. 6:45ish might be possible.

He had a very fast T2 -- 2:37 -- and that included a stop at the porta-potty. Then he was off on the run.

Another 2 hours to wait. I guided in hundreds more bikers and shouted support and encouragement to all, "OCTC!" to fellow club members. I had a good time with it, chatting with fellow volunteer and club member Wendy, meeting Ironman legend Greg Welch, and doing my part to keep the athletes going.

I had signed up for the 6am to 11am shift, but ended up staying long after 1pm. Last year there were so many volunteers we all stood around with not much to do. This year we were quite understaffed and they really needed me. So I stayed until I thought Basta might be about to finish.

And finish he did.

He said he really, really wanted to meet his personal goal of sub-6:30. He knew he'd need to hoof it to do that so he started running intervals on the second loop of the course. He all-out sprinted the last mile or so. He finished with a 2:04:37 run. 42nd out of 88 for the run.

The clock time you see there is from the first pro-wave start, so subtract 33 minutes. His official time is 6:21:56. He made his sub-6:30 goal.

He was elated, as was I. I put his medal over his head, then put my arm around him and sort of propped him up, trying to keep him walking while his body adjusted to the new, non-racing state. It involves a few minutes of delirium. During that time people are handing him a finisher's hat, the finisher's t-shirt, removing his chip, handing him his chip strap, and herding him off to athlete food. I took most of that stuff for him and led him back to the food.

There he had some pizza, and had a nice sit in a chair for a while. We chatted with friends and fellow competitors.

A fine event was had by all.

Two happy finishers.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Off We Go

Tomorrow -- we head down the freeway to the do packet pickup and expo, have a nice high-carb dinner, and then nestle into the el-cheapo motel near the pier.

Saturday: Show time. At the tender young age of 53, Basta's First Half Ironman.

Tonight we are packing, checking gear, gathering up all the bits and pieces that make up a triathlete's life. The dog is looking concerned, wondering how long we'll be gone this time.

Just one night, doggie. Then the daddy will come home, with luck a tired but happy man.

He's ready. He's surprisingly unstressed. A little snappy at times, but mostly he's fine. He'll sleep well tonight.

The forecast is for chilliness, a high of 62 on race day. Water temp will be around 58. A slight chance of showers. We've packed the arm warmers and a sweatshirt to wear in transition before the event.

We'll leave home around 1 tomorrow. See you on the other side!!

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Where We Are

Only 12 days to go until the big event. Basta is remarkably unstressed about it. "I just want to get it over with," he says. He's tired of the constant grind of training and figures he is as fast as he's going to ever be.

That's not entirely true. This is his first year of triathlon. From what I've read, it takes the adult onset athlete four years of dedicated training to reach their full potential. If Basta were to continue training like this and participating in events, he'd have faster times three years from now.

But it remains to be seen if that's what he wants. He really likes the health and fitness that he has now. He's not so sure he wants to train like this forever. We shall see.

I walked the pool as he swam the other day. It's pretty obvious we've reached the peak of what I can do for him here. He needs a real swimming coach if he's going to improve any further. He's rolling beautifully and smoothly. His arm stroke is good and no longer crosses his centerline. He swims without shoulder pain now. But he lost a lot by not being able to swim for two months. He's not pulling as hard as he could, probably still tentative about injuring his shoulder. He is slow. We're focusing more on relaxed, effortless swimming than we are on speed. You don't win triathlon in the water, after all. But still, he should be an average swimmer, not a slow swimmer.

His biggest problem in the water is that he has such low bodyfat. He sinks. Rather than floating effortlessly, he has to work to stay afloat. Thus he kicks a bit more than a fatter, more buoyant person would, and he doesn't glide well. If he tries to do a long & lovely glide, he sinks. I think a proper swim coach could teach him how to press his chest and balance his legs better, but I can't. He insists that this is as good as it gets and I'm not knowledgeable enough to know if that's true. A real swim coach would. If he wants to continue in this sport we'll have to find one. Go to a good swim clinic, at least.

We met with the triathlon club for an ocean swim the other night. Basta swam a mile with them. He came out of the water last, but not by far. Some people only swam half a mile, so they don't count. The ones who did a mile are all veteran triathletes. It didn't help that he got seasick out there, either. It's funny how a good swell rocking you around will indeed make you seasick when swimming. We will add a sliver or two of pickled ginger to his pre-ocean swim routine to help keep that at bay next time.

He said he felt good out there, otherwise. Water temp wasn't too cold. He was sighting well enough. He feels he doesn't need any more ocean time to be ready for the event. Ok. A couple more pool swims and he is set. We are anticipating a 50-minute 1.2 mile swim on race day.

Then there's the bike. The club ride on Saturday continues to be a big hit with him. He looks forward to it, enjoys the people, and gets pushed. He rode with the fastest group yesterday. He could keep up with them on the flats but they dropped him on the hills. The bike is where he can and will see the most dramatic improvements over the years, if he keeps this up. Given that the bike is the longest part of any triathlon, it pays the most dividends to be good at it. Clubs rides, Computrainer, TITS (time in the saddle), he'll get there. For now, for this event, we're optimistically thinking a 3:15 time for the 56 mile ride.

