Monday, March 2, 2015

Swim of the Week: 5x100, 20x50, 5x100

This week I bring you lots of repeats with very little rest!

I'm a huge fan of incorporating short reps into longer swim sets. There's a place in a training program for long swims - 800s, 1000s and such - but the bulk of a swimmer's sessions should be based on 50s, 75s, 100s, 200s and everything in-between. The use of shorter intervals allows swimmers, specifically triathletes who don't come from high level swim backgrounds, to be much more productive with their time in the water. Shorter interval lengths allow athletes to add speed to the session and maintain a higher degree of focus throughout. Each rep becomes more purposeful in this way. They're also incredibly versatile. Varying rest intervals allows an athlete (and their coach) to accomplish an incredible amount 50 to 200 yards at a time. 

This week's main set involves only 100s and 50s. While it's relatively straight forward, this set allows swimmers to work at a slightly elevated speed for a long time and build endurance. You get a lot for the yardage involved. At only 3500 yards the value per yard of this session is hard to beat. Take a look and let me know what you think.

Warm Up
- 2x200 - choice
- 100 easy backstroke
- 6x25 strong/hard
- 100 cruise

Drill Set
- 2x200 alternating 25 drill / 25 swim
- 100 cruise

Main Set
- 5x100 steady on cruise pace/100 + 10"
- 4x(5x50) w/ rounds 1/3 on cruise+5" and 2/4 on cruise pace sendoffs. 
- 5x100 steady/strong on cruise pace/100 +10"

Cool Down
- 5x50 easy choice

* How to set your sendoffs: Setting appropriate sendoffs is crucial to getting the most out of this swim. For the 100s, simply take your cruise 100 pace and add 10 seconds to get your sendoff time. Your cruise pace is the pace you can swim pretty easily all day. For me, it's ~1:17. I round that off to 1:20 and add 10 seconds to get a sendoff of 1:30 for the 100s. As for the 50s, the interval will rotate. The 20x50 set is broken into 4 groupings of 50s that will be done without any break between. The reason for the breakdown is simply to distinguish the varying sendoffs. The first and third groups of 5x50 will be done at a cruise pace +5". To find this, take your base pace/100 from the 100s, divide it in half and add 5 seconds. More simply, take the sendoff you used for the 100s and divide it by 2. For example, with my cruise pace of 1:20 I would do the first and third groupings on a  45 second sendoff. The sendoff for the remaining 50s is simply the cruise pace/100 divided in half. For me this works out to 40 second sendoffs. If you need help working out the correct sendoffs simply leave me a comment and I'll give you some guidance. 

How to do the set well: I like to swim this set where I swim the second set of 100s slightly faster than the first. However, the pace should still be controlled. This is not sprint work so remain in the right zone throughout. Generally speaking you should be getting ~15 seconds of rest on these. In addition to the pacing for the 100s,  I like to keep all twenty 50s at the same time regardless of sendoff. Aim for ~5 seconds of rest on the shorter sendoffs and ~10 seconds on the longer sendoffs. When I most recently did this set - keeping in mind a cruise pace of roughly 1:20 - I swam 1:15 for all of the first 100s, 34-35 seconds for all of the 50s and 1:12-1:13 for the final grouping of 100s. 

Beginners: Simply shorten the set and pick a sustainable pace from which to work. For example, cut the set down to 2x100, 12x50, 2x100 for a 1000 yard main set. Or cut the 100s out all together and just work on the 50s. If you have any questions about how this set can be adapted to your current level of ability and fitness just let me know and I will help get you sorted out. 

I realize that the explanation I've laid out is a bit wordy and likely overcomplicated! It can seem overwhelming to those who don't have much experience setting zones and sendoff times. Because of that, please let me know if you have any questions. Get your questions answered before you head to the pool in order to get the most out of your session! Email me at 

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Swim of the Week: Descending 150s, 100s, 75s, & 50s

This week's swim features descending 150s, 100s, 75s, and 50s on relatively short rest. Enjoy!

