Sunday, September 11, 2016

Pumpkinman 2016: Transitions

Pumpkinman 2016 is in the books and it will be a weekend none of us will soon forget for so many reasons. First and foremost, of course, is the fact that our 10th anniversary happened to be Kat Bianconi Donatello's final year as race director. Kat brought a world-class event to our community and it's had a major impact on so many families - mine included. In the past 10 years there is nobody who I have called more often or sent more texts to than Kat. If you added together the calls, messages and emails the sum would be staggering.
The lessons I've learned by working with Kat transcend race management and are things I'll carry with me through my career. My time with Kat and the race have helped me to develop an incredibly diverse skill set that can be applied so broadly. And while this weekend was a very serious event, it wasn't all just business. In the (admittedly few) quiet moments we had this weekend it was fun to reminisce about everything we'd been through together in previous years - whether it be at Spring Hill or the post-race together in Kona. Some of those memories still generate laughter after all these years while others continue to leave us speechless. 
On a very closely related note, I could not be more excited for Rachel and Brad Martin who will be taking over the event moving forward. Rachel and I have worked very closely for years and she is the perfect person to lead the race into the future. She and Brad are full of ideas, energy and passion. And on top of that their commitment to our community is unmatched. They're people I enjoying spending time with and that's important to me. I also know it's important to Pumpkinman's athletes. The people who race with us each year do so because they like the atmosphere and people. Well, athletes, you're certainly going to like these people. 
The question I was asked most often this weekend, without question, was, "will you be back next year?" To those who asked, I gave vague responses that didn't really deserve the title of answers. That was certainly a calculated way to handle things on my part. While the race this year was in transition, my mind wasn't on 2017 or beyond. Producing this event requires an immense amount of focus and energy. Best I could, I avoided thinking or talking too much about the future in hopes of keeping people safe in the present. What I did tell those of you that asked is, "I'll always answer the phone when Rachel calls." That's true and it always will be. But what's more telling is that I started the weekend starting many of my sentences, "next year you..." but by 5:30pm on Sunday while standing in the Martin's garage everything started, "next year we..." That wasn't something lost on Rachel! Maybe it was the exhaustion speaking or maybe Rachel and Brad are just good people with good ideas, but either way I'm committed to helping them grow the event in whatever ways I'm able. 
Truthfully, every year for the past 3 years has been "my last". Event management is hard and it takes a toll on me. But there's something that always brings me back and it's the people. So many of my friendships have formed because of or through this event. I recognize several hundred faces each year and know many of those people by name. I often know their family and friends, too. A number of these people have even become close friends - people I see outside of the triathlon world. Pumpkinman is special in that it's an event centered around community. We receive a tremendous amount of support from our communities - both those that we live in and the wider triathlon community. The race has given an incredible amount to the towns and their people by way of financial support and community outreach over the years. At the same time, those same people have selflessly given their time and energy to support a sport that they likely didn't know existed before Pumpkinman came to town. Today, when we were hit with the worst weather I've ever experienced in my life, members of this community reached out to offer help. They called. They texted. They emailed. They were concerned and wanted to do what they could to ensure people's safety. Many cared so deeply that they showed up at the venue to assist us in the middle of the storm. Nobody asked they to come, but they came anyway. Nobody called Katelyn and Bryan Aube and asked them to come back to the venue after they'd gone home to get some much needed rest. But they came anyway because they knew we needed experienced hands and minds. Nobody had to tell Kurt to get in his truck and go pick up runners so they could get to safety during the peak of the storm, but he did it anyway because it needed to be done. that's just one example of so many that illustrates what makes this a special event. 
While all of you deserve an individual mention, one person stands at the front of that line. I could not do this without Eileen. As I said, as much as I like it, the race is hard on me. It's physically, mentally and emotionally draining. Eileen is constantly in the background keeping me grounded. That task, in addition to everything else she has to do, is not an easy one. By the end of Pumpkinman season I'm certainly not the only one in our house who is completely exhausted.
I wish I could individually thank everyone who has been a part of this event for the past 10 years. Since that's not realistic, please know that if you've ever raced, volunteered or spectated with us that we appreciate it more than you can know. Without all of you this race wouldn't be what it is today. And if this race wasn't what it is today, none of us who manage it would be who we are. 

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Breaking the Silence

In the past I had a lot to say about my racing. Until this season I typically offered up detailed reports of almost every race I entered. But this year has been different; it's been a season where the highs have been few in number and the lows have been deep. Somewhere along the way I lost my voice. I stopped knowing what to say. Nothing about the good times seemed entertaining so I wasn't compelled to write. And every time I found words to describe those lows they were overly critical and not productive (and often contained a fair amount of profanity).  The result - silence.

It took a conversation with one of the athletes I coach to make more realize my words could have meaning, not in spite of, but because of my struggles. My athletes either start as friends or quickly become friends. I tend to coach people for a long time and we form significant bonds. In this case that caused my athlete - my friend - to say, "If I am about to cross a line, just say so. That being said... I wonder what the right way for me to respond to you when it's clear you're upset with yourself for your performance in a race. I don't know how to show that I am supportive, when I can't really understand what you're experiencing." She went on to say that she didn't want to offer empty words of encouragement, but our goals were so different in the sport that she didn't know what else she could offer me. This is an incredibly caring and intelligent person (a PhD and professor, actually). She's compassionate, well-spoken, and genuine in everything she does. We, of course, have funny and light conversations often - daily, even. But when she asks questions, and she knows how to do that (maybe it comes with being a professor!), I listen. She forces me to put thought and care into the responses I provide. This case was no exception.

