Tuesday, December 21, 2010

My top ten experiences in triathlon over the last decade

I started doing triathlon in 2001 so this marks my first 10 years/decade in the sport. I'll be posting a lot of year-end/year ahead stuff in the days ahead but thought I would start with my view of the best of my career so far:

Top Ten Experiences of My First Triathlon Decade

1. Kona: October 9th, 2010

Kona is my most recent triathlon so perhaps my judgment is influenced by the freshness of the experience—but I doubt it. Kona 2010 was everything I wanted it to be. I was able to do all of the pre-race activities and then I raced the race that I set out to do. It was very challenging and of-course, I would have liked to be faster, but I thought I did it the right way. Much more talented athletes than I DNF’ed—something that I was not prepared to entertain.

Having Judy, Anders and Jenny there along with our friends the Prices was very special. Having Jenny greet me at the finish line was over the top. It was also the 100th triathlon of my career.

Kona was a dream I first had in 1982. It was my top and toughest goal in triathlon. I tried 11 times prior to qualify and I finally made it at Oceanside. I went to the Big Island and realized my dream. I’d like to go back, but if I never do, at least I had the privilege of doing it on this magical October day.

2. Ironman Florida: November 6th, 2004

IMFL was my first Ironman. A realization of the dream that I first hatched watching Julie Moss in 1982. I was further inspired by the 2003 IMFL race of local triathlete Mike Clark and would be closely aligned with him “tri-wise” until his untimely death in 2008.

I signed up for IMFL before I was ready physically or mentally. However, once crossing the Rubicon, I was able to dedicate myself throughout 2004 and arrived down in Panama City with enough in the tank to have a legitimate shot at making it.

My swim was solid and my bike more than so. I had some tough moments on the run but persevered and crossed the finish line in 11:31:29. Kara ran the last 100 yards with me, and my parents, Judy, Jenny and Alex were also there to greet me. They say there is nothing like your first Ironman finish and they are right!

3. White Lake Half-Ironman: May 5th, 2007

In my training prior to my big events I often imagine/visualize myself having a “perfect” race. At White Lake in 2007 I had that race. I had been training with Peter Reid as my coach for about six months and we aimed for White Lake as our first real test of my fitness gains. At stake was a spot on the U. S. Long-Course Championship Team and a chance to gauge myself against two first rate athletes: Lou Almekinders (a perennial All-American and Team USA member and a man who was previously ranked 7th in the nation in our AG) and Bill Edwards (a multiple Kona qualifier who two years prior had done a 10:09 IM and was ranked 16th in the country).

I had a solid swim and followed it up with an AG leading 2:24 bike split. I left T2 with a 5-minute lead on these two very strong runners. Then the unthinkable happened as I cranked out a 1:38:01 half-marathon to win my AG by over 7 minutes and ahead of 43 others. I ended up recording my best half-marathon split (including road races) and dropping 15 minutes from my H-IM best. Further, my 4:43:14 was a new M50-54 AG record for White Lake by over 5 minutes. Anders and I both qualified for the Worlds in France and I scored an 89+ USAT rating—my best ever—even to this day.

As perfect a race as I can ever imagine having!

4. Stone Harbor Triathlon: July 15th, 2001

My very first triathlon. I had vowed to do an Ironman in 1982 and when my financial advisor, Scott, challenged me to a triathlon in Stone Harbor in 2001, I decided it was probably time to get on it. I didn’t know what I was doing and it showed (for example the 10+ minute backstroke swim for the quarter mile). Scott whooped me even though it seemed to me that I was both a better athlete and in better shape. I did catch the bug and vowed to come back in 2002 and avenge my defeat. Which I did. A lot of the great experiences I’ve had since are a result of this day and my desire to get better at this sport.

5. Lake Lenape Triathlon: July 12th, 2003

Lake Lenape—a typical NJ sprint race—was my 10th triathlon. In the prior nine races, despite devoting a lot of very serious effort in 2002 and 2003 to get good at triathlon, I had still never been able to finish in the top 3 (podium) in my AG. Lenape is a very competitive race with close to 400 triathletes and on this day, 34 in my AG. While I believed in my training, and myself I certainly had no reason to believe that I could find my way to the top.

However, I surprised myself with a solid swim and then posted the #3 overall bike split. I ran scared but well enough to think that maybe I had a chance. At that point in my career, my tactical awareness was pretty poor so I was quite surprised when I checked the results to find that I had not only podiumed but that I had won my first AG title. Since then I’ve gone on to win 28 times and been on the podium 60. But it was that first victory at Lenape that opened the door.

6. Spring Training

I’ve had the privilege to travel with Anders to four separate spring training sessions. Once in Provence, twice in the Costa Brava—north of Barcelona, and once in Tucson. These were extraordinary experiences for Anders and I. We made tremendous progress in our fitness. We experienced some incredible things and did it with a great cast of fellow triathletes and cyclists.

We raced up Mount Ventoux on a truly epic day. We lounged in St. Tropez. We saw Barca play Real Madrid in a fantastic football game. We climbed Angels and had Cappuccino in Gerona—just like Lance. We climbed Lemmon with Pete Reid and did an epic brick with Sam McGlone. I was able to get into a successful break with Sam and TJ and drop Pete at Gates—the stuff of dreams.

And all through it all was the most quality of times with my adventure partner, Anders.

