Monday, April 6, 2009

Blood-Sucking Caterpillars: A New Orleans Race Report




I awoke with a jolt on race morning when Chris punched me in the back. I rolled over and realized I'd slept through my alarm twenty minutes. Not that big of a deal, really, since we were primarily getting there early for him, since his wave left thirty minutes prior to mine. So off we went, with a quick stop off at the refrigerator to grab my pre-baked sweet potatoes, and wash them down with some Millennium Sports supplements, Hammer Race caps and Impax Enerprime. And of course, I grabbed my precious GU Espresso-flavored gel with some delta-E for that morning caffeine jolt.

Transition set-up went through without a snag. This race was a point-to-point swim, so we had to set-up transition, then walk or take a shuttle bus 1.2 miles down the rode to the swim start.

Sorry for the severe lack of photos, but after I set-up my transition area so beautifully and had my GU nutrition tattoos placed so strategically across my body, I grabbed my camera to snap a photo...and it was dead. But it looked good, I promise.

And you can purchase a professionally snapped race photo for the special price of 199.99 (three hundred dollar shipping charge applies). ;)

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Since I had time, and my wave didn't go off until 7:34, I opted to walk twenty minutes to the swim start. When I got to staging area, I slipped into the porta-potty and took a nice long poo, strolled over to the chip area and got my timing chip, then stretched awhile. I glanced at my watch.

Still 12 minutes left.

With my wetsuit hanging around my waist, I wandered off in search of some water, and heard the announcer give the "Silver Caps" the 60 second count-down.

I looked down in my hand. Silver cap.

Oops. Must've read something wrong.

Fumbling with my Blue Seventy Helix and yanking the swimcap over my head, I made a mad 50 yard sprint for the swim start, leapt over the gate and had a race official quickly zip me up. As I ran down the stairs into the water, my wave was literally doing the ten second countdown.

But somehow, arriving at this moment put me in a perfect inside jockeying position that allowed me to push off the stairs, glide underwater, and lead the entire pack to the first buoy. Three of us led the swim for the next 200m or so, then we started to swim into the wave that started ahead of us.

Everything broke up at that point (basically like swimmming into a mine field) and the next 25 minutes were spent swimming "around people". And yes, the lake tastes like a mix of sushi and metal.

Nonetheless, I felt like I came out of the water in a good position, and only saw 2 other bikes when I arrived at my transition towel. The swim was somewhere around a 29, and I crossed the timing mat at about 30, as it was a fairly long transition chute.

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From the minute I hopped onto my Specialized Transition, I knew I would have a pretty solid bike split. I had a great taper for this race, and for the days leading up, was feeling some real power in the legs. They were poppin', so to speak.

The first 10 miles or so of the bike was ultra-bumpy, and on the first real teeth-rattling speed bump/pothole/volcanic crack (still not really sure what it was), my special-made Profile Design downtube gel holder device thingy spit out all my GU Roctane and scattered it across the road.

Here I had to make a quick decision: lose momentum, stop, and gather my nutrition, or push on and survive on aid-station Gatorade and the one packet of GU Chomps I had shoved up my shorts. I ended up making a stupid decision, and for all the athletes that I coach, do as I say, not as I did on this one. It would have cost me maybe 20-30 seconds to stop and gather my nutrition off the road, but I didn't stop.

And this was knowing that Gatorade messes up my gut, which I learned after a similar incident in Hawaii. Take away lesson: in the heat of the race, listen to your brain, not your emotions.

Fortunately, it turned out that there were "unadvertised" Powerbar Gels at most of the aid stations. These things don't hold a candle to the caffeinated, branched chain amino acid/maltodextrin blend of GU Roctane. But I can tolerate them, unlike Gatorade.

So, surviving off a bit of an unanticipated nutrition plan, I continued with what I consider to be one of my better Half-Ironman bike performances. My heart rate was dialed in the entire time, and I literally sailed through the field. I came out of my aero position just a few times.

Interestingly, I realized after the race that my seatpost had slipped nearly 3 millimeters when I went over the speed bump! This may have been why my quads were more sore than usual the day after. I was pushing pretty good wattage with a high amount of weight on the pedals and "hovering" over the saddle most of the time, so this didn't hold me back too much. My bike split was around a 2:20, and I felt great coming into transition.

And the blood-sucking caterpillars? Something resembling a caterpillar (that I can only imagine fell out of a tree) gave me a big nasty bite on the thigh at about the 60K mark, as we were biking through what appeared to be a wildlife refuge. I at first thought it was a wasp, which would have probably resulted in a DNF, since I am allergic, but it just stung like hell for awhile, then disappeared.

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The first 5K of the run, everything felt great. It was pretty hot, but I was very pleased that everything was going as planned. I typically don't eat for the first 30 or 40 minutes of the half-marathon in a 70.3, as I shove some extra fuel and hydration down the hatch on the bike.

After about 5K, there is a turn-around on the run, after which we head down towards the city park for 10K or so. My plan was to stay relatively aerobic for the first 10K, then really open up and attack hard to the finish.