As I warned this person, my response was sure to be lengthy and rambling. I didn't disappoint. Rather than just post the thing in its entirety here I'll narrate that response with the original appearing in italics and my commentary appearing in normal text. Please don't expect me to actually answer her questions directly! As I said, her questions just make me think and important stuff happens to come out as a result. It's amazing what a professor - in the field of education - can make you do... 

Thank you for checking in - I do appreciate that. Lines often get blurred between friends, coaches, athletes, etc so I get that it can be a tricky topic! I actually don't mind that. Some coaches do and keep people at an arms length, but I like that I become good friends with you guys. It's what I like most about coaching, actually. But race results can be a tricky topic for me as well. I know what I'd say to you or any other athlete I coach if you were in my position. And I know what I'd say/want to say as your friend. But sometimes advice that's easy for me to give is tough for me to receive. 

As I said, I form friendships with my athletes. There are times when it can be difficult to know exactly what falls under the coach-athlete relationship and what constitutes a conversation between friends. But strong relationships between people, in my opinion, leads to a higher level of trust and success in all realms. My coach-athlete relationships are not simple business relationships. They go far beyond that and we share an investment in each other. 

No, it is not your job to break down a race, provide feedback, or tell me to shut up! But I sincerely appreciate that you are supportive and care how things go on my end (as an athlete). I do recognize and value the fact that I have a huge support network. 

I can't overstate how meaningful this network of support is to me. I'm incredibly fortunate to be surrounded in all aspects of my life by people who care for and support me. It is not lost on me that from my wife and son to my parents, from my athletes to my friends both in and out of the sport, and from my fellow PBM coaches to my incredible sponsors, I have a tremendous amount of supportive people backing me. 

I'm also sensitive to the fact that I probably come off as very whiny and overly critical of myself. When I post or talk about a race - whether it want well or not - I do actually give some thought along the lines of "is this for public consumption or should you just keep it to yourself". At the end of that process I almost always continue on writing or discussing how I feel. I try to be authentic. Some coaches - and other athletes who compete at my level - would advise against that because it's not necessarily good PR. They'd argue that you want to highlight yourself as this super successful machine who just churns out great race results. They'd say that people will want to hire you if they constantly see you achieving your every dream. Maybe that's true of some athletes, but I don't see it in that light. I find myself to be a better coach, athlete, and friend if I'm open and honest about my performances - good and not as good. I'm not of the opinion that highly successful athletes make the best coaches. I think good coaches are good coaches for reasons that are almost entirely separate from what makes someone a good athlete. I've always felt strongly that I can relate to athlete's struggles because I've been through them. Maybe we finish with different times and in different places in the standings, but I get what it's like to be frustrated and upset. It happens. It's not about placement. It never has been and never will be. It's about knowing yourself, knowing what you're capable of, and evaluating how closely your performances match your potential. Not acknowledging that sometimes you come up short and care deeply about it is, for me, misleading. Everyone has their struggles and I like for people to know that I have them too. Again, the intent of my self-criticisms is not to complain or gain some sort of sympathy, it's just sort of wearing my heart on my sleeve. I put a lot into this sport - into everything I do, really - and it all means a lot to me. I want people to know that and I want them to see that it comes with ups and downs.

There's a lot in there to digest, but most of it speaks for itself so I'll refrain from regurgitating all of it - or maybe I won't. This is something I have thought deeply about for years so we'll see where this goes....

 I always struggle with what to say about my training and racing. As stated in that paragraph from my email, I care deeply about what I do. I invest valuable time and energy that could otherwise be spent elsewhere on this enterprise. Rightly or wrongly, it's no longer something I do in isolation; it's become an important part of me. While I can, of course, compartmentalize and return to normal life after a high or low moment in sport I do value openness and honesty in all aspects of my life. I do have a large support network and I like to be truthful about my ups and downs. Failing to recognize that is misleading and not helpful - not to me and not to others who might potentially benefit from connecting to something I went through. 

While I have numerous roles in life - husband, father, son, brother, coach, athlete, friend, co-worker, and so on - I do my best to carry the same values into each relationship. Above all, I'm open and honest. I believe deeply in the value of communicating my thoughts in a respectful and meaningful manner. That's an easy task when things are going smoothly and I'm maximizing my potential. When things are more bumpy than smooth, however, finding the line between openness and coming across as overly critical (or potentially whiny) is not such an easy job. The venue of social media - the environment where much of this "communication" takes place - only complicates things. I often pause before posting my thoughts, even though they are honest. I write, edit and rewrite numerous times. I wonder how I'll be perceived. I want to know if what I have to say is at all useful to anyone other than me. I ask myself if that last bit matters, eventually deciding that the exercise of communicating my thoughts has value to me as I process my emotions and that, in itself, gives it value.

