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Learning To Focus - Kinetic Half Race Report

Posted May 10 2010 8:54am
Quietly I went into the Kinetich Half Iron in Lake Anna Virginia this past Saturday.  I realized I hadn't talked about this race much, at all, when on Wednesday evening my Mom asked me what I was up to this weekend, when I responded "I have a race," she said "you do?!?"  The race was coming in the middle of an intense training block and I'm honestly trying to shift my mindest to races being training days with just a few more people and a heart rate that's a few beats higher and more steady.  So rather than put any expectations on this race I quetly preparred and was out to just have fun.

Earlier in the week I had e-mailed Coach E to let him know what my one goal for the race would be.  In each of my previous races under Coach E he has texted me the night before asking me what I want to take away from the race, what lesson I want to learn.  Rather than wait to the night before I wanted to focus on this goal during my last few days of training leading up to the half and really let his teaching sink in.  On Wednesday I e-mailed Eric:  "My goal for this weekend is to maintain a steady focus without getting too high, or too low and to have my fastest splits of the day at the end of the race. That isn’t a physical performance goal, it’s a mental performance goal, to no time during the race get down on myself and at no time during the race to doubt my abilities."

Coach E responded with some incredible advice.  His key inisghts were: a mile is a mile is a mile, you can't shorten a race by running faster and blowing yourself out, if your body is tense your muscles will prematurely fatigue and most importantly, identify a trigger to refocus.  My younger sister was surprised to hear me tell her that my goal for the race was to work on my mental focus.  During most of my athletic career I was known as the guy who you could throw a brick at and I wouldn't notice because I'd be so focused on the goal at hand.  The difference between my past and present however is that now my focus needs to be sustained for 2 to 12 hours, not for a play at a time.  During football maintaing my focus on the field was easy, a long dirve was 12 - 15 plays and maybe 20 minutes; after that I'd return to the sidelines, put a cold towel on my head, collect my thoughts then head out to do it again.  In triathlon, there are no breaks, there are no moments to sit back grab a towel, close your eyes and adapt - everything is done through continuous movement.

Coach E suggested that everytime I feed that I use that as my trigger to refocus.  I liked this idea, it gave me a tangible event to use to clear my mind and get back to work.  He also suggested that this would let me listen to my body, be intune with whatever was going on and learn how to control my heart rate throughout the entire race.  On the bike as my focus wained at the end of a 15 minute feed interval I would reach back, grab my water bottle, close my eyes for a moment and then outloud say "focus, focus on your race and worry about no one else, you are racing within yourself, not against them."  The results:  my best race yet!

Pre-Race

I headed out to Lake Anna with Rami, a classmate of mine at Darden who was part of a relay team, on Friday afternoon to stay at his friend's lake house.  I had preparred my usual pre-race meal and all that good stuff and was also wearing my brand spanking new Dexcom (full report on that later this week).  We arrived at the house and I think I was honestly more calm and relaxed than I had ever been before a race.  Nothing eventful happened last week, there were no heart attacks on planes, no long drives to a race venue, no personal issues to deal with, just a nice normal week of preparation leading up to race day.  We were actually staying with the parents of Rami's fiances friend with whom we shared some tremendous conversations.  They were really curious about how I race and prepare with Type 1 diabetes and each had some amazing stories about their professional life - all in all it was a really nice Friday night.

My blood sugars were a little high after my pasta dinner but I got them under control by my 10pm bed time.  However, the Dexcom woke me up 3 times during the night because of lows so I didn't have my best night's sleep.  Whatever, it's not like anyone has a great night's sleep before a race with a 4:30 am wake up call anyway.  So I woke up at 4:30, filled my nutrition bottles, had my breakfast shake and was out the door to head to the race site.

The bs continued to climb pre-race so I went out for a quick one mile warm up run to try and bring it down naturally.  After the mile my bs had come back under 250 so I took in .5 units of insulin before my clif bar and pre-race mix and also skipped my swim nutrition for the day.  All in all I was well set up for a steady blood sugar day.