This is a solid workout in that it helps to develop endurance, but does so with short intervals, short rest, and integrates a conservative amount of harder swimming. The fourth rep at each distance should take you into an anaerobic zone, but the first three should all be aerobic work (though you'll steadily approach the threshold throughout each round, arriving there sometime during #3). The criss-cross nature of this swim is great for swimmers of all types: triathletes, open water swimmers, and competitive swimmers can all benefit from this type of swim. It can also be adjusted for both beginners and seasoned swimmers. Moreover, for the triathletes out there, it's a workout that can be done by both Ironman athletes and Sprint-specialists; both long and short course athletes will benefit from the work accomplished in this set. 

I've left the drill set open as each person needs work in different areas. If you don't know what you need to work on or are drilling aimlessly based off some article you read (or what the guy in the next lane is doing) schedule an appointment with a coach! Attempting to fix your stroke aimlessly is a good way to create more problems than you had to begin with. A good coach can focus your attention on your very own hierarchy of swimming needs.

Beginners - Take the descending element out of this swim and set a rest interval of 20-25". Try to keep the pace of each rep consistent with the rest of the set. If you swim your first 150 in 3:00, try to keep the rest within 5 seconds. Also cut out the 2x200 (and accompanying 50 easy transition), reduce the length of the warm up and consider dropping from four to 2 or 3 reps of the 150s and 100s. If you have questions about how to make this swim work for you, leave me a comment and I'll point you in the right direction.

Warm up
- 300 cruise
- 100 back
- 2x100 kick
- 4x75 strong on 10" rest
- 100 cruise

Drill Set
- 5x100 as 75 drill/25 swim, 20"rest
- 100 cruise

Main Set
- 4x150 descend 1-4 from cruise to strong
- 4x100 descend 1-4 from cruise to strong
- 4x75 descend 1-4 from cruise to strong
- 4x50 descend 1-4 from cruise to strong
- 50 easy backstroke
- 2x200 steady on 25" rest

* Sendoffs: Set the rest interval based off your easy/cruise pace. Take the pace you swim and add 5 seconds to find your send off time. For example, my cruise pace is ~1:18/100. I round that off to 1:20 when setting sendoff times. To set my sendoff interval I would add 5 seconds to this pace (not 5"/100, just 5 seconds overall). For a 150, my sendoff is 2:05 (a 1:20/100 pace = 2:00/150. Take 2:00 + 5" to get a sendoff of 2:05). The sendoffs for the rest of the set are 1:25 for the 100s, 1:05 for the 75s, and :45 for the 50s. Leave a comment below if you need help figuring out your sendoffs.

Cool Down
- 4x50 cruise

Feel free to post your questions, comments, and thoughts after trying this swim in the comments section below!

Finally, if you are interested in setting up a swim session with video analysis, please email

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Swim Training: Positioned for Success

By Kyle Burnell
K2 Performance Coaching
Co-Founder & Coach

Each and every January the pools are packed with athletes looking to jump start their training. Optimism runs high and most athletes are convinced that this is the year they finally overcome a weakness in the water and break through to the next level in their training and racing. Athletes come equipped with a list of drills and a heap of tools, sure that something in their bag of tricks will be the key. But for many, frustration emerges before any gains are realized. Despite good intentions and hard work far too many fail to connect their efforts to significant time drops.

In order to be effective, swim training must be targeted. However, the overwhelming number of articles preaching "must do" drills and "must have" toys clouds the waters. While supposedly working to help with targeted training, this proliferation of mediocre recommendations (ones that all too often come without a complete explanation of their foundations) only blurs an athlete's aim. 

Forget all the gadgets, drills, and carefully crafted sets for a minute. In order to understand the path to improvements, it is important to first understand the forces at play in the water. To swim faster an athlete must decrease drag and/or increase propulsion. While all swimmers would benefit by making improvements to both of these areas, the order in which those improvements are made is important. Most athletes who do not come from a competitive swimming background must address the issue of drag before moving on to propulsive forces. Doing the opposite will almost surely lead to frustration and a lack of progress. 


