DC Tri Club wins 2015 USAT Mid-Atlantic Club Championship title at New Jersey State Triathlon

[This blog post was also featured on USAT Mid-Atlantic’s homepage on Tuesday, Aug. 18th, 2015. Direct link to the post here.]

On the weekend of July 18-19, the DC Triathlon Club traveled to Windsor, NJ to race in the CGI New Jersey State Triathlon and claim the USAT Mid-Atlantic Club Championship — for the 10th year! Roughly 75 athletes represented the Club in the Sprint and Olympic distances, with several of our Snapple Elite team athletes claiming spots on the podium.

The CGI New Jersey Triathlon was very well organized for an overall positive experience throughout the weekend. There were a couple of unfortunate decisions race organizers had to make that may have upset some athletes — terminating the Sprint early due to severe weather and shortening the Olympic bike course — but one has to realize that these are elements beyond organizers’ control and they are doing their best to keep athletes safe and adjust to the circumstances. Weekend positives included plenty of lodging in the area and convenient and speedy parking on race site. The course was great, with a nice lake swim with convenient spectator access, a fast bike on flat and well-paved roads, and a run on a trail with a fair amount of tree shade.

If you are not yet part of an athletic team, I strongly recommend you join one. What is it like to race as part of the DC Tri Club? The Club experience at the New Jersey State Triathlon included carpooling to the race, shared lodging, a big dinner out Saturday night, VIP tickets for breakfast at race site on Sunday, Club tents with refreshments, and of course, priceless friendships, encouragement from Club athletes cheering you from the sidelines, and the feeling of belonging to an awesome community with shared interests. I particularly enjoyed seeing my fellow Club members on the course (at this and other races), getting and giving shout outs as we pass each other by, and sometimes a little bit of friendly competition between ourselves. The New Jersey State Triathlon took place in hot temperatures this year, which meant there was plenty of suffering and discomfort — especially during the run. It is at times like these — when your mind and body are telling you to slow down and making you question why you are doing what you are doing — that you then come across a fellow Club athlete who cheers you on, giving you newfound energy to pick up the pace, enjoy the experience, finish what you set out to do, and celebrate with fellow Club’ers.

Congratulations DC Tri Club on your 10th USAT Mid-Atlantic Club Championship!

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Seven habits that have made me a better triathlete

Now in my third season as a triathlete, with an Ironman and three half irons under my belt, this blog is an opportunity to reflect on the factors that have allowed me to improve in my triathlon journey. Here are seven habits that have made me a better triathlete:

d5f3da67c1177260e9dabe8c66d45dca1) I give myself the sleep that I need and deserve. I am a big believer in getting 8hrs of sleep per night to allow my body and mind to restore themselves. Train hard, sleep “hard.” I know sleeping is a time that my body uses to recover and recharge. Physically, I believe during sleep my body repairs damaged tissues and flushes out toxins to make my body stronger and healthier. Mentally, sleep allows my brain to “reset” itself from the day’s workout and other stress factors, and prepare itself for the next day’s workout. I believe getting the sleep that my body needs has been a key element in preventing burnout too.

2) I foam roll and stretch. I admit I have a love-hate relationship with my foam roller. On one hand, using it is “unpleasant,” sometimes painful (hard to come up with the right words!). On the other hand, I know that without it other greater aches and pains will develop and inhibit my performance.  For example, in 2013 I struggled with IT Band pain and foam rolling was the solution to help me eliminate the pain and keep it from coming back. I have made it a habit to foam roll for ~15 mins immediately after every bike and run workout. Because it feels like a chore, I don’t put it off until later in the day, else I am unlikely to do it. Besides, I find it most beneficial and “gentlest” when the muscles are warm after a workout. I firmly believe that if I didn’t foam roll, I would feel much stiffer and tighter. I also like to combine foam rolling with a few yoga stretches that don’t take me more than 10mins to go through.

smoothie3) I try to always eat and hydrate within 30mins of exercising, in order to recover from the last workout and begin preparing the body for the next workout. I am a big believer in this one. If I exercised all I wanted and as hard as I wanted but didn’t feed my body within the precious 30min window of time after the workout, much of the efforts would be in vain. Nutrition, nutrition, nutrition – the fourth discipline of triathlons! Based on what I have read, a ratio of 4 grams of carbohydrate per gram of protein seems recommended post-workout (turns out Cliff bars have exactly this ratio). This habit does take a little bit of planning ahead, to ensure that no matter where I finish a workout, I have access to nutrition with 30mins. If I am home, however, I am a big fan of homemade smoothies!

webmd_rf_photo_of_balance_equipment4) I strength train. This habit is a common one for endurance triathletes to skip out when confronted with busy schedules and six other workouts per week. For me, a small amount of time dedicated to strength training — usually one or two 30min sessions per week right after swimming — brings me great benefits. I use this time to focus on my core and major muscle groups, without using heavy weights. These types of sessions are not meant to “grow” my muscles or bulk up. Rather, they serve a maintenance purpose, keep my core strong to support me on the swim/bike/run, and help me address muscle imbalances. I firmly believe strength training has been a key factor in keeping me largely injury-free during my three seasons of racing.