Ultimately, I'm not trying to hide anything from anyone - myself included. I want people to see me succeed, but I also want them to know that there are an equal number of times where I do not. Whether my audience is family, friends,  current or future athletes is irrelevant to me. I'm not a robot and that's a good thing in every relationship I maintain. I put thought and care into my reflections. Sometimes that process results in highly positive and inspirational messages. Other times the outcome is darker and more bleak. To me it's less about the feeling and more about the way in which we deal with and grow from it moving forward. 

For the people I coach - or for people who are considering hiring me as a coach - I want them to know that it's okay for things to turn out less than perfectly all the time. It's okay to be frustrated. It's fine to struggle. What's not okay is to carry on as if everything is great when it isn't. You can't grow from that position. If you do that I think you ultimately settle and there's nothing worse than settling. Sure, I get disappointed with myself sometimes but I'd rather push my limits and sometimes fall short then set the bar low and act as though I'm constantly setting the world on fire with my performances. I feel the same way as a coach and expect the same things of myself there. I'm not perfect. I make mistakes and I hate it even more in that setting because any shortfall on my end impacts someone else directly. But I'd rather make an error than just provide a mediocre service and stunt the growth of my athletes. The same goes for me as an athlete. I could do the safe thing every day, failing to ever challenge myself. That's not what I'm about, though. I don't improve that way and I'm in this game - like I am in everything - to see just what I can do. 

I've never liked to settle. Settling is boring. I know where my comfort zone is. I know what  can safely do and it's not that interesting. I want to see how far beyond that I can go. But that's a risky proposition and one full of potential breakdowns. I feel the same way when I coach and only select athletes who are willing to follow me down this path. Not every day is picture-perfect, but the end result is always progress. Along the way there are difficulties and frustrations. This path - the one to a fully realized potential - is not easily traversed. It's unfinished, incomplete. There are bridges that need building. There are obstacles that need navigating. And just when you're not sure you can go on you get a glimpse of what's around the corner and go a bit further. In the end it isn't so important that you arrive at the finish - which is really nonexistent. The fact that you started and didn't turn back along the way is where the value exists.

Now, moving to the end of my response (which came after a lengthy discussion of the specifics of my race and some connections to our shared profession - teaching).

To your initial question, I'm not a huge fan of "hey, great job!" as a response when I'm not feeling great about something - especially after I stated that things were not good! I've always felt that way and had MANY disagreements with my parents (and coaches/friends/Eileen/everyone else in my life) growing up over that very issue. I have always maintained that people mean well when saying such things - and often do it because they don't know what else to say. But I've also always said that it's not helpful because it fails to acknowledge my feelings. I deal with my students and athletes in the same way. I might think a B or a certain race result is right in line with what they earned/deserved/are capable of. However, if they're upset about it then it's important that I acknowledge that in my response. Just telling the student or athlete "good work. you'll do better next time" doesn't do that. Some response that gets at the source of the frustration (or other comparable emotion) is more appropriate.

Hang around me long enough and you'll get to see the paragraph above play out in real life. I do not like being told good job when, if fact, the job was a poorly executed. I believe strongly that people's emotions matter and the best responses acknowledge their feelings. Ignoring this implies that there is no value to what the person is feeling when those emotions are already trending negative. The outcome, of course, is to feel worse. Not only do they feel badly about whatever went wrong initially, but they now feel unvalidated. Acknowledging emotions is a powerful thing in coaching, teaching and friendship. Feelings are complicated and difficult things that can lead to growth or destruction. To encourage the former I find it critical to validate emotions. Doing so shows people that it's okay to feel and care. It empowers them to take charge and work toward understanding themselves more completely. This, to me, is the foundation for growth. It's the first step toward building for the future. Failing to help someone through this process by not acknowledging that it's okay to feel emotions is detrimental to the trajectory of their long-term growth. Over time people will begin to repress those feelings and miss the opportunity to learn from the situations that brought them on initially. As uncomfortable as someone else's emotions are for you to see, they're even more powerful and impactful to that person. Let them know that it's okay to struggle, to feel. 

With all of that out I'll soon write more specifically about my year of training and racing. I've reflected a great deal on everything that's transpired this year and I'm ready to discuss it openly and honestly. 

If you've made it this far, thank you! I appreciate the fact that anyone is interested in reading what I have to write and only hope it can serve you in some aspect of your life. 

Monday, December 7, 2015

Real World Ironman Prep

* This post was initially written for and appeared on the PBM Coaching website.

Ironman is an event synonymous with commitment and resiliency. While the event and the training required for it certainly require a high degree of dedication and perseverance, the exact demands are often misunderstood. At PBM Coaching we are up front with our athletes about what is and, equally important, what is not required to properly prepare for Ironman. We want athletes to know about how much they’ll train, what that training will look like, and, most importantly, how it will fit in alongside their family and career commitments.

Let there be no confusion: There are no shortcuts in training properly for an Ironman. Athletes will complete long rides in the 100 mile ballpark, long runs over two hours and taxing swim sets. That does not mean, however, that to be ready on race day that it requires athletes to sacrifice their families or jobs. Coaches and their athletes must work together and devise a plan that incorporates both proven training principles and a realistic evaluation of the time available to institute those principles. Failing to do one or both of those things will lead to suboptimal performance on and off the course. 

