Thursday, May 28, 2009

Race Report for Onionman

Since some of you have inquired, and it was all pretty much done anyway. So if you are at work, read on...

Onionman…I am starting to like this race. Though this did not end quite the same as it did last year, the feeling while there was the same. It was so great re-connecting with so many athletes that I have not seen all winter (The whole Gordon clan…including Kara, Jeff, David,…okay, I feel like I am just name dropping now), and some that I have not seen in a few years (Laura), and of course meeting many new people. This year the race seemed to draw groups from all over the PNW. Groups from Helena, Boise, Portland, Seattle, and of course, Spokane. On top of that, it drew a very competitive field. Four winners from prior years were all racing. How often does that ever happen at a race?

We arrived at the lake on Saturday at about 3:00. Just enough time to go for a swim. Fortunately the air was so dry that it was pretty easy to get on my wetsuit in the 85 degree weather. We (Tim, Steve, Jessi, and Tiffany) all headed down to the water to see just how cool/warm it was. After pissing off a few fisherpeople, we got in the water. It was amazing. But it might have had something to do with the air temp as well. We swam out a bit, floated, and swam back. As we were getting out it seemed like we were just ahead of everyone else getting into the lake for a swim. We all disrobed (love this part…not because of that, but I like taking off wetsuits. It’s like taking off ski boots at the end of a ski day) and got into our cycling gear. Shorts and short sleeved jerseys…man I love 80 degree weather! We headed out on the roads of Walla Walla passing vineyards and giant Ks in people’s front yards. Not too sure what that was, but it was big. I really like this countryside and can see why people live here. I am not one that normally comments on the bike course, but this one is pretty nice. After Steve fixed his bike in the middle of the ride, we headed back. He was having trouble with his shifting and had to move it from SIS to friction. Ahhh…I remember the days of friction. When there was a true art to shifting. None of this click and go. You had to know exactly where to move that lever. Ten gears? Not even close…six is all you got, and that seemed like a lot. A small chainring was a 42. And if you ever rode with a 25 in the back meant that you were off the back. My how things have changed. Off topic? Ya maybe. But the Giro is on and the wheels are coming off in that race right now. This year’s Tour de France is going to be epic. Now I am off topic. Back to the ride. After we got back we went for a short run out on the course. Last year it was raining and very wet so the trail was mud. This year it was dry and dusty. Already I knew this race would look play out differently from last year. Steve and I ran out about 1 mile and then headed back. Always nice to see what the course looks like at the end…but obviously it feels way better when running it with a friend chit chatting. A little foreshadowing of what is not to come? After mixing with the locals that had obviously been in the sun too long and were a good ½ rack over limit, we pressed on to registration.

Unlike at the lake, we found that everyone thought it would be a good idea to register at the same time we did. But it was fun seeing many familiar faces. Not to mention that it was a Trek dealership, so I felt at home with my peeps. Since I won this race last year, I would be donning the ‘stripe.’ The number one. Otherwise known as the target. It’s a nice memento from last year, but also somewhat of a noose. Most people would not think anything of it. Probably just think that I registered early. But those that will be in the top 10 know exactly what that means.

It was now time for dinner. It was a bit early, but after the short swim/bike/run, I was a bit in the mood. As was everyone else. We hit our secret place that gives us all energy (if you don’t tell anyone, I will tell you. But anyone who knows me knows exactly where we went) and then were off to our hotel. A few other Tri Fusion members were staying at our hotel. Dave “The voice of KXLY News 4” Erickson, Josh “Hoshberry” Hadway, and Matt “Ya, I am allergic to that too” Cusak. No matter where you are, or what race you are at, it’s always nice to see people you know. Just brings everything down a notch. We all settled into our rooms, placed our numbers on our gear, got breakfast out for the following morning, and went to bed. I woke up 5 times to go to the bathroom, but other than that, uneventful.

The 5:45am bell rang and we were up and rolling. I had the so uncommon breakfast of oatmeal and a banana. Not that it’s magical, but simple and easy to reproduce in almost all situations. I was not feeling all that hungry and did not eat all of it, but we wanted to get to the course by 7:00am to get a good position in the transition area since the race started at 9:00am.