5) I train early in the day whenever possible. I think for most people it’s safe to say that the later we put off our workouts, the less likely they are to happen. “Stuff” gets in the way, we run behind on our To Do items, we feel tired, etc. While this habit may be simply said, in practice it it can be hard to execute. I’ll be the first to admit I am not a morning person (unless I am going fishing, or see point #1 above about liking my sleep!) For example, I struggle the most making it to the pool in the early morning before work. However, I took on triathlons because they challenge me in many ways, and having to get up early definitely challenges my discipline and mental fortitude. And besides, come 9am at work, it is a great feeling to know I have already accomplished a lot when other people’s day is just getting started.

6) I pick races that suit my strengths. As much time, effort, and money as I invest in triathlons, I want to make sure I set myself up to have the best possible races. This means picking courses where I can leverage my abilities and minimize my disadvantages. For the swim, the more difficult the better: choppy conditions or currents in bay and ocean swims would allow me to perform well against the competition. The bike is my weakest, in part because I am conservative going downhill, so big hill courses don’t suit me well. I enjoy rolling hills like Louisville and Raleigh and flat 56mi bike courses (though I don’t think I would enjoy 112mi flat), where I can go as fast as I want/can and still feel in control. My run is also strong and I can keep a steady pace in hot and humid conditions when others are slowing down, as was the case in Louisville in August (I also know I don’t race well overall in cold weather).

7) Last but not least, I take time to reflect and learn from past experiences. This is one of the reasons I write these blog posts about my triathlon journey. For example, I have found it very helpful to take time in days after a race to reflect on what went well, what didn’t go so well, and what I would like to do differently next time. Last Fall I had my worst race at Waterman’s Sprint, but I learned several things about myself and racing that day that made me a better triathlete from that point forward. A failure is only a failure if you don’t learn anything from it!

I hope you can associate with some of these habits and that you have or will find them helpful in making you a better triathlete. Cheers!

Reflections from Eagleman IM 70.3

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At this point you’ve probably read or heard from everyone of your friends who raced Eagleman IM 70.3 what a rough day it turned out to be for everyone racing. I’ve seen and heard all kinds of numbers for race day temperatures, humidity, and “feels like” temperatures. Whatever it turned out to be, Hell was probably a bit cooler. It was right up there with Ironman 140.6 Louisville on August. In fact, I felt much better after finishing Louisville than I did after crossing the finish line of Eagleman 70.3.

18195725153_87e76520d5_oI went into Eagleman thinking I might improve upon my Kinetic half time a month ago, given that Eagleman is a fast course. Those expectations quickly faded away at the start of the run, substituted by a new strategy to try to keep myself together through the finish line. In a matter of minutes, I went from a “let’s see what I can do today” mindset (coming off a PR on the bike) to being humbled by the oppressive conditions and taking pride in just finishing at a steady pace.

photo(74)And so I managed. Barely. Walking the aid stations to cool down my core with ice allowed me to keep my heart rate in check and maintain a steady pace, albeit slow – 20 minutes slower than expected. I crossed the finish line and could not take one step further, bringing myself to the ground at the water tent and unable to get up for 15-20 minutes. I borderline contemplated asking to be carried to the medical tent, though luckily I began to regain my composure.

Ask me how the race went and I’ll tell you that despite the fact that it wasn’t pretty and I don’t care to remember most of it, I am very happy with my results/performance. Why you might ask? Because I did the best I could on that particular day, and sometimes that’s all that matters.

11427736_2561432954996_4532133944420662810_nI am glad I was able to adjust my expectations and find the positives on an otherwise ugly race. Sometimes racing is not about negative splits or beating personal records, but rather about just keeping it together on the run. Not falling apart on Sunday made it a good day of racing.

Looking at the positives, Eagleman was a great weekend, lodging with friends I hadn’t seen in a long time, racing amongst DC Tri Club fellow triathletes, with the support of Gabi as my sherpa, and with the added benefit of a physical therapy session from Rose Physical Therapy Group post race. It was so great to see a constant stream of DC Tri Club athletes on the course, cheering each other even when we don’t know our names. One more thing I take with me from this event is admiration and respect for those athletes who displayed tremendous courage, discipline, and the will to get the job done when starting the run — sometimes walking — in the hottest time of the day. Kudos to you!