At PBM Coaching we place a high value on quality work over sheer volume. Central to our approach is that the right work is executed under the proper conditions at the correct time in the athlete’s schedule. No two athletes require exactly the same workload on the same schedule. Factors like training load, accumulated training stress, adaptations to prior training, family schedule, work commitments, and general stress level all have a role in determining what sessions an athlete will complete and when they will be completed. Regular oversight and consistent communication are critical to ensuring that all factors are accounted for when prescribing a schedule. Simply setting a number of hours per week that an athlete must complete to arrive at the start line well prepared would be impractical and irresponsible on the part of a coach. Simply put, there is no magic number of training hours required. Rather than a table describing the duration an athlete ought to complete each week, we like to advise athletes by speaking about the general types of training they’ll expect to see as they prepare for Ironman. 

Consistency is an important term in triathlon training and one that is sometimes lost in peoples’ obsession with the long ride, long run, and total number of training hours per week. Those components are important, of course, but they don not alone constitute a plan. What’s more important than the exact numbers produced in those relatively few number of sessions is the regularity with which athletes are swimming, running, and riding. We want our athletes on a bike, in running shoes, and in the water often. Not every session needs to produce massive numbers. In fact, only select sessions should. Targeted, quality work is essential and when it happens on a regular basis the results are impressive.

Ironman is a demanding but manageable endeavor. It requires consistency and prioritization, but not necessarily at the expense of family or career. The recipe for success does call for the ingredients of the basic long rides, runs, and swims. Those components alone, though, are not enough to successfully prepare for or execute an Ironman. An athlete can nail those key sessions, but they must be surrounded by frequent, quality work for the benefits to be fully realized. 

Contact Kyle at for more information about Ironman and how it can fit into your life. 

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Beach to Beacon 10k

There's no event in 2015 I was looking forward to more heading into the season than the iconic Beach to Beacon 10k. While it wasn't necessarily the most important race of the year it was the one that excited me the most. I'm a huge fan of large running events. They aren't always conducive to running super fast times, but they're fun. In Maine, nothing is bigger than B2B. With 6500 runners, it's by far the largest road race in the state and it consistently sells out within 5 minutes. And it's not only large, but it's incredibly well attended by exceptional runners form all over the globe. The paring of gold medalist and American running legend, Joan Benoit Samuelson and Boston Marathon race director, Dave McGillivray draws an amazing field of athletes. Some of the best runners in the world toe the line on what's considered a fast course with one of the most picturesque finishes anywhere in the world.

Both my dad and I were able to secure spots to this year's race. Given the logistics involved in the point-to-point race, Eileen and Kellan stayed home for this one. Generally, I'm a fan of races that allow me to park right next to the start/finish area. It simplifies things and allows me to have the warm up and cool down I want without any hassle. That just wasn't an option at B2B, but we managed. In retrospect, the only real pre-race mistake I made was warming up too early. We were able to hop on the first shuttle bus out of Cape Elizabeth High School and arrived at the race start about 6:20am. By 6:30 the start area was already starting to fill up and I began to get nervous about my ability to get in a proper warm up due to the bathroom lines and how quickly the starting corrals were filling. So I took off for a 2 mile warm up. I felt great during warm up, but it simply ended too long before the start of the race. While I tried my best to do running drills and strides in the time remaining before the race, my legs were not where I wanted them as the start neared. Now that I've seen how things go I know that I can put off that warm up next year and still be to the starting line on time. Lesson learned.

With about 10 minutes to go before the start I made my way into the sub 6:00 mile corral and found my buddy Isaac who I knew would be running about the same time. As we chatted, I looked around at the competition and suddenly felt overweight and too muscular - which marks the second time this has ever happened to me, the first being in Kona 2013. I was not surrounded by triathletes who have developed some level of upper body strength through swimming and massive quads from all the hours on a bike. I was surrounded by twigs. I'm use to being the twig! But here I felt like I stuck out for not looking the part of a real runner.

After months of anticipation ahead of race day and hours of waiting the morning of, the gun went off. A massive wave of runners spilled onto the roadway. Even starting in the first 150 runners was chaotic. With the first few bends in the road being to the left it seemed as though everyone wanted to share the same exact space. I felt trapped for about a half mile and couldn't seem to find my way out of the crowd. As we neared the first aid station, though, I found an opening and broke to the right side of the road. While it required running a few extra feet it was worth having a bit of room to breathe. After the aid station I veered back to my left so I could take a shorter route around the course, but I stayed on the outside of the pack so I always had room to move if I wanted it. With all the jostling and with a lack of any real rhythm I went through the first mile in a pedestrian 5:42. Given the course layout I knew that was not a good sign as I expended far too much energy to run the first mile that slowly. I figured I needed to run between 5:32-5:35 for the first mile.

A few minutes into the race with Isaac stocking me in the background

I ran the second mile reasonably well. With the first mile being a bit slower than planned, the second was right where I needed it to be. However, with the first two and a half miles being downhill to flat the first real test of the race came near the halfway point with the first climb.

Running an open 10k is nothing like running 10k off the bike...