Body and head position is a major limiter for most triathletes and adult onset swimmers. The result of poor positioning magnifies the impact of drag on the athlete. Attempting to increase propulsion while in this suboptimal position will lead to improper stroke mechanics, injury, and will not produce the intended results. Moreover, attempting to address multiple areas simultaneously prior to adjusting body position will cause these same problems. Proper alignment in the water is the foundation to an efficient stroke and fast(er) swimming. A balanced position sets the swimmer up in a place to implement other good habits that will continue to reduce drag and increase propulsion. 

Next steps

If possible, work with a swim/stroke coach. Ideally, the coach will capture video footage of your stroke in order to identify individual areas of weakness and provide remedies. A quality coach will get footage from multiple angles and be able to highlight specific phases of the stroke that need to be tweaked. When providing this feedback, the coach should also be able to tell you exactly why they are asking you to complete certain drills or use swim aids. If a coach does not provide this information up front, ask anyway. 

A second step to your progress is to ignore what your friends and lane mates are doing. Do not simply do drills or use tools because you see (or read about in an article/saw on YouTube) someone else doing them. Drills are a wonderful thing, but only if they are done properly and used to address issues actually existing in the individual's stroke. Rather than copy what others are doing because you are not sure what to do on your own, ask for help from someone in the know. A poorly executed drill, or the wrong drill for a stroke flaw, can make matters worse instead of propelling a swimmer toward success. 

Finally, slow down. Yes, go slow in order to eventually go fast. This applies to both the speed with which an athlete actually completes the drill and to the length of time spent on each drill (measured in training sessions, not minutes) before moving to the next. Rushing the process or the drill itself will not allow for the right adjustments to be implemented. Good habits take time to build just as poor habits take time to undo.

Though there are many great drills out there to address body position and other drag-related issues, I will not highlight them here. In line with the theme of this article, I will not recommend any individual drill to athletes without knowing more about their stroke and the issues they are facing. Doing so would contradict everything written above. That said, we at K2 Performance are available for questions should you have them and would be happy to discuss your swim training and possible solutions to any problems you're experiencing with your stroke.

For more information on K2 Performance Coaching, visit

Monday, October 20, 2014

Fall Road Racing Update

I've never considered myself a very good runner. While I have realistic expectations about my potential as a runner, I feel that I have been underachieving for years. Part of that, I suppose, is due to the nature of triathlon. You're never going to reach your maximum potential as a swimmer, cyclist, or runner because you aren't able to dedicate the appropriate amount of time to any one endeavor. Rather, you find a balance that allows you to be competent at all three. I love the sport, but it also frustrates me at times that it prevents me from becoming a good runner, swimmer, or cyclist. As long as I'm in the sport I will never fully achieve my potential in any of those three sports. That's something I've come to accept, but I remain curious about my limits in the individual endeavors. So early on this year I decided that I would change my approach to the season in order to give myself some time to develop as a runner. I knew going in that a two month block of run-only training wouldn't be enough to unlock my (potential) talents, but I wanted to see just how much I could improve if I had a singular focus. The answer, as it turns out, is a lot. And it's only allowed my curiosity to grow.

Eliot Festival Day 5k

I first raced in Eliot when I was 14 years old. It was, I believe, my second road race.  Back then I ran 19:21, a 19 second improvement over my first attempt at the distance earlier that year (the internet really is an amazing thing). Between the ages of 14 and 27 I ran the race whenever I was able. My best result prior to this year, was 2013 when I ran 18:13. In 13 years I managed to drop one minute and eight seconds off my PR on the course. But I'd never focused on running. It was just something that I did alongside swimming and biking. And, clearly, I never really developed. This year, however, was different. I ran 17:30, a 43 second PR on the course. Now, 17:30 in itself is not at all an impressive time. But a drop of 43 seconds from 18:13 to 17:30 in a single year is. It's a promising sign for the future and shows me that there is still significant room for improvement. Heading into this year I thought I might have exhausted my potential and would only ever be an 18 minute 5k athlete regardless of the training I did. I've proven myself that I have the ability to be much more than that. Taking huge chunks of time lets me know that there are still improvements on the horizon and, before long, I hope to be stopping the clock before it hits seventeen minutes.