Swim

It was WINDY on Saturday; the gusts must have been reaching 20 miles per hour and the water was choppy.  Thankfully I'm a bi-lateral breather when swimming because I could only breath to the right during the race.  Everytime I tried to breath to the left side I was greeted with a face full of water and no oxygen.  From all accounts the swim was short, it sounds like people finished the swim about 4 to 5 minutes faster than expected.  I, as usual, got lost on the swim and found myself in the middle of no where trying to figure out how to get back into the race.  Maybe for my next race my goal will be to not get lost on the swim!

I exited the water in 28:40, good for 161st, I think I could have been a bit faster but honestly I'll take it, I was expecting a 33 minute swim so if the course was 4 to 5 minutes short that puts me right on target.  I was slightly disoriented in T1 so I took my time getting on my bike shoes.  My finger prick meter broke right before the race so I had to blindly trust the Dexcom and my nutrition protocol to get me safely through the race - yikes!

Bike

The real work began when I got onto the bike.  But right out of transition a fellow pump wearer started talking to me!  I had my full Triabetes race kit on so he was telling me he loved all the stuff that our organization is doing.  In fact, over the course of this race 8 or 9 people mentioned to me how awesome they think the work we're doing for juvenile diabetics is.  It was an incredible feeling to have total strangers talk to me about how inspired they were to see me out there as each of them had been touched by the disease in some way and wished they could get a family member to just exercise some more - that made this race really special.

As I started out on the bike I knew was ready for a pretty good day.  My back was a little tight from the softness of the mattress I slept on the night before but Eric's advice to listen to my body kept resonating in my head.  With each little twinge I felt I adjusted my legs slightly to alleviate the stress on that muscle; I continued to monitor my heart rate and continued to focus on my mind and body - lose body, tight mind I remineded myself.  My Dexcom finally started to give me blood sugar results around the 5 mile mark, 238 came up on the screen so I opted to skip my first scheduled feed interval.  At the 30 minute mark my blood sugar had dipped below 215 so I took in my nutrition as usual.  As I felt the bottle in my hand I repeated to myself the focus montra, got back in my aero bars and continued to pedal away.

At the 1 hour mark I was 21 miles into the race and feeling very strong.  I was biking conservativley and into some heavy winds but I felt nimble on my bike.  If anyone passed me I let them go, if I reeled anyone in I didn't think about them, I thought about my cadence, my heart rate, how my body felt.  No one else on the bike course mattered, it was just me and El Bastardo.  Well that was until a super cute girl (1 of only 2 females to pass me on the bike) and I thought about trying to hang with her and tried to develop a strategy to get her phone # during the race.  Thankfully that thought process was very close to a feed/ focus interval so I quickly had to get that thought out of my mind and get back to work!

I continued to speed along and knew that if I maintined my effort and focus I'd finally come close to averaging the 20 mph for a half iron I knew I was capable of.  But as Eric said, a mile is a mile is a mile, so instead of forcing the issue I biked within myself, checked my Dexcom, continued to feed and continued to bike smart.  Then at mile 40 - it happened, I realized that I was starting to learn how to be a triathlete, I realized that all the work that my Coach has me do that I'm pretty sure comes close to killing me is really paying off.  At mile 40 I felt stronger than I had at mile 1, at mile 40 I started to reel in people who had hammered past me during the race.  At mile 40 I actually sped up!

My pace upped as my heart rate declined, I continued to focus, I continued to feed, I continued to listen to my body.  At this point I also, for the first time in my life, got hit on during a race!  As I passed a woman spectator she said "looking good # 77 (my race #)" and followed that with, "and your arms are looking really good!"  That did make me laugh a bit and I said thanks as I sped away trying to finish up the last 10 miles of the bike leg.  I crossed back into Lake Anna state park and got to the dismount line in 2:45!!!!!  It was a slight awkward jog to the transition timing mat so my official bike time was 2:46, good for 106th overall! And better yet a 20.4 mph average!!!! I finally achieved one of the goals I'm been trying to achieve since I strated this sport, a 20 mph average on a long course - freaking awesome!