When we got to the race site, we saw that the racks were numbered, so the need to get there early was irrelevant. But we all got good spots on our racks, so that’s good. I have to say that my spot was not the best, but it is what and you make due. As Emma would say, “You get what you get and you don’t throw a fit.” I got my area set up pretty quickly trying not to talk with too many people that seems to always happen then I am scrambling. Once set up, I went for a run on the same route I did yesterday. Afterwards, I went and laid in the Excursion and almost fell asleep. My heart rate was a tad high, but I was trying to relax. 30 minutes passed, and it was time for the pre race meeting and time for me to get into my B70 wetsuit. After the meeting I headed to the water. It was a beautiful morning and the sun was out. It did not feel too hot because the wind was blowing pretty good. So good, I was a little concerned about riding a disc and a deep sectioned front wheel. But nothing to do about it now. I got in the water and swam a bit to get loosened up and get some water in my suit, and then it was back to get a spot on the line. As I stood there, some familiar faces appeared. Michael G., Ben G., Josh H., Tiffany, Jessi, and a slug of others. This wasn’t a race, it was a party. Then there was the call for 1 minute to go. Party over. The gun went off and so did everyone else. Actually, I don’t know if it was a gun. Probably an airhorn. Or maybe someone just pushed me? I really don’t remember. I went out strong and felt people across the backs of my legs trying to get behind me. Not a big deal, but I continued on. I had a high turnover and was going well. I started to settle in after a bit and really found my stroke. This is when I expected to feel hands touching my feet, or people going around me… no takers. So I pressed on feeling pretty good. As I rounded the first buoy, I was able to look back a tad and saw that there were people close by. But we had only gone 200 meters. Throughout the whole swim I could hear my swim coach Kevin giving me all kinds of feedback on my stroke. So I listened. Funny thing is, I remember doing the same thing last year too. I really don’t mind leading. As a matter of fact, I would rather lead than follow in the swim. I swim straighter and smoother. After lap 1 of the 2 lap swim, I was still feeling good and sighting was no problem. I made the final turn for home and was already thinking about the bike. I did not know if there was someone close behind me and ready to come around, or if I had a gap. As I exited the swim, I could see that I had a bit of a gap. Later to find out it was 20 seconds over Jeff Smith…just like last year. Except last year I think the gap was a little larger.

With about a 20 second lead on elite triathlete Jeff Smith, who is pretty solid on the bike too, I took off pretty hard. Pushing some pretty high watts…higher than I wanted to, but I also wanted to get the heck out of there and the first 2 miles was pretty technical with twists, turns, speed bumps, etc. Once out on the road, I tried to settle in knowing that I would need to work a bit harder on the way out. I brought about 24 oz of fluids with me as well as 2 gels PowerGels. It was warm and I knew I would need t stay on top of my hydration for the run. I ended up getting passed by a team rider but that was all I saw going out. I made the turn, took a split, and started heading back. This is where you start to see if your hard work has paid off. I realized that I was over 30 seconds up on Jeff after the turn, so I knew I was putting time into him. But when you don’t know what the other peoples’ swim times are, you really don’t know if you are putting time into them, or if they are closing on you because of a horrible swim. It did not matter, I was still going hard. I took a gel right after the turn and was heading for home. Unlike last year, there was a headwind coming back. Crap! It was a steady downhill for the most part, but there was a cross/headwind to fight as well. Now I look at this 2 ways really. One is that you will need to stay on top of your power output on the way back, and two, aerodynamics will play a larger role. Both of which I was happy with, but I also did not plan on having to work as hard on the way back. I was moving quite well, and staying on top of my hydration. With about 4 miles to go, I could feel my power get a little erratic. Not bad, but I felt like I was having to work harder to maintain a steady effort. I was not too sure if it was because of the winds, or because of me. So it was hard to tell if I was suffering or not. Regardless, I was getting a little nervous and wanted this bike to get over. I was out of fluids with about 2 miles to go and I had just enough to chase down the last gel. The last couple miles have a few turns, so it allowed me to rest the legs a bit. I rolled into T2 and had a smooth transition. This time I also took a flask of water with me…should have had a canteen. I knew that the run was going to be hot and dry and I thought that in the first few minutes I could either dump it on me, or drink it. I did both and was glad I did.