PS - I sort of won the race. I mean, I didn't actually win, but I got paid as though I did. Erica Jesseman, a professional runner, happened to be at the race and crossed the line well before I did taking the overall win. She's an incredible runner and I had no shot to stay with her. Next year, maybe! However, I still took home the title of Overall Male which came with a nice (and unexpected) paycheck!

Maine Half Marathon

The Maine Marathon is one of my favorite races. Ever. I love everything about it and will return year after year. I wouldn't have told you that in 2006, though. Back then I stupidly attempted the full distance without knowing anything about running or how to train properly. I was running pure athleticism and ego. After hitting the halfway point in 1:35, by mile 16 my ego was bruised and my athleticism seemed to have disappeared completely. It was that race that caused me to try triathlon. I was so deviated by my horrific performance that I wanted nothing to do with the road racing scene. I certainly wanted nothing to do with marathons. In fact, I didn't run a standalone race longer than 10k between that day in 2006 and the same day in 2013. For all those years, I hated the Maine Marathon. Not because it was a poorly run race, but because I had suffered on the course. However, I have grown to appreciate what the race has given me. It was a turning point in my career.

Last year, when I tried a similar, but far less intense run-focus I managed to run 1:26:40 at the Maine Half.  I was ecstatic with that result. It gave me hope that I might be able to run 1:24 some day. Twelve months later I toed the line with the number 1:23 in mind. Rather than running 25-30 miles a week like in the past, I have been putting in 40-60 miles per week the past 10 months. And the recent run focus had proven to me that I had the ability to break down the barrier I had set for myself.

I've worked very hard this year to institute progression into my run pacing. Approximately half of my long runs dating back to early last spring have had an element of progression. Those runs are fairly aggressive in nature, but I also attempt to build into every run other than my recovery runs. Even when I'm running easy, in my extensive zone, I end running (slightly) harder than I started. The results have been amazing and I am able to build into races much more comfortably. The days of setting a goal pace, running it for as long as possible, then fading late in the race are over. I now have the ability, both physically and mentally, to start below goal race pace and negative split.

My run at the Maine Half was nearly perfect. I planned to run the race in 4 stages broken down as follows: 2 miles, 5 miles, 4 miles, 2 miles. The basic plan was to run roughly 6:20, 6:15, 6:10, and 6:00-6:05 respectively for each segment of the race (subject to wind conditions and terrain, of course). At mile one, my watch buzzed with a time of 6:20. At mile 2 it read 6:21. Miles of 6:17, 6:18, 6:13, 6:18, 6:09 followed during my second segment.  I continued on with 6:17, 6:07, 6:13 and 6:14  during segment three before closing out the race with miles of 6:11 and 6:03. The overall shape of my run, when I took into consideration the winds and terrain, was spot on. I could not be any happier with the way I executed the race plan. And there's room for improvement.

I finished the day, which happened to be 13.2 miles because I wasn't aware that the 13.1 measurement was taken with the first and last miles run on the footpath rather than the road around Back Bay, in a time of 1:22:20. In one year I dropped 4:20 off a very respectable 2013 finish. It's further proof that I have so much room to grow as an athlete. I am nowhere near my ceiling and that's incredibly exciting.

Friday, September 12, 2014

August Rewind: Cranberry Sprint 2014

Three weeks ago Eileen and I loaded into the car and headed south for the Cranberry Triathlon Festival in Lakeville, MA. It's a race I've always wanted to do as it gets great reviews, but it's never fit into my schedule before (or better put, I've never fit it into my schedule before now). For years it fell on the same weekend as the Kennebunk races. After that, I spent a few years heading to USAT AG Nationals in late August. And, last year, given the choice between REV 3 in nearby Old Orchard or a trip to Lakeville, I decided to chase my pro card in OOB. With REV3 dropping it's pro fields in '14, the opportunity to earn a pro card was erased. That, in combination with my desire to change up my race calendar, gave me the chance to finally check out Cranberry.

Rather than make the two hour drive ridiculously early (even mores than a normal race where you leave the house at 4:30am), Eileen and I headed for Cape Cod the day before the race. Yes, I realize we passed the race venue on the way, but we couldn't pass up the opportunity to spend some time with my brother-in-law, Eric, and sister-in-law, Amy. We love seeing with Eric & Amy which made the decision to combine the race with a visit an easy decision.

