Race Recap: Minneapolis Triathlon 2018

BikeOut.jpg

Sometimes we just flat-out surprise ourselves. We go into something with lowered or relaxed expectations due to circumstances outside of our control. But we still have a choice – allow those circumstances to affect our effort, or still give it our all. I chose the latter, and despite a back injury that left me feeling 70% on race morning, finished the 2018 Minneapolis Triathlon with my best sprint time at this event yet.

Pre-Race

I woke up Saturday morning feeling rather relaxed, which is kind of unusual for me on race day. Don’t get me wrong, I was excited to race, but the race day stress I usually pile on my shoulders wasn’t there. I knew I was injured. I knew I wasn’t 100% and wouldn’t be able to race as hard as I usually could. But I was happy. Just happy to be healthy enough to compete. Happy to don the Team Save the Children kit and represent the amazing work they do for kiddos around the world. I knew that regardless of the outcome, it was still going to be a good day.

Laughs with Dad

Pre-race laughs and strategy talk with my dad.

Swim

The water temperature clocked-in at 79.2°F on race morning, meaning wetsuits were not permitted for the swim (78°F is the cutoff for wetsuit legal swims). This made me a little nervous given my panics of swims-past. But again, the water temp was out of my control. Just gotta roll with the punches and give it my best.

To my surprise, the swim was pretty great. All of the practices during Open Swim Club were paying off. Panicked thoughts never entered my brain, even without my wetsuit safety blanket. And even though the water was warm, it was still a welcomed cool-down after standing on the sun drenched beach for an hour before race start. It turned out to be my best swim time yet — even without a wetsuit. Progress.

SwimExit_Edited

No wetsuit; no problem.

Bike

Hopping on my bike was the part of the race I feared most. My physical therapist said I could do any activity I wanted unless is involved leaning forward. Well, that’s the only posture I’d have on a bike – leaning forward. I made it eight miles before the back pain set in and it wasn’t pleasant. It turned into a constant ache that intensified as I rolled over each crack in the road. I let my share of four-letter words fly during the last seven miles.

This was also my first race using clipless pedals and shoes. I was excited by the efficiencies this would bring, but also nervous given my lack of preparation for mounting and dismounting. I was still determining my strategy after transition closed that morning. Ultimately, I opted for no socks and wearing the shoes as I ran to the mount line to clip-in. Luckily, I mounted the bike without issue and got to pedaling. For the dismount, I unstrapped the shoes after making the final turn onto Nokomis Parkway, pulled my feet out and rode barefoot on top of the shoes until I reached the dismount line. I seamlessly hopped off the bike and ran back to my spot in transition. Success. Looks like I found my mount/dismount strategy.

Bike Into T2.jpg

The bike took its toll on my back.

Run

My favorite part of the race. The run has always been my strongsuit and that was evident on this day. I slugged a gel on the way out of T2 and cruised onto the run course. I felt like I found another gear as all of my energy poured into my feet. My run strategy was effective once again, breaking it up into smaller increments by trying to pass the person in front of me and then focusing-in on the next person. It’s not that I’m trying to beat that person, but it’s that I by doing this I’m pushing myself harder and faster. And that’s who I’m competing against – myself. I always want to put my best foot forward and be better than I was last time. Well the strategy worked. I posted a PR 5K time — and I’m not just talking 5K at the end of a triathlon PR, I’m talking a straight-up overall 5K PR, breaking my time at last fall’s TC5K which I hadn’t swam and biked before running. With sub-seven-minute miles, I posted the 13th fastest run of field that was 548 deep. Proud of that.

IMG_1531565173700

Channeling my inner-cheetah.

Results

Pleasantly surprised by these 2018 numbers. To be this competitive while only feeling 70% taught me a lesson not only in the power of pre-race relaxation, but also in mental strength and believing in myself to always be my best self.

My MPLS 2018 Results

Split

Split Pace

Age Rank

Overall Rank

Swim (0.47 miles)

00:15:23

02:03 min/100m

6/31

95/548

T1

00:02:35

9/31

75/548

Bike (14.8 miles)

00:44:04

20.16 mi/hr

11/31

150/549

T2

00:02:02

14/31

208/549

Run (3.1 miles)

00:20:58

06:46 min/mile

4/31

13/548

Total

01:25:00

5/31

45/548

And even more pleasantly surprised when comparing them back to 2017 and 2016. The only segment I didn’t improve in was T2, which makes sense to me since I had to change from bike shoes to running shoes here, whereas the previous two years I already had those running shoes on from wearing them on the bike with platform pedals.