The hill at the 2.5(ish) mile point isn't a particularly long or steep one, but it hits hard. It hits really hard. After running a gradual downhill for miles any sort of incline makes your legs feel as though you're scaling a cliff face. It was rough and it's the place where my hopes of a sub 36 minute race ended. I scurried over the top of the "climb" and hit the 5k mark in 18:02. With the final mile of the course containing a number of rolling hills I knew a negative split was out of the question. Making matters worse was the fact that I suffered for a solid 3 minutes after that hill. It wasn't until I neared the 4 mile mark that I started to feel okay.

This is what happens to your form when the wheels start to come off...
I plodded along in the 5:50 range until I hit mile five. In every course preview I'd read the 6th mile of the race is by far the most difficult due to the rolling hills. While it was my slowest mile (at a pathetic 6:16) I didn't find it to be that painful. Perhaps I just wasn't able to push myself hard enough for it to hurt, but I found the one climb at mile 3 to be worse than anything in the final mile.

With 36:00 out of the question I was doing everything I could to finish in a somewhat respectable time. As I entered Fort Williams Park I did my best to surge and make up any lost time I could. I ran reasonably well during the closing stretch but I couldn't help but being somewhat disappointed in my race. I never imagined running north of 36 minutes. I was convinced due to all the training and racing I'd done in the build up to the race that anything short of that time was a let down. That said, I was able to keep things in perspective as I was happy to just be experiencing the race. As I made my way through the park and toward the famed Portland Head Light I kept in mind that I'd learned some valuable lessons about this course and would put them to good use in the future. 
Just .2 mile left to run

The view from my side of the finish line is amazing. I've never crossed a finish line with a view so spectacular as the one presented by the Portland Headlight and the Atlantic Ocean. The finish alone was worth the pain brought on by the 6.2 mile journey.

An amazing view to cap off one of the top 10k races in the world
Officially, I ran 36.34. And a week later I ran 36:28 off the bike for 6 miles... So clearly I've developed as a decent runner off the bike but have a way to go as a pure road racer. I do find my run off the bike training for Olympic distance triathlon to look much more like open half marathon training than like open 10k work. 

With one race over, another started. I wanted a post race massage but knew that the tent would overflow fast! Fortunately, I made it there to be in the first grouping of athletes to receive treatment. That was more of a relief than the actual finish of the race. For 10 minutes I closed my eyes and tried to allow my muscles to begin the recovery process. 

With 6500 finishers, the post race festivities were overwhelming. My dad and I had not planned accordingly and never set a meeting point other than "somewhere by the food tent". Well, about 6300 people were mingling in that area which made it pretty hard to connect with each other. I reverted to the old "if you're lost just stay in one place and I'll find you" tactic that my parents taught me when I was young. It worked! Before long we were reconnected and in line for the shuttle back to the parking area. 

Time aside, I loved everything about this race. It completely lived up to the hype and I will be online ready to register the second it opens for 2016. As an athlete, they took care of everything I could have needed. As a race director, I was in awe of the production value and precision of execution. Everything was perfect. Beach to Beacon is a must do race!

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Capitol City: A frightening title defense

This past weekend I race in Concord at the Capitol City Triathlon. Since finishing I've debated what, if anything, I wanted to post about the event. For the most part the race reports on this blog have been fairly straight forward recaps of the event and how the race unfolded from a competition standpoint. I tend to avoid commenting on anything from a race organization standpoint. Being a race director myself I often see things at races that could and should be improved. However, this is not really the forum for that sort of commentary. Some race directors do ask for my honest input after the events and I always provide that when it's requested. All that said, I'm going to break my own rules in this post because, as you'll see, safety was an issue. 

I won this event last year so I was aware that it was a small race with low entry fees. I was under no illusions when I registered this year that I was signing up for a high-budget event. I did check to see if some of the more sketchy points from 2014 had been remedied this year. That being the case, I went ahead with my small-scale title defense. 

On race morning I almost pulled the plug. The weather was looking iffy and knowing the course I was a bit uncomfortable racing in those conditions. But I went ahead and made the drive with the understanding that I would make a last minute call whether to actually race or not. As it turned out, the weather wasn't a factor so I am happy I didn't preemptively end my day. 

The swim - for the first time this season - went well. I felt much more powerful in the water and was able to break away at the gun and exit the water by myself in the lead. Granted, it was only 500 meters and it's hard to really judge your swimming over that distance in the open water. We'll see if some of the new stuff I've been working on in training translates to the Olympic distance in August when I cover that distance a few times. 

Before the race started I ran into up and coming athlete, Rob Hollinger. Rob was a runner in college (up until last May) and he's really making an impression on the triathlon scene this year. In June he won the well attended Patriot Half, so he's got a solid background and I knew he'd be a real test. I've actually been working with Rob on his swim so I was really aware of how well he is racing. I also knew that I had to have a big gap starting the run in order to win. He's got very good run speed- like 1:16 in a half ironman. 

As I headed out on the bike I went hard early. The course has a ton of turns and bends in the road and my goal was to stay out of sight. Long story short, I was successful in doing that. I rode very well and came into the second transition with a rather large lead. 