Run

The run course was one of the hardest I've ever encountered.  There weren't any particurally steep hills, but each of the 3 loops started with a 3/4 mile up hill climb.  The best way I can describe the climb is if you go to a treadmill and set the hill incline somewhere between 2.5 and 3.5; not very much fun and takes a bit of extra effort to get your pace to where it should be.  This climb was also the only portion of the course that was shadded.  The rest of the course was roasting in a strong sun.  My first mile was done at a 9:14 pace, and my second at a 8:27 pace - perfect I thought, my heart rate was averaging 156 bpm, just 1 beat higher than I wanted; but somewhere between mile 2 and 3 something happened.....

There were no sponges or ice on the run course and even though it was early in the run, the water was already starting to get warm.  I couldn't get my core temperature down and at about the 2.5 mile mark I started to see stars and got really, really dizzy.  Learning from Eric's lessons of the past, keep moving forward so instead of forcing the issue and ignoring my body I listened to it and slowed to a walk to get my core temperature back in line.  As my breathing continued to be shallow I stepped to the side of the grass, stretched for a moment, closed my eyes and breathed slowly.  Forcing the issue now would mean ruining my run later on, take a step back to move forward, focus.  Mile 3 and 4 were done at an 11+ minute mile - dreadful but I think that decision saved my race.

By mile 5 I returned to a 9:43 pace and upped that to a 9:12 pace at mile 6.  I knew due to the heat, hills and no ice on the run course I wouldn't be setting a pr in this half marathon.  I also screamed at myself anytime I strated to think about my time instead of focusing on my foot strike.  A mile, is a mile, is a mile I continued to think to myself - forget thining about breaking 5:30, or 5:20 or 5 hours, just run, just focus and just stay in the moment.  I continued to use my success in short term focus by using triggers to reset.  In the end this worked out beauitfully.

With the exception of mile 12 all my splits after the decesion to take a step back and get my core temperature down were below a 9:45 pace.  My average heart rate during all those intervals were in high zone 3/ low zone 4 (amazing for a really hot day) and I was able to keep my blood sugars on a very slight downward trend for the entire race.  My half marathon finishing time was 2:07, a far cry from the disaster I had at Cali 70.3 but also way off from the great run I had at the South Carolina Half.  I know I'm capable of running much, much faster but given the envrionmental limitations I'm really happy with that run.  Given that heat I very easily could have full out bonked on the run but I maintained my focus and knew what my body was capable of.  In 70 degree temps I can run sub 8:20 miles, in 90 degree temps I can't - that will come in time but that time isn't yet.

Overall

5:29!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!  I broke 5:30!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!  For some reason I have always felt like 5:30 is this huge milestone in a half iron.  It's like there are different goals the first is finishing which is a huge accomplishment in and of itself, then after you finish 6 hours is the target; but after you get your time to 6 hours a ton of work is required to break the next barrier, the 5:30 mark.  I don't really know how to describe the emtion at the end of this race.  Over the past 3 years I've learned how to manage blood sugars, am turning into an endurance athlete and am now understanding how to adapt what I was really good at athletically into an entierly new envrionment.  I've been training for 12 to 20 hours a week for the past few months and while I had a blast at Cali 70.3 I was pretty disappointed to return north of the 6 hour mark.  In this race I accomplished each and every one of my goals, my focus was the best it has ever been during a triathlon, I listened to my body and most importantly I raced smart.  I no longer need to gut out races, now I'm learning how to race within the constraints of my body to have a succesful and awesome day.  The small victories are starting to build up and now I'm ready to bear down and grind it out until the starting line in Coeur d'Alene.  The next 6 weeks will be intense but I wouldn't have it any other way - it's time to get after it.
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