I headed into race day with my confidence at an all time high. To that point, I'd had the best season of my life and was training at a very high level. I knew I was capable of another great race so long as I didn't force the issue. I wasn't sure whether or not I would win, but I figured I'd have a decent shot even against what I'd heard was going to be some difficult competition.

The rumors of a few fast guys in the field were true and I witnessed that first hand when the gun sounded. Immediately, two guys jumped off the front of the swim and I had no chance of getting on for a ride. They put 25-30 meters into me right away, but the gap sort of stayed there for most of the swim and never really grew after the initial surge. Once things settled, I found myself in that weird position between the leading two and the rest of the field. Things stayed this way until the first turn of the half mile course. As the guys in front veered left and I followed. The course, from shore, sort of looked like a pentagon. It seemed strange as the course was suppose to be a rectangle, but the shape was very clearly marked as a pentagon. I even stopped and took a look at things during warm ups to make sure I hadn't missed something. Turns out, I had...

As we made the turn toward the far end of the course I was struck by the paddle of a lifeguard trying to get across the course in a kayak. I assumed she'd just drifted too far into the course and was trying to get out of the way just as I went through,  but a minute later my evaluation of what had happened at that turn changed. In front of me I saw the two leaders swimming back across the course to the right while we should have been going left. Shit. There had been another buoy creating the advertised rectangular course and the three of us had missed it. Basically, the pond is a figure 8 shape and narrows in the middle. The result is that you couldn't see the final buoy until you were 1/4 mile into the lake. It was impossible to site from the shore. There was nothing I could do then, though, as the damage had already been done. So off I went back toward the actual course. The damage done here would end up having some serious implications by the finish. As I made it back to that hidden buoy, I saw that fourth place had closed the gap. Apparently, from what I was told after the race, the lifeguard was able to correctly redirect that athlete and my little adventure in the wrong direction allowed him back into the race. I wasn't pleased. The lifeguard, though trying to redirect me, had been right in the sight line of the final buoy. Had she been positioned a bit away from the buoy which I was swimming past, I would have been able to see beyond her and to the correct line. She was literally on top of the buoy where we took a wrong turn, giving the implication that we were to turn there. Had I kept swimming straight - in the correct direction - I would have hit her boat. She was completely blocking the line rather than helping make sure we were on it. I get that she was a volunteer and doing her best, but when I put my race director hat on, I can tell you that there were a number of ways that sort of situation could have been avoided. That said, I understand it was 100% my responsibility to know the course and I likely should have just swum the whole thing during the warm up given that I'd noticed it looked different from the advertised maps. Lesson learned.

Out of the water in 3rd with some work to do to get to the front
As we exited the water, I was not pleased to see that I had company just behind me. The mishap on the swim had caused me to blow a 20-30 second gap that I had gained early on. My only hope was that the guy in fourth couldn't ride a bike or run.

Things continued to get weird when the first guy out of the water dropped his cap and goggles at the feet of the two officials on course. I was shocked when he didn't stop to retrieve them. The rules on the abandonment of equipment are clear and I had a strong suspicion that he might end up being hit with a 2 minute penalty. 

Of the two athletes who exited the water before me, only one left transition before I had mounted my bike. For miles I could see the flashing lights of the pace car just ahead. I tried for the first 10 miles to bridge the gap, but I just wasn't making up ground. I didn't seem to be losing much - maybe a handful of seconds - but it became clear that I was going to need to do work on the run in order to win the race outright. Other than my frustration about riding in second place - something I haven't done much of this season - the bike portion was pretty boring. I didn't encounter another athlete the entire way and just did my best to give myself a chance to run for the win.