My MPLS Tri Comparison

MPLS Tri 2016

MPLS Tri 2017

MPLS Tri 2018

Swim (0.47 miles)

00:16:05

00:15:36

00:15:23

T1

00:04:47

00:03:01

00:02:35

Bike (14.8 miles)

00:51:04

00:44:52

00:44:04

T2

00:02:39

00:00:59

00:02:02

Run (3.1 miles)

00:24:11

00:23:12

00:20:58

Total

01:38:44

01:27:38

01:25:00

PostRace with Dad.jpg

Celebrating and laughing some more with my dad.

Reflection

It was an honor to once again be a part of Team Save the Children, raising awareness and funds for the work they do around the world, including right here in the United States, to help innocent children gain access to education, health care and nutrition while fighting to save them from poverty, discrimination and violence. Even with my back injury just one week prior, I knew if there was any chance I’d still be able to race, I’d be at the start line for Save the Children. I felt an immense sense of commitment not only to the organization, but also to those who supported my personal fundraising efforts along the way. I wanted to be there to represent them and their contributions to such a worthy cause. Together, we helped make a child’s life happier, healthier and safer. Together, we made a difference. Thank you.

In regards to my race performance, what can I say. Where there’s a will there’s a way. Racing through pain pushed me in ways I hadn’t been challenged before. I got my first lesson in suffering and powering through it. The result was rewarding and confidence boosting. Another reminder that we’re capable of much more than we may think we are.

IMG_20180714_192113_393.jpg

That moment when you realize you did it, and are all smiles.

 

When Injury Strikes

This week was rough. I always knew an injury would impact my training and racing at some point; I just didn’t know when. Well, it finally happened. And there isn’t even a good story behind it. I wasn’t lifting a boulder. I wasn’t chasing a bear. Nope, nothing cool like that. On Saturday evening, just 12 hours after finishing the Lake Monster one mile swim race, I bent over to light a campfire and felt a burning pain in my lower back that immediately and drastically reduced my ability to stand up straight again.

I awoke the next morning with a stiffness in my back that wouldn’t allow me to get comfortable for the entire day. I couldn’t stand up straight. And I was twisted towards my right side. All I could think about was “how the heck was I going to be able to complete a triathlon six days from now?”

I was fortunate enough to be squeezed-in Monday morning to see a physical therapist who has a spine specialty. Chiropractic care has always made me a little nervous. I liked the idea of utilizing physical therapy first to address the inflammation and range of motion versus a quick manipulation that may or not work. I know a lot people swear by chiro, and I believe it works, this is just my personal preference to try first. My diagnosis was a bulged disc and was assigned variations of prone press ups to do every two to three hours, helping to stretch my spine and related muscles backwards.

Within the first day I noticed improvement. I was able to put socks on without feeling it was impossible. I started standing straighter and felt less twist. I went for walks in the evenings, noticing day-to-day improvements there as well, going from 20-minute miles to 17-minute miles. I was still rather uncomfortable, but was making progress.

I had a follow-up appointment on Thursday and confirmed the improvement I’d been noticing on my own. I was still nowhere near 100%, but maybe 60-70% or so. My physical therapist didn’t recommend racing this weekend, but said I also wasn’t in danger of doing irreversible damage, just delaying my return to 100%. He understood my desire to compete and honor the commitment I made through Team Save the Children. I was assigned another progression of the press ups and given the option to up the frequency to every one to two hours over the next day to see if that got me to a better spot for race day, allowing my symptoms to drive my decision. It was up to me — a decision I’d find myself putting much thought into.

So here I am, Friday the 13th, the day before the Minneapolis Triathlon. I woke up this morning feeling decent, still with some discomfort but miles ahead of where I was earlier in the week. I ran a mile last night — my first run of the week and a drastic change compared to my 30 mile weekly average — and it felt ok. I could feel discomfort during the run, but it got progressively better as I ran. I was pleasantly surprised to still feel decent in the morning knowing the run didn’t set me backwards. My mind was still set on racing my first Olympic/International distance triathlon.