Nice to have a nice clear transition to work with

The first mile of the run is a gradual uphill on a dirt trail. It’s not really fast, but I felt like I was moving right along. My first mile clocked in pretty solid. I was still feeling good at mile 2 and running well. I kept plodding along feeling okay. When I hit the turn, I was happy with where I was and figured I just needed to maintain and I “should” be good. I took a split to see what kind of gap I had on the rest of the field. I eventually saw Michael Gordon flying along and saw that I had about a 2:30 gap on him. Seemed pretty safe to me. Michael runs well, but not 5 minute miles, at least not yet. I still felt good until I was between mile 4-5. Things started to sputter a bit. When I hit mile 5, the wheels came off. I could not tell if I was over heating, or just out of energy, but the engine was shutting down. I kept reminding myself that I only had 1 mile to go and much of it was downhill... after a short uphill. At this point I had a good feeling that Michael would catch me…even with 1 mile to go. Fortunately he caught me with about ¾ of a mile to go, rather than with 400 meters (whatever that means). By the way, Michael had the fastest run of the day with a 34:39. I was struggling to get back. It felt like the last miles in an Ironman. Where you are just getting one foot in front of the other. I knew 3rd was another 3 minutes back, so I was not overly concerned unless I passed out. As I ran past the post race bar-b-que, I was looking to see if the food was put out yet because I was going to go straight to it. I eventually got across the line…I think I actually walked across. I was absolutely starving! At the finish line I ate about 6 oranges, 4 bananas, 3 fist full of pretzels and some fluids. I started to feel a lot better. But when I crossed that line, it was tough. Felt like the Cda Oly race where I was so dehydrated. But this time I was not craving fluids, I was starving. So it might have been a combination of the two, don’t know. When I got home later that day (6 hrs later) I weighed myself and was about 1 pound lighter than I should be. So not a huge variance, but low. That was after drinking quite a bit and eating as well. So I may have been a bit dehydrated as well. Don’t know. My total run time was about 3 minutes slower than last year and I would think the course was faster.

So I ended up in 2nd place by about 1 minute. If I would have ran what I normally have in years past, I would have held on. But that’s the way it works out sometimes. Michael ran a great race and put it all together for a win. Like I have said before, and even last year at this race, I never have any regrets losing races to good people/athletes. Losing to Michael was good loss.

I also wanted to recognize Jessi’s great race too. She dropped time in almost every area. She is really starting to figure all this stuff out and maximizing what she can do on any given day. I always admire her bike splits because I know it is an area that she really enjoys. But she is racing really smart too. Her race report is up on her blog too.

Also congrats to all the Tri Fusion members down there. We had 3 in the top 10. I think that’s pretty good.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Onionman 2009

Onionman 2009 is in the history books. It was much anticipated race with the field that was scheduled to be there. There were 4 people there that had won the race before, so I was excited to see how it would all shake out. Last year I won this race, but I was also coming off a build to ITU World Championships and it was my 3rd Olympic race of the season. So I had a pretty good idea where I was. This year, not so much. I was set to race Wildflower in early May, but caught the flu a few days prior and canceled my trip to Wildflower…major disappointment. So after recovering from that, I was able to get healthy for Onionman. It would be an honest test to see where I was, or was not. Not only with the athletes assembled there, but from what I had done the prior year.

Rather than bore you all with the detailed version of my trip down there, what I ate, how many steps I took to T1, I thought I would share some things that I observed, and learned, at this race. Since this is the first major race of the season for this area, it’s the first time that we all get together. Along with this, we all get to hear what everyone has been up to. This normally starts off with some variation of, “I really have not been training all that much,” or, “I have been sick the past 6 months,” or, “I had a heart and lung transplant last week, so I am not too sure how I will do.” I like to think this is all code for, “I have been training my ass off,” or, “my doctor has put me on some meds that would make Lance Armstrong look like a club cyclist,” or, “I have this new PT and massage therapist that has worked wonders on my body.” We all probably do this, just some more than others. I wonder if athletes in all sports do this? Does Tiger Woods walk up to his competition and say, “My swing is quite a bit weaker this year…I will be lucky to get 200 yards out of my drive. I just hope to stay on the PGA this year.” Does Michael Phelps say, “I have not been swimming much. I just hope not to get lapped in the 50.” My guess is we all question what kind of condition we are in as we start the season, and this is just our way of externalizing it. So the next time you walk through a transition area, listen to the conversations going on. Most of them revolve around personal disclaimers. Unfortunately for all of us, they never show up on the results. When you see the results, that asterisk next to your time is not an indicator that you were “training through this race.” It indicates that you got a 2 minute penalty for drafting.

Onionman 2009 was a great race, but I have not been running as much as I should have, and my allergies were kind of acting up a bit, not to mention that I did not get as much sleep the night before because my stomach was upset from eating some food that was undercooked from a party that I was required to be at a couple days prior that I ended up twisting my ankle at after jumping out of a tree after rescuing a rabid cat that ended up biting me. Did I mention that I might have Swine Flu?
Rule 76: No excuses, play like a champion.