Charging into T2 in 2nd place
I got out onto the run course quickly, but noticed that as I exited transition I was followed fairly closely buy the guy who'd bridged most of the gap during the swim fiasco. Again, SHIT

Over the first 1.5 miles of the run, I simply put my head down and chased hard. I was making serious progress on the leader, but I wasn't sure I could completely reel him in by the finish. Unfortunately, around the halfway point I heard the footsteps of a chaser. Actually, what I really heard was the aid station volunteers cheering for someone else immediately after I exited. It's a sound nobody at the front of a race ever wants to hear. Seriously, at that moment cheering is like a slap in the face. Now, I knew it had taken this athlete almost 2 miles to make up 30 seconds which meant that my hope for a wain wasn't necessarily over. I communicated to him that we'd nearly made up the gap to first and that the leader wasn't a strong runner. For awhile, we ran together. I literally closed my eyes, gritted my teeth, and forced myself to embrace the burning pain that comes with this sort of effort. But, it wasn't something I could sustain for a mile and I was dropped with just a few minutes to go. All three of us were entered the finishing straightaway within sight of each other, but by that point the positions were final. Thirty seconds separated first through third by the finish.

While I didn't win, I was pleased with my race (note the personal growth year over year here, people!). I'd put everything I had into the race and was simply beaten by guys who had better days. Sure, I was frustrated by the swim confusion as the guy who finished in front of me surely gained more than 15 seconds when I went off course. Had that not happened, I'm sure the outcome would have been different. However, that's racing and sometimes bad things happen to spoil the party.

Discussing the swim course screw up with the rest of the overall podium

By the time the awards ceremony got underway I had forgotten about the leader abandoning his swim gear at the feet of the official early in the race. As it turns out, the officials were on the ball and did indeed site the first guy across the line with a 2 minute violation for abandoning equipment. That got awkward as clearly he hadn't heard the news until he was called as the third place finisher. Seriously, it was REALLY uncomfortable.  He argued with Mark, the race director (who puts on a number of great races and is very good at what he does). Mark was able to end the conversation relatively quickly by calling for the officials.
Thanks to a penalty, third turned to second...
At this particular race the overall podium is called twice (well, the top 3 overall is called once and the elite podium is called separately, though in this case the two were one in the same). If the first introduction was awkward, I don't even know how to describe the second. Michael Emmons - the now third place finisher - was off to the side pleading with the officials and would not return to the podium when called. That left only two of us to step up, quickly accept our awards, and depart before things got any uglier.

Just let me go home before a fight breaks out over a stupid plaque!
Despite Mr. Emmons' best attempts with the officials, his penalty was upheld. And it should have been. The rule is clear and he violated it. Now, you can make the argument (and he did) that he didn't gain an advantage by making this mistake, but I don't see it so simply. Had he been forced to stop and retrieve the equipment when he dropped it, he and I would most likely have left transition together. That would have been a total game changer and surely would have impacted the outcome in a race that was decided by seconds. The entire race would have played out differently had he followed the rules. Since he didn't, he was penalized. Rules are rules. We all know them going into the race and we risk penalization any time we break them, regardless of whether or not we do so intentionally. The penalty he earned was rare, but deserved. This, of course, isn't to take anything away from Michael; he's a great athlete who happened to make a mistake at an inopportune time.

Second or third, the outcome was really the same. I raced hard and am proud of the effort I put in. As it turns out, Matt Migonis went on to win the M30-34 ITU World Championship and place 4th in the M30-34 Olympic Distance World Championship the following weekend. Those are amazing accomplishments and I'm happy to have gone toe-to-toe with someone with such talent. Michael went on to win the Cranberry Olympic the following day and I'm genuinely happy he was able to capture a win after what was clearly a frustrating moment during the sprint. Both of these guys have a ton of talent; I'm excited to follow their careers and to get the chance to race with them again in the future. 

And, with that, my 2014 triathlon season came to a close. Five of my six races were huge successes and in those events I took home three wins and two seconds. There was a Challenge St. Andrews finish I'd rather not think about in the mix, too, but it was outweighed by all the positives this year. The future is bright and I am excited by the possibilities that lay before me in 2015 and beyond.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Mind Games

There's a line somewhere between being calm and being apathetic, but the two should never be confused. In my most recent race, the Lowell YMCA Olympic Triathlon, I certainly cared about the race and my performance in it, but I've begun to build the confidence needed to perform without all the extra pre-race stress. I'm discovering the process that allows me to access and utilize my abilities fully. I am developing trust in myself and in the training I have done. I'm beginning to personalize all the things I tell athletes: I don't need to do something superhuman on race day - I simply need to tap into the talents I've refined in training.

