Wednesday, October 29, 2008

"It's a Long Way To The Top...

... If you want to rock and roll"

I had one of those days where I asked myself, multiple times, why the hell I even bother. Giving up income, leisure time with family and friends, a comfortable lifestyle; all to pursue a masochistic sport that offers very little in the way of financial reward despite the immense workload that's necessary to even make a name for yourself. The trials and tribulations of trying to morph from a "pro" to a "PRO" triathlete (see Chris Bagg's Blog for an explanation on this one).

As I dragged myself away from yet another ass-whoopin', I mean swim practice, tonight (that saw us cruising through 400s during our warm up segment at 5 min. or under - I can't believe how easy 1:15/100 pace is getting) and pulled out onto rt. 128 to head north towards home, I was greeted by AC/DC's "It's a Long Way to The Top (if you want to rock and roll)" on WBCN.

That song pretty much sums it up.

Back to work in the morning.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Much Needed Perspective

This forced "down time" has been the best thing that's ever happened to me, athletically speaking that is. Bottom line: Until now, I've been nothing more than a glorified duathlete. I've tried to go toe-to-toe with guys who have not only been swimming for the better part of their lives, but who routinely swam 4 - 5 x more than I did each week while holding down full cycling and run loads.

They deserved to beat me on race day.

Yes, until this past June I "didn't" have enough time to train like a real "pro" but I'll be honest in saying that I could have prioritized my swim training and done a lot more than I did. Let's face it: Unless you have a full time job AND kids, you really don't have an excuse. You can find the time. You can find the energy. You can make it happen.

Well, I didn't, and I routinely got my ass handed to me in the water as a result.

Training with Dan Warner and the North Shore Swim Club has been a very humbling, albeit successful experience. I've got 14 year old kids making me work like a dog and guys like super swimmer Craig Lewin, Kyle Misuraca and Liam O'Connell forcing me to speed up or risk getting run over.

In one month I've gone from struggling to hit small sets of 1:15s on 1:30 to sets like 6 x 400 on 6 min. @ sub 5 min. (that was tonight's main set!)

At the end of the day, it's always the same: If you want the results, you've got to do the work, and it's not going to be easy.

There are no shortcuts.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The Kinetic Chain

First it was the SI joint; I've been managing that little bastard for over a year now and racing/training in pain despite physical therapy, stretching, strength training and the best intentions of multiple chiropractors. At least this issue was something that I could manage; it hasn't been fun, but it hasn't kept me from training or racing to the best of my abilities.

The inflammation in my right knee, however, was the breaking point. It ended my season prematurely and put me on the sidelines. Thankfully, I'm swimming and cycling again, but it's been 3+ weeks since the last time I really ran. I gave it a go yesterday but only made it 10 minutes into my run before the discomfort kicked back in and shut things down.

What I would give to run 9 or 10 miles right now...

But, there is hope. Last week, I paid a visit to my friend, professional strength coach and fellow triathlete Franco Zuccoli who thoroughly evaluated my posture, flexibility, range of motion and degree of muscular balance. In addition to a couple of other glaring issues, Franco immediately pointed out the fact that my left arch is basically completely flat and that my right arch isn't much better. He insisted that I make an appointment with orthotist Dan Bishop ASAP. As a kid, I overpronated to the point that the medial heel cups of my track spikes would actually become discolored by whatever track I was running on. Orthotics quickly cleared this issue up and allowed me to race/train pain free (I suffered from frequent bouts of achilles tendinitis as a youth runner thanks to my overpronation).

Franco's notation/recommendation was something that made a lot of sense to me and I started dwelling upon it over the weekend/early part of this week. I've always known that I overpronated, as I can actually feel my ankles rolling inward during races, especially once the fatigue sets in, but I never thought about what kind of biomechanical problems overpronation might pose. Even when I ride my ankles roll inward... In this case, overpronation would explain why I tend to start riding "duck toed" during hard efforts and why the medial heel cup on my cycling shoes makes so much contact with the crank arms that they end up looking polished.

Franco's evaluation, and his recommendations regarding our course of action on the strength training/rehab front, focused heavily upon the body's kinetic chain. I've been seeing specialist after specialist to try to "fix" this SI joint problem for over a year now, but nothing has worked. Yes, I have experienced some temporary relief here and there, but the problem has never gone away. Reason: The symptom is being treated, not the cause. Physical therapy was aimed in the right direction, but fell short in that the fundamental cause of my SI joint problem, and the knee pain that is now accompanying it, has a lot, if not everything to do with the simple equation shown above.