These are the aspects of the race I do indeed want to remember, and which will keep me coming back for more (though perhaps not Eagleman again!).

11415463_10153394691104594_4993574361696180051_oEagleman badge

Kinetic Half race report

My first big race of the year, Kinetic Half, is down in the books! It was a great weekend at Lake Anna State Park, a great venue, a well organized race by the Virginia and Maryland Triathlon Series, and to top it off a highly rewarding performance.

I opted to drive down Friday from DC and camp out at the Park. Friday afternoon I was able to get in the water for a quick swim and then do short bike and run sessions to prime the body for the next day. It was really helpful to go through the motions and think through the transitions. The water warmed up significantly over the past week with air temps in the 80s, which meant the water temp was around 70 degrees (it was 63-65ish the weekend before!). There was also a race briefing at 6:30pm overlooking the beautiful lake.

Camping at the state park was fantastic. I didn’t hear a single man-made noise overnight — only the sounds of nature — so I got a great night sleep. I was a 5min walk away from the race start. I spent $20 for the site, which I ended up sharing last minute with a fellow athlete who needed a site to pitch a tent (and for good race karma!). Make it a $10 lodging arrangement, after he insisted in sharing the cost. The one thing that did surprise me a bit was how very few athletes I saw around the campground. It was mostly families vacationing. I must admit I know some of my racing friends shared houses in the area and those seemed like a pretty nice setup too!

17494779435_e66950d4c5_hI couldn’t be any more grateful for Gabi‘s efforts to be my sherpa and come see me race. She was out of town earlier in the week and flew in at midnight on Friday, went to bed at 1am, and got up at 4am to drive to Lake Anna to be there before race start. I know I would not have raced as well if she had not been there to support me.

Race day started with the alarm going off at 4am to take in a smoothie and PB&J sandwich. I tried to get a little more sleep until about 5:30am, but for the most part I was anxious and ready to race, so I didn’t get that much more shuteye. A brief walk through the woods and over to transition, which I setup by 6:15am. I spent the next 15mins warming up on land and then into the water for a 6-8min swim before the national anthem. Gabi arrived around 6:30am so she was able to look after my stuff while I swam. Perfect timing!

Swim: 31:02mins, 4th out of the water (in my age group).

10957184_10102762677913138_3289944150275859574_nThe swim was one loop. You could tell from land the guiding orange buoys were not properly aligned. Given that swimmers were allowed to swim left or right of the guiding buoys, what ultimately mattered was aiming for the yellow turn buoy (if you could see it). I started at the front of the pack and found some open water, in part because many swimmers started the swim towards the first orange buoy, which was out of line, only to then correct course. The water was clear, so it was easy to look for bubbles and draft. I did this for about 1/3rd of the swim. My goal for the swim was to have a smooth start and come out feeling I had expended minimal energy. Mission accomplished.

T1: 2:41mins, 14th place

About 30secs too slow here, as a result of feeling dizzy coming out of the water. I felt a little wobbly taking off my wetsuit and putting on my bike shoes. However, the best part is that my bike was racked right next to bike exit, which also meant Gabi was right there to cheer me on!

Bike: 2:39hrs, 16th place

11223914_10102762887607908_8413534521240011116_nThe bike course is one loop. We were very lucky to have overcast weather conditions with a refreshing mist for a large part of the bike. This was a pleasant surprise given that afternoon temps were going to be in the upper 80s, unlike any training/racing weather this year so far. The first 15-20 miles are a bit stressful due to lake traffic, in particular trucks and boat trailers. Then the course turns into backroads with minimal traffic. The first half of the bike course is hillier, the second half largely flat and with super fast asphalt! All turns were obvious thanks to police, volunteers and road marking. While I did not need to use the aid stations, I did see a lot of kids working them, which is unusual.

As biking is my weakness, I saw a number of people pass me on the bike. This is always a little disheartening, but I know better. Most of those people ran out of legs on the run, with a 5-15mins slower run than mine. I paced myself well on the bike, and in future training and racing the magic secret will be determining how much harder I can push myself on the bike while still having a strong run. Right around mile 50 I was passed by an athlete (D. St. Clair) in my age group and it created an opportunity for me to have a specific individual to race against and push myself harder. I had to, as a podium finish was within the realm of possibility, and all it takes is one athlete to get bumped off the podium!

T2: 1:09mins, 2nd place

In and out in a jiffy!