HOWEVER... the fact that I survived the bike at all is a miracle. Every single intersection for the first half of the course was uncontrolled, as was one of the final turns. I honestly thought I was going to die. There were police and volunteers at each station, but they were all in their cars.  It's certainly not their fault. It's standard practice for the race director to have a car pre-drive the course and notify the intersections that the first bike will be arriving soon. Clearly that didn't happen. As a result, there was lots of slowing and accelerating on my part as I tried to navigate downtown Concord without being run over. It was a disaster. I understand not paying for a lead car/motorcycle, but it is totally unacceptable not to notify the police and volunteers that the race is underway. It's dangerous and irresponsible. As a race director I can not even imagine how this was not dealt with properly. Safety - especially on the swim and bike - are priorities 1 and 1a. Had I not been paying attention to what was happening out there, or rather not happening, there's a serious possibility I could have been run over. Fortunately, I had enough sense to slow down through town and defer to vehicular traffic so I didn't become road kill. 

Back to racing. As I left transition on the run I was enjoying a big lead. But I knew that no lead was really safe when the guy chasing me down could run in the 16:30 range over the mostly off-road course. I ran really hard for the first mile and a half hoping to stay out of sight. I was successful in doing this, but I was starting to pay a toll by mile 2. Things started to really hurt as I entered the final trail section of the course. By that time I was within Rob's sights and I could tell that he was closing. I was on pace to run in the low 18 minute range for 5k - which probably would have been in the 17:45 range on roads - but he was gaining fast. All I wanted was for the finish line to show up. With about 200 meters left to go it was still out of sight and I could see that Rob was only about 10 seconds behind me. I mustered up about 100 meters of hard running and then cruised into the finishing chute as Rob came barreling in three seconds later. For never really seeing each other during the race, it turned out to be a pretty exciting finish.

As we cooled down on some of the roads surrounding the course the two of us noticed that athletes were using a different trail than we had. Not only were they using the wrong one but they were being directed by a volunteer to do so. I knew we'd gone the right way - both because of the course maps and because I'd done the race the year before. It turned out to be a huge mess for the RD after the race, but it could have been avoided. The VERY AREA where this happened was something I brought up to the race director after last year's race. He'd asked what he could improve and both Stephen and I commented that he needed markings in the grass and signage on that trail as it can be a confusing area. I was really disappointed to see that he hand't made that improvement this year. It caused an unnecessary headache for the race organizers and a lot of disappointment and frustration for those athletes. What concerns me isn't so much that people got lost on the course it's that two experienced racers (and an experienced RD) had brought this to the race's attention last year and it wasn't remedied. That's not a good sign. And it's part of the reason I don't think I'll return next year. I can't go back knowing that things might be just as unsafe in 2016 as they were this year. 

I've been around long enough to expereince all sorts of courses and race organizers. I've seen the best of the best as well as some super sketchy situations. What happened this past weekend was on the concerning side of that spectrum. I really hope things get turned around in the future. It's a small race, but it gets some decent attendance from the local area. It's a beginner friendly race in that it's not intimidating and very low key. That said, the fact that it's beginner friendly is even more reason to go above and beyond with safety and course set up. If corrected, this could be a really fun race for people. If not, I'm afraid to go back. 

While I was disappointed in the way the race was set up I was actually really happy with the way I raced. I took away a number of positives and can see that I'm headed in a good direction for my bigger races this year. And regardless of where it happens, it's fun to be on the top step of the podium.

Fortunately, I'm headed to one of the best organized races in the country this weekend at the Beach to Beacon 10k! It's a race I've been looking forward to for months and I can't wait to experience it and hopefully throw down a solid time. 

Sunday, June 21, 2015

A finish to remember

I'm often asked how being a new father impacts my ability to train and race at a high level. The answer to the training portion of that has been an easy one to answer. I missed two days of training while we were in the hospital after Kellan's birth. Since then I have not missed a session. In the first few weeks the quality of a handful of sessions suffered due to a lack of sleep, but aside from those few days I've continued to train at a high level. In fact, I could argue that the level of quality has risen since the day we brought Kellan home. There's a new level of focus during every training session. When I step outside the house to work out, I do so with an increased sense of purpose. I understand completely that my training has an impact on the rest of my family and that's not something I take lightly; I make the most of those moments I am away. There's no sense in simply going through the motions. If that were the case, I might as well stay at home with Kellan and Eileen. Rather, when I step out the door I do so with the mindset that I am going to work. There's something to be accomplished in every session and I dedicate myself fully to that mission each time I step through the door. When I step back inside, regardless of how the session went, I'm back to being a dad and a husband. Training is over. I leave it at the door. It's made me a better athlete and allows be to be the best father and husband I can be. 

The question to how the new addition to our family would impact my racing has been a more difficult question to answer simply because I haven't raced much. In my one attempt, a half marathon in May, things went exceptionally well. However, one instance doesn't make a trend. So heading into the Sebago Lake Olympic I wasn't exactly sure how I would hold up to the demands of racing. My training indicated that I was ready for a fantastic season, but transforming that into actual race results is a difficult task. 

My biggest concern about racing with Kellan in tow was simply getting out the door on time. This race, in particular, caused some stress in that regard. We needed to depart by 4:15am which was a potentially tricky situation given that 12 week olds aren't always thrilled to be woken in the middle of the night (despite their willingness to wake others...). Fortunately, things worked out and we were in the car by 4:20. The hardest part of the day was over and the race didn't even begin for three hours. 