The short of it: The left foot in particular pronates during both running, and to a lesser degree, cycling. As a result of the overpronation, everything from the ankle up is affected biomechanically. I won't bother trying to guesstimate what the hell is going on biomechanically with my tibia/fibula, patella, femur, pelvis/SI joint and every muscle that attaches to them thanks to the overpronation, so check out this great article for a little more insight and an example of what kind of trouble overpronation can cause.

I'll tell you, it'll be a combination of euphoria and frustration if the ortotics prove to be effective. I'm dying to resume hard-core training, and will be extremely happy when I'm able to do so, but if I find out that I wasted over a year, not to mention a lot of money trying to fix a bunch of injuries that were all caused by flat arches, I'll be pretty pissed off to say the least.

Well, you live, you learn. I met with Dan today and he's very confident that the orthotics will clear my SI joint/hip flexor/knee issues up.

We shall see. I'll have them by next Wednesday. I'm optimistic at least.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

On the road to recovery... I hope

I figured out that I'm dealing with a case of "patellofemoral syndrome," not patellar tendinitis. The discomfort hasn't really gone away. Knee is still feeling tight and uncomfortable, especially after swim practice (thanks to all of the pushing off the walls every turn).

Probable causes... see this great resource I stumbled upon on the web:

The good news is that I was able to ride, easily, for 25k over hilly terrain today without any pain/discomfort in the knee region. I converted the P2C into a "road" bike, complete with STI levers, drop handle bars and an "effective" seat tube angle of roughly 73 degrees (by moving the saddle into the most "aft" position possible); standard road bike geometry. I'm hoping that by including some work on the road bike each week, I'll be able to better balance out the musculature in my lower body and correct some of the imbalances that are currently rearing their ugly heads (my SI joint is still out of whack as well).

The only good that's come out of this knee problem: I'm swimming further and faster than ever thanks to my work with Dan Warner and the North Shore Swim Club. My main set on Monday: 3 x 500 @ 6:20 - 6:25 on 7 min. is a great example of the improvement I'm making under Dan. 6:20s for a set of 500s; not blazing fast, I know, but given the fact that before this month, my PR for the 500 was only 6:40, you could say that I'm pretty excited. What was most exciting was the fact that the effort that went into each one of those 500s was very controlled. It was nothing more than a tempo set and I felt on top of it every "stroke" of the way.

Well, with a little luck I'll be back at it soon enough and able to swim, bike, run and lift as much as my heart desires. I'm keeping my fingers crossed.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

That's a Wrap

My season is over.

The patella tendinitis in my right knee has failed to dissipate and I'm still unable to run for more than 20 minutes without pain. On top of that, my left hip flexor is painful and weak thanks to a strain I suffered as a result of a bike crash the week after Timberman. I've been nursing it for the past month and a half, but the extra swimming I've been logging as of late has led to a fairly pronounced flare up which is making even the simple act of walking up stairs somewhat difficult. To top it all off, my right achilles tendon is sore.

So... with less than 5 weeks to IMFL it's evident that I have run out of time. I respect the Ironman distance way too much to half ass my preparation and would much rather end my season on a high note vs. risking prolonged injury just to say that I finished an Ironman.

2008 was a great year. Although my key races didn't all go exactly as planned, I really can't complain about my results: 2 x top 5, 1 x 6th and 1 x 8th place finishes on the 70.3 circuit and a 6th place overall finish at the stacked Columbia Triathlon (Olympic distance) back in May.

Not bad... especially considering the fact that I was working 7 days/60+ hours per week right up until late June this year. I feel as though I held my own on the pro circuit in '08, and am VERY excited to begin preparing for my full fledged assault on the '09 season.

I also learned a lot about myself and what I need to do between now and April of '09 if I want to continue to improve and move up the ranks.

The most glaring deficiency in my game at the moment is, DUH, my swim.

The 2 major culprits:

1. My technique needs refinement (lots of it)
2. I don't swim nearly enough (6 - 8k of leisurely open water swimming each week won't cut it!)

Up until this point in time, swimming has always been my final priority. I've never enjoyed it because I've never been good at it. Couple this fact with the fact that until this summer I've been very limited as to how much time I can devote to my training each week, and it's easy to see how swimming would fall between the cracks and conveniently be forgotten about.