And, finally, the run. He may well be at his peak with his running. He can sustain a 7:45 pace for a Half Marathon. He's running injury- and largely pain-free. The guys who podium in his age group are faster, but this is a very good pace. He will be able to pass a faster biker who has a slower run pace with this.

If he does a smart triathlon. If he doesn't blow all of his energy in the swim so that he tanks on the bike. If he doesn’t push too hard on the bike so that he has nothing left for the run. If he doesn't start out the run too fast so that he can't sustain the pace through the finish. If he handles his nutrition properly throughout. Getting to the finish line as fast as possible requires patience and the ability to hold yourself in check for the vast majority of the event. Then the ability to let it all out and leave nothing in reserve at the end. The timing of all of that takes a great deal of skill and experience. This, his first Half Ironman, will be a tremendous learning experience for him.

We'd be happy with a sub-2:00 run. Add 10 minutes or so (we hope less) for two transitions, and we have a forecast of a 6:15 finish time. If he'd gotten that time last year, he'd have placed 41st out of 71 in his age group. It continues to amaze me at how competitive his age group is. His goal at the start of this was to do a sub-6:30 time, so he's right on the money there.

12 days to go.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Listen To Me

This would be a whole lot easier if Basta would listen to me.

Case in point: His biking career. It's not progressing as I would like. He's improving, yes. I've talked about that here. But he could be doing much more and much better. He really doesn't like the bike and he resists riding hills.

Every week, I schedule him for 2 hours or so of hills, he doesn't do it. He rides the CompuTrainer, which simulates loads of hills, but he really needs to get his butt out there on his bike and ride on real roads with real hills. Whenever he does ride on the road, it's on the routes accessible straight from the house. River trails. Nice, long, traffic-free trails, yes. But flat. The only hills involved are when the path dips under a freeway and then pops up the other side. With enough speed you can coast up that 'hill.' Whoo. Not exactly the hill training he needs.

I know why he's fighting this. The bike is boring. I can sympathize with that. It bores me, too. Hours and hours of sitting there, pumping the legs, thinking about form, always being on the defensive to try to avoid imminent death by traffic . . . No music allowed, too dangerous. No real reward that I can see. Why do people ride bikes such long distances, anyway? I don't know.

Yet, if one is to be a triathlete, as Basta is, one must become good on the bike. No option on that. As his coach, I've been wracking my brains trying to figure out how to get him out there on his bike, riding hills, and enjoying it.

A long time ago I suggested that we ride with one of our triathlon club group rides. He is such a social person I thought riding with a regular group each week would make riding more interesting and make him look forward to it. But Basta said no, he didn't want to do that. Sigh.

I've tried to schedule weekend rides with friends who are fellow triathletes, but that hasn't worked out. Weather, rain or wind, has always made us cancel the ride. Plus, these friends are women. Friends of mine. Fine triathletes with far more triathlon experience than Basta has, but they are slower than he is now. He needs to ride with people that will push him. That's why I can't ride with him. Aside from the, I don't want to aspect, I'd slow him down. We can't have that.

Time is drawing nigh, here. We have less than a month until showtime. (I really need a countdown timer. Anyone know of a quick and easy one to plug in to Blogger?) He needs to ride hills, and he needs to ride them fast. I have been getting more and more insistent about this in his weekly training schedule. He understands that he has been quite remiss on the hills front.

I scheduled him for two hours, canyon ride, this Saturday. As usual.

But verbally, I pressed that he really needed to do it. Something along the lines of, "DO IT!"

"Find me someone to ride with!" He countered. "I'm not going to do 2 hours by myself!"

Okay. I looked up the schedule for the club rides. Sure enough, they still have one, every Saturday. A nice 30 mile hilly loop through the very canyon that I've been recommending all along. "All paces welcome," they said.

So I sent the coordinator an email saying that Basta would be there, printed out the directions to the meeting place, and told him to go.

And he did. I think his reluctance to do so before was because he wasn't very confident in his riding abilities. Now that he's much improved, he can ride with the group and not embarrass himself. So he went.

And he had a blast. He said the course was perfect, the people wonderful, the conversations interesting, and the whole experience very positive. There were about 20 people and they naturally broke into a several different speed groups. He is a very social person and enjoyed chatting with a number of people as they rode.

One of them asked him if he had a coach. He said, "yes, my wife!" Heh.

Afterwards, about 5 of them did a 30 minute run for a nice little brick.

He came back raving about the whole experience. "Schedule me for that every Saturday!" he said. Ok. I will do that.

If only he'd listened to me on that about three months ago. He could have been riding with them every weekend. Ah well. He's there now. I think this will help a great deal. It'll help a bit for Oceanside coming up but it will help much more Vineman.