It was at this first turn-around that I started to feel very, very warm. Afraid that I might be overheating, I stopped at the next aid station and took about 6oz of cool water while slowing to a walk to catch my breath and cool. Ice or ice sponges would have been nice, but these weren't available.

I glanced at myself in the reflection of a car window and I didn't look so good, but I'm pretty used to a bit of suffering, or what I call "dark places", here and there in the race, so I took off again, hoping I'd come around. Usually I do.

I never did.

My heart rate began rapidly pounding out my chest every time I pushed any faster than about an 8 minute mile. I couldn't catch my breath, ever. All I could think about was ice and cold water. My skin felt like it was burning up.

I began to walk every aid station, and then I began to walk a little bit *after* every aid station.

By the 8 mile mark, I was ready to quit, and at this point was running 500 steps, then walking 100 steps to cool down. That kept me going for another couple miles.

When we turned onto Espanade, which signals about 5K to the finish line, I was very disappointed. I'd been passed over a dozen times, and my body had never felt like this in a race.

I'd experienced gut distress in Hawaii.

I'd experienced run ending knee injury in Hawaii.

I'd experienced completely fatigued and useless legs in Chile.

But I'd never experienced the inability to even do a light jog without feeling like my head and heart were going to blow up.

So basically, I think that for the first time in my racing career, I really, truly "blew up". Like, smoke coming out my ears, blew up.

The last bit down Espanade avenue was pure hell. I couldn't smile, I couldn't enjoy myself, it was every shred of determination to even move. I was audibly groaning with each step.

When I took a right on the last 800 meters down Decatur, I still wasn't sure that I was going to make it. People's cheering was sounding very faint, and I wasn't hearing right. A couple of New Orleans cops began walking beside me like they were getting ready to catch me. I could see the finish line but I couldn't mentally gauge how far away it was. I was shutting down.

I really don't remember crossing the finish line. All I remember is just standing there while they took my chip off. My hands were tingling and I couldn't understand what the race volunteer was saying. The blood was pounding in my head and my ears so hard that I couldn't hear properly. I felt cold and clammy.

Two nurses helped me into the med tent. I collapsed on a stretcher while they stuck an IV in me and covered me in ice bags. Then I just lay there, staring at the white tent ceiling while the world spun around.

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So after the smoke cleared, it turned out that I ended up about 30 minutes off goal pace for my half-marathon, running something like a 1:55 and finishing somewhere around 4 hours and forty five minutes, give or take (that's what you get when I write a race report on the plane - no solid numbers). No awards or special placings on this one. Out of three thousand people, I came in somewhere around 90th place.

I grabbed a slice of pizza, a massage and caught a shuttle bus back up to transition.

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What did I learn?

A) "Acclimatize". After thinking about it, this was really my first warm weather race where I didn't pay attention too much to heat acclimatization, and did not do my usual heat fan/humidifier indoor sessions on the bike. I think this was because the weather was getting nice in Spokane and I ended up riding some of my key sessions outdoors in the cool Spring air.

B) "Slow Down to Speed Up". I probably could have completely stopped when I began to overheat, and literally taken five minutes to go soak in the lake, which was only about 50 yards off to my left. Instead, I pushed through and it cost me a half hour and alot of misery.

C) "Ice Is Magic". At 3 aid stations, they had ice in cups. For about a half mile after each of these aid stations, I had some of my "bright spots" in an otherwise miserable half marathon. There is no doubt that my body was burning up, and ice or ice sponges can really turn that around, so get your hands on it whenever you can.

I've had two chances this year at some serious Half-Ironman PR's, and both times, training or preparation mistakes have simply nailed me on the run. My goal is for this to be a breakthrough year in 70.3, and with Boise, Lake Stevens, and Clearwater on the horizon, I think that I can learn from these mistakes and really have all cylinders firing.

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New Orleans is known for good cuisine, and after the race and a quick rest-stop at the church, I was able to consume, in the following order:

1) A pint of locally brewed Abita draft beer.

2) A 4 inch high Bacon-Mushroom-Cheeseburger from one of the best burger joints in New Orleans, slathered in heart-stopping mayonnaise, melted mozarella and pure grease. Hey, if my heart didn't stop during the race, nothing could kill it now.

3) A giant side of sweet potato fries, drenched in ketchup. Non-organic, regular old ketchup from lots and lots of little packets.

4) Two more Abita beers at the post-race party.

5) On the way home from the party, a double scoop waffle cone with bananas foster and white chocolate cake ice cream, topped with an oversize dark chocolate bar. The chocolate was organic, OK?

6) Three hours later, prior to dinner #2, a giant Silver petron margarita.

7) A second dinner started off with meat pie appetizers, charbroiled oysters dipped in butter, a bowl of jumbalaya, two giant smoked sausages and a side of red beans and rice.

8) Finally, a double-dessert order of homemade bread pudding with caramel topping and pecan cobbler served over vanilla ice cream.

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And to any of my critics and nutrition coached clients, who want to know why any of the aforementioned items are not in your diet...

...complete the race and meet me at the finish line of the New Orleans 70.3 next year and I'll buy.
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