Things have changed though. I recently linked up with Dan Warner of the North Shore Swim Club. I swam 16,000 yards last week which is by far more than I've ever done in one week, and Dan has already made some pronounced improvements with my stroke. My catch/pull was pretty ugly, but thanks to Dan's keen eye, I'm already catching and pulling more water. It's mind boggling how a few small corrections can bring about such pronounced results in the water. Case in point: When were were asked to execute a main set of 3 x 3 x 100 on 1:30, 1:20 and 1:15 respectively, I thought in my mind "that set on 1:15 will be impossible for me." But... I did it, and the effort wasn't even that much of a stretch. I was shocked. The final set was 2 x 100 @ max on 3 min. and I laid down a 1:08 and 1:09... What's going on here? Not blazing fast, I know, but all intervals were executed with an open turn (I still can't do flip turns) and never felt out of control. If I'm seeing these kinds of results after just 4 sessions, I can't wait to see where things stand in 6 or 7 months!

Bike and run: Things are going well here, as usual. Out splitting Alexander, Cunninghman and Lessing on the bike up in Muskoka was a big confidence builder. Out splitting everyone on the run (Oscar Galindez included) at RI 70.3 also did quite a bit for the confidence.

But... I know that I have more in me, especially on the running front.

Thanks to my boy Dean Phillips at Fit Werx 2 in Peabody, MA, I'm constantly kept up to speed on what I need to do in order to attain and maintain the lowest coefficient of drag possible while on the bike. As such, although my power output is nothing world shattering, my ability to move very quickly and efficiently over 56 miles is pretty pronounced. If I can do what I need to do on the swimming front this Fall/Winter/Spring, I'll be much closer to the action after T1, but will still need to chase on the bike. As such, my goal heading into next year will be to not only bridge up to, but put time into the lead pack while out there on the bike course. I need to find another 15 watts of power in order to make this happen and am already looking forward to the grueling VO2max and Threshold sessions I'll be executing between Dec. and the end of next season in order to make this happen.

As for my running, I've proven myself to be a good runner, but my performances to date can be attributed more to my "strength" vs. speed. I need to do A LOT more interval work. Due to a lack of energy through most of last year, I rarely hit the track. If I want to run with the very best of them in '09, my open 10k has to improve dramatically. Watching "Crowie" throw down a 1:13 on the HILLY Muskoka 70.3 (where Cunningham went 1:18 and I turned in the 3rd fastest split with a 1:19) run course, drove home the importance of aerobic power and it's development. Progressive long runs over hilly terrain are great for building strength, but my lack of organized VO2max and threshold training on the track is currently limiting my ability to run really fast over the 13.1 mile distance. Once again, if I want to compete with the best of them, and to have any chance at placing high, or... dare I say win, I need to get a lot faster on the run front.

So... time for a much deserved break. I feel lazy and out of whack thanks to the fact that I don't have a major end of season competition to prepare for and am sidelined and unable to run or bike. Michelle and I recently booked our flights down to Clearwater to cheer my athletes on though (I have 9 heading down this year!) so at least I'll be able to live vicariously through them. I expect some BIG performances out of them on Nov. 8th, that's for sure!

As for next year, I'm incredibly excited about my season. As it stands, the key race calender looks something like:

  • St. Croix 70.3
  • Columbia Triathlon
  • Revolution 3 Half Iron Triathlon
  • Cohasset Triathlon
  • Rhode Island 70.3
  • Cape Ann Triathlon
  • Timberman 70.3
  • Muskoka 70.3
  • Clearwater 70.3

When I look deep into my heart, I know that I don't have the burning desire to do an Ironman anytime soon. I love the 70.3 distance and want to take advantage of the peak years that I still have left by fully exploring and exploiting the depth of my endurance AND speed/power. I'd love to break 3:50 for the 70.3 distance and my dream goal would be to lay down splits of 25/2:04/1:12 on a course like Clearwater. Once I feel as though I've reached the point where I've gone as fast as I possibly can at the 70.3 distance, well perhaps at that point I'll move on up, but for now, I'm very content focusing upon 4 hour races.

So, that's a wrap. Back to the drawing board and off season prep a little earlier than expected. It's all good. I'm doing what I've always dreamt of doing and am savoring every experience along the way. I'm fully aware of just how lucky I am to not only be in position to fully pursue my dreams, but to live a life that is full of personal meaning and passion. The people I have met along the way make the trip all the more special, and I look forward to the roads that lie ahead.

My scratching IMFL is nothing more than a little bump in the (athletic) road and I'm in no way bummed out. If the biggest disappointment I have to face in my young life is a sore knee that keeps me from biking and running for a few weeks, then I consider myself a very lucky man. You want an example of someone facing a real problem? Look no further than this and read all about Margaret's plight.

I've got it "made in the shade" and have nothing to complain about.