Run: 1:35hrs, 4th place

11209752_10102763031474598_7441182285068043715_nThe start of the run is though! Straight uphill and you have to do it three laps! The Kinetic run course was much harder than I anticipated. It is hilly with hardly any flat portions. St. Clair and I came out onto the run shoulder to shoulder. He started inching his way away from me and I figured I had to let him go for the moment. I know I run strong when others fade. I was pleasantly surprised in my second lap when he re-appeared within range ahead of me. I was definitely able to push myself harder by setting a mini-goal of competing against him. I was pumped by having caught up to him near the end of the second loop, and then I set my mind on leaving him in the dust in the third and last lap. Mission accomplished.

17491358155_837e3f7bcd_hDuring the first loop I didn’t pass or get passed but by 1-2 people. On the second loop I was running with people who were starting their first loop, so it was hard to compare performance against others. It turns out I caught up to a good number of people who I thought were one lap behind me but really were on the same lap and just running out of steam. In the end I was very pleased with my run, having held a steady pace and feeling like I was always in control of my body and my endurance. Happy with my performance!

I was thrilled when I learned I finished 4th in my age group with a time of 4hrs 50mins, which is 23mins faster than my last half-iron distance triathlon in 2014. I’ve trained hard since February and feel rewarded. I had my mind set on finishing near the top — whatever that meant not knowing the competitive field — and I was able to do just that. I am excited about what I may able to do the remainder of the year, and very grateful to my coach AJ Morisson from Multisport in Motion for helping me reach my triathlon goals.

11018620_10102763033620298_838665603786628191_nSuper star (I swear this is not staged!)

Lessons from the off-season

As daytime gets longer and with pre-season training under way, this time of the year lends itself to looking ahead, getting energized about early season races, warm sunny days, and training outside. However, there are certain times when I find it just as important to look back as I do to look forward, to reflect on a “block” of the year gone by, in this case, the off-season.

In particular, here are three lessons I learned during the past few months:

1) Allow the body to recover, but do so without loosing your conditioning

After eight months of Ironman training plus two months of marathon training, my body was ready for some rest and recovery by the end of October 2014. I experimented with taking November off from triathlon and most forms of exercise. Physically, I definitely needed time off from training. Mentally, I knew I was not going to be able to find the motivation to wake up early to go swim, to log miles on my tri bike, or to pound the pavement. Later, in December, my training regimen consisted of swimming twice a week plus a few short bike sessions on the trainer. No running except for a couple of social fun runs. In January I focused on biking — though only about 3 hrs per week — plus one swim per week. It was the first half of January when I realized I had lost significant conditioning.

In the later half of January I hired a coach. This was not as a result of being out of shape, but rather something I had been considering to take my competitiveness to the next level. Initial conversations were a wake up call in helping me realize I was taking the off-season a little too easy. I was behind on training relative to competitive athletes I would be racing against in a little over three months. I got the kick in the butt I needed to get me training seriously again, six days a week. Starting to run again, however, was another reminder of how out of shape I had gotten. It’s amazing how quickly the body can go from Ironman fitness to being out of breath!

In summary, I learned it’s ok to listen to what the body wants for a few weeks. This is highly beneficial for physical recovery and mental sanity. After this period, it’s essential to stay active in all three triathlon disciplines. Trying to maintain fitness in one discipline will not carry over to the other two! And if feeling unmotivated to exercise, adding a little cross training variety into the mix will help.

2) Keep training, but remember to keep the off-season enjoyable

Throughout the off-season winter months, I find it extremely difficult to get motivated to head to the pool in the dark, frigid hours of the morning. I dread this. Once I get to the pool and start swimming I am ok, but anything before this makes me grumpy and unhappy. Since triathlons are meant to be fun, there are two things I did to make my off-season enjoyable:

  • I decided to wait until March to start swimming twice a week, when daylight saving goes into effect and temperatures warm up a little. Luckily, I am a strong swimmer and the performance losses from the reduced swim sessions are negligible. The happiness gains are far greater!
  • I joined Masters Swim practices to find greater motivation to get up in the morning (I used to swim by myself with my own workouts). I now feel a sense of belonging to a group and accountability. This has definitely helped!

3) Don’t wait too long before planning your season ahead and committing to races

Screen Shot 2015-02-24 at 7.06.29 PMMany of my friends signed up for 2015 races months ago. As for myself, it wasn’t until early February when I finally decided what my racing season would look like. I spent several weeks debating in my head whether I wanted to do my second Ironman in 2015. I was considering IM Maryland in September and was under the impression that the race wouldn’t sell out anytime soon. I thought I could wait to decide. One day a few weeks ago, I learned there were handful of spots left for this race, freaked out, and before I knew it, the race was sold out. So much for doing IM Maryland.