Lowell is not a big race. It's low key and the field is small. Still, it has drawn a handful of great athletes over the years. I had no idea whether or not any of those bigger names had shown up this year, but I was prepared for whatever challenge people were ready to throw at me. As I've been swimming incredibly well lately my intent was to bury anyone on the start line from the second the go command was given.  In the past I used to use the swim as something to give me a head start on the bike and run. I would get a gap in the water and hope nobody would catch me on my weaker disciplines. Now, as I have made massive improvements to my bike and run, my swim has become an even greater weapon. I've become much harder to catch on dry land so any time I put on the field in the water is even more critical to the race outcome. 

It did not take me long to put my plan in to motion. By the 200 meter mark of the swim I'd gained a 15 second gap on the field. By 500 meters that gap was up to 30 seconds. At 750 meters, as I hit the end of lap one and  began the final loop, I saw that my lead was approaching a minute. When I reached the beach the second time, it was clear that I'd done my job in the water. The second place swimmer was 1:30 back and there were big gaps to third, forth, and fifth. Only three people were within three minutes as I headed out on the bike. 

I nearly saw my day come to an unspectacular finish before taking even one pedal stroke, though. As I went to execute the flying mount, I completely cleared the saddle and landed on the opposite side of my bike. Oops. It wasn't one of my finer moments and only goes to demonstrate that when you don't practice these things regularly you're going to get rusty. That'll get fixed before my next race, for sure.

With my wheels comfortably under me, I put my head down and got down to work. The ride itself was completely uneventful so I won't walk you through the mundane details. Basically, I rode the first loop hard and suspected that my lead was growing. It was. During the second loop I dropped 5-10 watts and began to prepare myself for the run. It was senseless to ride myself into the ground given that I'd built up such a large lead so I played it conservatively. Never before have I put together a decent Olympic distance run and I suspected this might be the occasion to change that.

The first two miles of the run were a little touch and go. I was running well, holding about 6:15/mile, but I was experiencing a strange sensation in my quads. They weren't tight, sore, fatigued, or any other form of tired. They were, however, feeling different than normal. Not knowing exactly what was going to happen over the course of the final four miles, I decided to hold steady until the turnaround before attempting to lift the pace at all. A mile later, as I turned, I felt amazing. I had a four minute lead and I was floating over the pavement. I had full confidence that I could build all the way to the finish. And I did. I negative split the run with miles 6, 5, and 4 being my fastest in that order. It's the best I've ever felt on the run in a triathlon. Crossing the line in 37:07 was a tremendous feeling. While I have run well lately, even I didn't think I would run faster than 38 minutes. To go almost 50 seconds faster was a breakthrough that has been a long time in the making. And as a result, I secured a win by a massive four minute margin.

The success I've had this year has been, of course, closely related to the work I've done in training. More important to what's been a breakthrough year, though, is my ability to manage my mind. I have the physical tools to excel as long as I enable myself to utilize them. No longer is my head working as my body's mortal enemy. I'm discovering how to use my mind to unlock my talents and the dividends have been significant. Have I perfected this art? No. But I have discovered the road that is sure to allow for my continued success and it's one I'll continue to travel.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Running Away: Capitol City Triathlon

I'm skipping the introduction tonight and getting right down to business with the details of today's race. Buckle up and hold on.

When I signed up (a week ago) for the Capitol City race I didn't expect a highly competitive field. But when I found out the night before the race that Stephen Wright had also chosen to race, I knew things were going to be a bit more serious than I'd anticipated. Stephen, my former coach, is a phenomenal athlete who had the misfortune of suffering a rather serious injury that sidelined him for a year or so. While his comeback is young, I'm sure it will take him to the top of the sport in the not too distant future. Having the opportunity to race with him is always fun and challenging. Having him there certainly raised the stakes in Concord.