Once at the race I started to get a bit nervous as I could not get myself warmed up. I felt sluggish and out of sync. My legs were unresponsive and I tried every trick in my book to change that, but nothing seemed to get me on track. It's not the first time this has happened so I wasn't panicked, but I was certainly aware of what was happening. I was fairly confident that when the gun sounded I would be fine, but it's always an unnerving feeling when this happens.

When the cannon sounded to signal the start of the race my concerns were not immediately eliminated. I quickly made my way into the second spot and began to pull away from the chase pack, but I was still not feeling as sharp as I'd hoped. I didn't feel bad, I just didn't feel quite right. Fortunately, I got glimpses of that elusive feeling throughout the swim so I knew it was there beneath the surface and I just had to access it. Despite my ongoing inner battle, I was putting big time into most of the field and exited the water in second place. By the time we'd made our way though transition I was within a few seconds of the leader.

Exiting the swim with the lead in sight
During the first two miles I made my way to the front of the race where I would stay for the duration of the 24.3 mile ride. The course at Sebago is one of the trickiest around. There's absolutely no way to get into a rhythm due to the topography. It's impossible to get comfortable or to establish any sort of consistency. This didn't bode well for me given that I was already feeling out of sorts. But I did my best to remain composed and set myself up for a solid run as it became apparent by the second half of the ride that this was going to be a two man foot race for the win. 

Riding my Parlee TTiR in the lead 
I rode hard, but not irresponsibly; I made sure to keep the pace honest, knowing that I had a solid run in my pocket. I didn't feel pressure to extend my lead on the bike and I felt I simply needed to get to transition within sight of the lead in order to take control on the run. That's an amazing feeling to have and it's not something I could have said a few years ago. Years of work and many thousands of miles working on my run have put me in a place I never could have imagined a few years ago. 

The pieces started to fall into place in the late stages of the bike
While I wasn't feeling amazing in the early and middle stages of the race I was feeling something more important: in control. I was both in control of myself and everyone else in the race. I was in charge. As if I was playing chess, I had the board set up to my liking and was ready to attack when the moment was right. 

Exiting transition I had a gap of 15 seconds to second place. The gap beyond that was measured in minutes, though there were some very talented athletes in that group. I was a bit surprised to have broken the race so wide open on the swim and bike, but I was happy to be in that position. 

Following with the theme set earlier in the day, I felt so-so during mile one of the run. But I wasn't concerned. I still turned in a sub 6:10 mile and was just cruising along. I did have company by that point, though. Second place, who I had an idea was a slightly slower runner than I, had caught me at around the half mile point, but he didn't make a pass. Again, I knew I was in control.

This view didn't change for four miles

We ticked off another mile at 6:10 but nothing eventful happened. It was too early to start messing around. We had reached the first turnaround by that point and knew we had approximately 3:30-4 minutes on third place meaning the winner would come from our little duo. The sharpness I was seeking early in the race had finally arrived and I was sure I was going to win. My legs were responsive and I had plenty of gas in the tank to make a decisive move later in the race.

With 5k to go it was time to race
We went through mile 3 in 6:03, though a portion was downhill. As we hit the turnaround to start lap two of the 2-loop out-and-back course I knew it was time to start racing. 

We plodded along to a 6:20 partially uphill fourth mile, but this time it was eventful. Every time the road tilted upward I increased the pace slightly. Not much, just enough to do two things: first, I established control. I was making the moves. People generally break down mentally long before their body gives out and that was my desired outcome. I wanted him to know that I had him beat long before we ever saw the finishing chute. Establishing control did that for me. I also got to see just how responsive my running mate was. Should this thing come down to a sprint finish I wanted to know just how long it might take him to respond to any move. The result of these mini surges - if you can even call them surges - was exactly what I'd hoped for. I'd open a small gap with 10 strides and then settle back into our 6:10-6:15 baseline pace. Slowly he'd reel his way back to me. About the time he reestablished contact I would take 10 or so more strides at a pace closer to 5:40 than 6:10. Each time I pried the gap open a bit more. But I didn't put a final nail in the coffin right away. When I made that final move I wanted it to be decisive. I wanted his mind to know the race was over even if his body still had something to give. 

Opening a small gap a few minutes before making one final move
That final move came at the aid station around the 4 mile marker. Aid stations are a personal favorite in terms of launching points for attacks. People are generally off guard and less likely to respond to moves at aid stations and I like to take advantage of that. So I grabbed a cup, but I didn't actually drink from it. Rather, I increased the tempo and dropped the drink on the road. At the same time I heard my running mate call out for water. This time the move wasn't 10 strides, it was 2 minutes. I didn't do anything crazy, but I did drop the pace to about 6:00/mile. All it took was that slight shift in pace to change the landscape or the race. Suddenly, I was alone and back to running those 6:10s I started the day with. I cruised through mile 5 feeling fantastic. The gap was large now - about 20 seconds - and continuing to grow. Mile 6 also felt good as I continued to put one foot in front of the other, extending my lead with every stride. Soon, with nobody in sight, I turned the the final corner, trading pavement for the beach.