In the end, a number of other reasons led me to say no to Ironman in 2015 (I could have looked into other 2nd choice race venues). I also learned that I should not put myself into the situation of having to make a rushed last minute decision when it comes to some as big as committing to an Ironman. Once I made the decision not to race an Ironman in 2015, all others followed much more easily and with great confidence. I am now signed up for half-iron triathlons in May, June and August. Eventually I will add a fourth one in the Fall, and I won’t wait until the last minute to register!

Cheers to becoming a better, smarter athlete!

Looking ahead: 2015

At this time of the year many of you already have your racing schedule all planned out for 2015. I am still thinking through things. I do know that 2015 will be a year of half-iron distance triathlons. I am thinking about 1-2 half-iron triathlons in the Spring (considering Monticelloman, IM 70.3 Raleigh, or IM 70.3 Eagleman), 1-2 in the Fall (IM 70.3 Augusta), and a couple of Olympics here and there in between (including the Mid-Atlantic Championships in New Jersey).

I have been thinking about my goals for the year, and they are as follows:
1) Have fun racing, in particular by surrounding myself with the DC Tri Club community
2) Race injury-free
3) Finish on the podium at least once during the year
4) Shave 2-4 minutes off my half-ironman (HIM) swim time, shave at least 15 mins off my HIM bike time, and shave ~5mins off my HIM run time.

I am aiming to make big gains on my bike this year, which is my weakest discipline and were the potential for big time savings lies. Here are three things I will do to become a stronger cyclist:
1) Take part in the off-season DC Tri Club Spin Program.
2) Train with riders better than me.
3) Emphasize cycling in my training program.
4) Be smart about picking race course profiles that suit my riding style.

For the first time I am thinking about working one on one with a coach in 2015. I need a coach to help guide my training regimen throughout the year, be a smart triathlete, and keep me injury free!

I wish all my triathlete friends a great 2015 season and I look forward to fun times and great performances together!

2014 in review

As 2014 comes to a close, it’s time for the last blog post of the year: a year in review!

About 51 weeks ago in early January 2014, Gabi and I started training for our first Ironman. That was about eight months prior to race day. It seemed a little early, but we needed to bring our fitness up to a certain level before our “formal”, six-days-a-week training began in March (24 weeks to race day) with the DC Triathlon Club IM training program. Between short distance racing in 2013 and the off season, we were not exactly ready for serious training. Thus, January and February were spent training 3-5 times a week and this made the winter go by rather quickly.

Ironman training and racing was a huge sacrifice in many respects. However, the rewards were even greater. We discovered a new community of friends in the DC Tri Club. We raced amongst our friends in Raleigh, NC for our first half Ironman in June. We accomplished one of the greatest physical and mental challenges our our lives by crossing the finish line of Ironman Louisville, KY in August (11hrs 19min, not bad for my first IM!). Best of all, our parents were there to witness the culmination of our amazing journey.

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The rest of the racing season was marked by opportunities to take advantage of our conditioning. I raced the Nation’s triathlon, Ragnar, Waterman‘s Sprint, and set a personal record in the Marine Corps marathon in October. At the end of the year, I was recognized as the DC Tri Club Most Improved Male Athlete of the Year!10411233_10152848811399594_426281513251999894_nNovember was a month of down time. I chose not to exercise, except for a few hikes here and there. Part of me was simply not interested, part of me wanted to experiment with taking full rest to let to body heal after a strenuous year. December came and I found it very difficult to get motivated to exercise. I struggled waking up in the morning. I was needing 9+ hours of sleep. I am still struggling. Perhaps my body is still in recovery mode, though I don’t remember having such a hard time coping with winter last year. Thankfully though, the National Club Challenge came to the rescue and got me moving again. I’ve kept training in December as low impact as possible, swimming ~2500m three times per week, and biking 30-45 mins twice a week. I think I ran a couple of times total, as fun runs with friends.

All in all, I couldn’t be any more satisfied with the choices I made for 2014. I had to change my lifestyle and put some things aside as a result of my commitment to training, but I was rewarded in many more ways. Strangely, as I look back at Ironman, sometimes and from some perspectives it does not seem like that big of a deal. But I need to remind myself that it was a big deal. Ironman should be a lesson I carry every day to every aspect of my life, to remind myself that when confronted with seemingly insurmountable challenges or unreachable goals, everything is indeed possible if I set my mind to it.IMG_6402Cheers to many great racing years!