7. Avalon Islandman: July 2nd, 2006

This is the first race where my tri-partner, Anders took me down. He had come close in a couple of prior races—where I perhaps had a bit of an off day. Not today however, I was on my game and raced an excellent race. But Anders, with is dedication to the craft and rapidly increasing fitness was just simply better and he beat me by 38 seconds.

My honest reaction was immense pride. When I did well, I didn’t want to brag about it (too much), but with Anders performance I let everyone know what a strong triathlete he had become.

Later we cheered Alex on in his first triathlon. He took a whack across the race and soldiered on with bloody lips. A great day for the C-Boys!

8. Ironman Western Australia: November 27th, 2005

After I finished my first IM (IMFL 2004), Judy threw a party for me back in Delaware. Anders was a freshman at George Washington and he came home for the festivities. He caught the bug that night. He told me he wanted to do an IM as well. I suggested that maybe he should first train for a while and then see if he could complete a Half-Ironman. We agreed that if he did so then we would sign up to do a full Ironman together.

Anders followed through and in June of 2005 he was fit enough to complete Eagleman—and he still wanted to do an Ironman. The only one available at that point happened to be on the other side of the globe, in Busselton, Western Australia. So we signed up.

In between we were both involved in car accidents, mine causing a full separation of the AC joint of my shoulder. I also torn my meniscus a few weeks before the race and could no longer run.

None-the-less, a plan is a plan, and we ventured forth and overcame very challenging conditions (wind, large waves, lightning, and finally oppressive heat) to both finish. Nothing like a first Ironman and we both reveled in Anders’ first IM experience.

The trek home was no less challenging as it involved a death on the plane and an emergency landing well short of our destination. The trip home ended up being a 40-hour ordeal but we survived and we were now both Ironmen.

9. Metroman: May 20th, 2007

We signed up for this race because there was a parent/child competition. We envisioned racing against the Holmes—an outstanding father/son pair of All-American triathletes. We were both in tremendous shape having both obliterated our Half-Ironman personal bests at White Lake two weeks before.

We both cranked it and ended up finishing 2nd (Anders) and 3rd (me) overall. We won the parent/child competition by over an hour. We were both into that magical groove that we both experienced in 2007. After the race we cruised the parking lot blasting our theme song (Heavy Rotation)—we were very much on top of our game.

10. Cadence Kona Challenge: October 20th-21st, 2007

The Cadence Kona Challenge was a promotional event sponsored by Cadence Cycling and Triathlete magazine. It was (in theory) to help a couple of people get to Kona. Thousands of people applied by completing an extensive questionnaire and they invited 100 to a weekend in NYC to pick the 6 winners. I was one of the 100.

There were four prime parts to the Challenge. On Saturday we had a test of our Functional Threshold Power on the bike and a max run performance over 12 minutes. The top 10 from these tests would advance to the finals on Sunday.

I was in the last wave of 10 for the bike test. These were all the old people of which I was the oldest male. The top Computrainer measured power for the 20-minute test prior to my wave was 307 watts. My good friend, Steve Delmonte (a better cyclist than me) was second at 303 watts. While I own a Computrainer, I really had no idea what I could do. I knew I was a very strong cyclist and that I was in tremendous shape (and in the early phases of my IM taper)—just before my “A” race—IMFL 2007. I also knew if I was to advance, it would be based on this bike test.

We were in a room with ten bikes with all of our performance data displayed on a number of big screens in front of us. In the room were the Cadence staff and the Challenge judges as well as many of the prior competitors—it had a real hop to it.

I thought it best to start conservatively and see how it felt—I rode the first 5 minutes at 280 watts and felt very comfortable and I was able to rapidly gap my fellow riders in wave 10. I decided to go for it—maybe I could get third behind Steve. I pushed my effort up to 300-320 watts and found the effort challenging but still doable. At the end of 10 minutes, my average power had climbed to 293 watts.

I had a decision to make. Nurse it and shoot for the top 5 or just go for it. I decided to pursue the latter. I took a towel and put it over my head and closed my eyes as I just lay out in the aero position. I didn’t want to watch my power and I just decided to just go for it—try to feel the most power I could. I checked my HR monitor/chrono a couple of times and saw I was pushing over 170 bpm—I was maxing out. I felt a hand rubbing my lower back and I heard many people urging me on by name.

At 15 minutes I looked up and saw that I was at 302 watts of average power. I looked around and saw and heard people screaming and urging me to push harder. I decided that I was going to beat that 307-watt standard. It was like a dream. I felt such strength but at the same time I was in extraordinary pain.

I tried to “hold back” a bit while edging my average watts upward. Steve Delmonte, the incredible sport and man that he is, was right there with me urging me on helping me climb this last wall of pain. I knew if I got close with a minute to go I could do it. At 19 minutes I was at 305 watts and I let it fly. I was pushing 400 watts and people were screaming at me. I hit 306 watts with 45 seconds to go and hit 307 watts with 25 left. As I hit 15 seconds I stood up and gave it everything and saw the number click over to 308 with 7 seconds left. I held it through to the end and I had achieved the top bike performance of the competition.

The rest is far less dramatic. I did well enough on the run to make the finals and on Sunday, I swam decent enough in the endless pool and was a strong enough interview that I was picked to win the $30,000 package that the six of us won.

But the best part, and so strange to think it would be better than so many other Tri experiences that I’ve had, was that magical 20 minutes on the bike. Thanks Steve!

1 comment:

Cort the Sport said...

FANTASTIC post. Man, you are living life to the fullest. That last entry about the CompuTrainer was awesome!