As I neared the finish line I looked desperately for Eileen and Kellan. Since learning Eileen was pregnant I've wanted to win a race with my son in my arms and now I had the opportunity. Fortunately, they were at the start of the finishing chute and I had plenty of time to stop and make the handoff. I quickly found that running with a baby in my arms is more difficult that I'd imagined. So my celebratory stroll to the finish was more of a walk than a run. But I didn't care. The time on the clock didn't matter. I'd crossed first and I'd done so with my little buddy in my arms. 

The slowest, but sweetest finish line crossing of my career
Finally got him to his preferred spot on my shoulder
I've been fortunate to win a decent number of races in my career, but none was as special as this. To be able to share the moment with my son, even though he'll never remember it, was an amazing experience and one that I will never forget. 

Thank you to my sponsors, Fit Werx, Parlee, Honey Stinger, XX2i, Nootca, and Rudy Project all of whom helped make this moment possible. Without their support, I would not be able to train and race at this level. 

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Maine Coast Half Marathon

So Blogger has done me a massive disservice today (well more like a minor inconvenience, but still...). After approximately an hour and a half of typing a masterpiece of a blog post, it somehow all managed to be erased. Apparently auto save even failed me this time and a lot of time and effort were lost. A year ago I would have just gone ahead and retyped all of it. I'd go in to great detail about the six weeks I lost to a calf and achilles injury. I'd go on and on about how I rehabbed and the doubts I had about my season during that layoff. I would have rambled about how great Shawn Crotto is and how his massage work saved my season. And I would have told you all about how I developed my race plan for this event given the challenges I faced in the lead up to it.

But now this guy is in my life and he's more important than my retelling that story...

So let me dive right in.

I showed up on race day with loosely constructed plan to run 6:20/mi for the first 7 and then see where my body took me between there and the finish. I doubted the finishing time would be impressive, but I just wanted a solid result given that I'd missed so much training.

Getting the Garmin 220 all set before the starting gun - which turned out to be a conch shell

Mile 1 went exactly to plan. One guy took off from the start, but a solid little pack formed behind him  and ran 6:19 for mile one. With temps in the high 40s and no wind, the running felt easy. I hadn't felt very good during my pre race warm up, but I seemed to be gliding along early in the race and felt I might have to get a bit more aggressive than planned. Now, this is not something I'd typically advise. Mile 1 of a 13 mile race is not really the time to start tossing a plan out the window and coming up with one on the fly.

Leading the chase pack at mile 1
My little pack thinned out a bit by mile 2, but I had relinquished my spot as it's leader. I was fine with running a bit harder than planned, but did the smart thing and tucked in the group to conserve a bit of energy. We ended up with a 6:10 mile, though it was almost entirely downhill. 

I swear, I eventually found my way into the slipstream and picked up a bit of a draft

The Maine Coast course is amazing. It starts and finishes at the University of New England and takes runners along the coast of Biddeford Pool. While I wasn't doing too much looking around, it was hard to ignore the surrounding views. As we cruised along the coastline, two half runners and a relay participant broke from the pack and I made the decision not to go with them. It was my attempt at being smart. I'd already crumpled up my plan and was going a bit heavier on the gas than anticipated. Following moves at mile 3 didn't seem like the place to push my luck. 

I'm REALLY bad at running behind people. As you can see, I've managed to find my way back to the front
Miles 4-8 were pretty uneventful. I was just cruising along at what felt like a natural pace. When I attempted to PR last fall at Newburyport, the pace never felt comfortable. I was never able to settle in and just get through a few minutes without needing to adjust the pace. That wasn't the case last week. for miles 3-7 I ran 6:17, 6:10, 6:11, 6:15, 6:14, 6:13. One other guy - the one in the Tufts singlet - and I had shed everyone else by this point and were running in 4th and 5th place. As I found out, he was a former collegiate runner at Tufts. He was a cool guy and we ran a lot of miles together. However, around mile 9 I was feeling much better than he was and I decided to see just how fast I could finish. 

About 9 miles in and really starting to feel good.
I went through miles 9 and 10 in 6:10 and 6:08 respectively. Somewhere during that stretch I realized I didn't quite have the top end speed I was looking for. That came as no surprise given the challenges that preceded the race. Without having done any speed work and doing a lot of sower miles in training I just didn't have that next gear though my lungs and head were certainly willing to go faster. Still, I managed to run 6:06, 6:04, 6:06 for the final 3 miles and finished in forth place overall in a time of 1:21:11. 

Still running strong around mile 11 or 12
I was both happy with and a bit surprised by my performance. Doubt certainly existed heading into this race and I wasn't sure what I would be able to produce. Having set a PR by over a minute, I am more encouraged than ever about my upcoming season (and the years to come). My run is really starting to develop and I can't wait to see where it takes me both in road racing and triathlon.

Feeling as good as one can in the late stages of 13 mile footrace
Finishing my first race as a dad!
I was really impressed with the Maine Coast Half and will certainly be back in the future. It was a no hassle event with an awesome course. If you're looking for a solid half or full marathon, this race is worth considering.
One last Kellan picture as photos of him are much cuter than photos of me.
Thank you, as always, for reading!