On race morning we happened to arrive at the same time and park next to each other. After catching up a bit, we started to get down to business with an easy warm up. As we'd arrived early, not many people were around when we departed. When we returned, however, transition was a different scene.  When we got off our bikes, we took inventory of the rest of the field. By the looks of the bikes rolling into transition and the people with them, it seemed as though this saws going to be a much more competitive race than either of us had planned for. It happens every time I race, though it shouldn't, that I evaluate the talent level at a race by the price tag hanging off the bikes. You'd think I would have learned that the two things really don't have much in common by now, but it made me a bit nervous last weekend.

My guard went up even higher when the gun sounded. The entire field took off at a super human pace and I quickly found myself in eighth or ninth place. Perhaps my suspicions were try and I was going up against a stacked field....

By the first turn buoy I had made my way into second place. I pulled up alongside Stephen as we neared the second buoy and made the pass shortly after rounding the turn. Together, we steadily pulled away from the rest of the guys who'd all gone out at a pace they had no hopes of keeping up for much more than 50 meters. As we hit the final turn, I put in one last burst in order to gain a bit more separation from the field. The push worked and Stephen and I exited the water with a decent gap back to third place. That gap grew exponentially after we got through transition. We were off and riding without any company.

The two of us pushed the pace early on the bike. It took me two miles to bridge a 50 meter gap that Stephen had gained in transition, but once we got together we rode fairly hard for the first five or six miles. It became clear very quickly that we were on our own and nobody would be jointing us for the rest of the race. I was in a great position as I knew Stephen was rebounding from a serious injury and didn't have the run speed to hang with me if we got off the bike together. That being true, my goal for the second half of the bike was to get off the bike within 20 seconds of Stephen, who is a much stronger cyclist than me (or anyone, really). With that time gap I knew I would be able to run him down by the halfway point and get a gap before the finish. Much more time and I would risk having to out sprint someone who's been known to push himself so hard in the finish that he crosses the line throwing up. If I could avoid that scenario, I wanted to.

Almost immediately after hatching this plan it fell apart. As we hit a rather steep incline I attempted to drop from my big to small chainring. However, I was riding in a larger cog in the rear when I made the shift causing my chain to drop. I had no choice but to dismount my bike and throw the chain back on by hand. As I applied the brakes I took a deep breath to calm myself. When things like this go wrong the key to recovering is keeping cool and doing things deliberately. Allowing yourself to panic and fumble around is only going to compound the issue and result in major time losses. I was able to dismount, put the chain back on, and get moving again within 13 seconds which was incredibly fast. In a race where I did a lot of things well, this is the one that impressed me the most. I have all the physical tools to succeed, but this showed that I'm developing the mental skills that will translate potential into results.

Once back on my bike, the rest of the ride went smoothly. I rode about 25 seconds behind Stephen the rest of the way back to transition and that was a gap I was satisfied with. We both made our way through T2 in 20 seconds meaning that I needed to make up about 10 seconds a mile in order to win.

I made up about 15 seconds in the first 3/4 mile and I was feeling strong. As we passed the first mile maker I made up the remaining gap and surged into the lead. While I encouraged Stephen to jump on and run with me, he wasn't able to lift his pace and I began to develop a lead. By mile two I had a significant gap and I was able to relax a bit. Rather than running myself into the ground in a race I already had wrapped up,  I kept the pace steady and stayed in control. The gravel trails that made up the final mile of the course seemed to go on forever, but eventually I emerged into a field containing the finish line. I crossed unceremoniously and captured my second win of 2014.

Stephen and I set off pretty soon after finishing for another 30 minutes of running. We quickly realized we were drawing some unneeded attention on the streets of Concord as we paraded around in spandex suits and decided maybe it was better just to circle the parking lot at the race before heading to the awards ceremony (where, because this was a small race, I was pleasantly surprised to be given a trophy, a jar of honey, and a gift certificate).

The day was incredibly successful for so many reasons. I executed a plan, I ran well, I was able to bike with one of the best cyclists around, and I avoided disaster by staying cool and collected. And, for the second race in a row, I left with a smile on my face. I actually enjoyed myself. It was a fun event and I got the chance to catch up with my old coach and friend  at the same time. There are worse ways to spend a few hours early on a Sunday morning.