I went back and forth throughout the day on what I should do. Should I look into a reduced distance? Should I even race at all? I had come to terms that I wouldn’t be 100% and I’d have to be ok with not being able to put my best performance on the course. But I also knew this was no longer my “A race” of the summer. That was now the USA Triathlon Age Group National Championships in Cleveland, OH next month. And I want to put myself in the best position to be 100%, or as close to it as possible, for that race. So after giving it much thought, I decided to drop my registration down to the sprint distance.

I attended the pre-race meeting, picked-up my packet and walked over to the solutions tent to make the change official. It was an easy adjustment to make. I immediately felt a little bummed. I felt like I was pressing an easy button, even though I know the sprint is still going to take a toll on my back. If you didn’t already know this about me, I’m pretty damn hard on myself. There’s still a part of me that believes I could complete the long distance event. But logically, reducing the distance, and the toll that will ultimately be taken on my body, puts me in the best position for Nationals next month. It was the smart choice to make. And when I keep that big picture view in mind, it makes the decision a little easier to reflect back upon.

The best part is that I’ll still be racing tomorrow and representing Team Save the Children. Once again I’ve been humbled by the generosity shown from family and friends through my personal fundraiser. Together we raised $600 dollars that is going to make life a little better for some kiddos around the globe. Together we made a difference — thank you! It will be with great pride that I wear the Team Save the Children kit, honoring and raising awareness for the work they do to help innocent children gain access to education, health care and nutrition while fighting to save them from poverty, discrimination and violence. It’s a constant inspiration and reminder to me that there is good in the world.

So tonight I’ll continue my press ups to help keep my back stretched and flexed. I’ll gather my gear for tomorrow and check it twice. And I’ll have my usual night-before-the-race beer with dinner to unwind. Then I’ll try to get to sleep early. And I’ll sleep well knowing I made the smart choice. Tomorrow’s a big day. I have no idea how my back will respond to the activity load, but I’m more than ready to find out. I’m ready to race!

Race Recap: 2018 Lake Monster 1-2-3

“A ship is safe in the harbor, but that’s not what ships are built for.”

The open water has long been a mental battlefield for me, providing wide open spaces for anxiety and doubt to creep into my brain. But today was different. I found my calm, which lead to power and strength — and a 00:33:17 finish time at the Lake Monster one mile swim race.

Hosted at Lake Nokomis (Minneapolis, MN), this was the first year of the Lake Monster 1-2-3, which offers one, two and three-mile swim distances. It would also be my first swim-only race. I opted for the one mile event as it would be perfect practice for the 0.93 mile swim I’ll be attempting next weekend, in the same lake, as part of the Life Time Tri Minneapolis Triathlon.

I felt fairly relaxed going into this race. I swam 1.4 miles on two different nights earlier in the week during the open swim nights at Lake Nokomis. If I could swim 1.4 miles, I should have no problem with one mile. The big difference would be the optional breaks I took every 600 yards after reaching shore on the back-and-forth beach-to-beach straight-line course. The Lake Monster course would be a one mile loop, obviously without stops.

I also had my new ROKA Maverick wetsuit, which fits my tall, lanky frame like a glove. It was an upgrade over my previous suit to have something that fit so well. It’s long enough in the legs and torso, and doesn’t pull my shoulders down at all. The legs have thicker neoprene than the upper body, aiding in proper body position in the water. I stuck with a sleeveless model again since a majority of my swims are in warmer water and I just enjoy the range of motion that a lack of sleeves provides.

My wave hit the water at 8:08 am. The “go” call was shouted, I ran into the water until my knees were submerged and I dove forward into my freestyle stroke. The first 200 yards or so were great. Just thinking about each stroke, moving forward and remembering to sight every few breaths to make sure I was on course for the next buoy.

But then the dreaded panic attack started setting in, about the same time it did one month earlier during the Trinona 0.25 mile swim — but this time I had another 1,600 yards left to swim instead of 300. The daunting distance stirred-up all the doubt. Then I thought about having to do it again the next weekend, allowing anxiety to run rampant. I started thinking I’m going to need to flag a lifeguard and get hauled back to shore. I was on the verge of dooming my confidence for the next race and I hadn’t even finished this one. Yeah, the panic was real.

That’s when my heart stepped onto the battlefield. I couldn’t quit. I knew I’d regret it and kick myself over and over wondering what could’ve been. I took a few deep breaths while treading water to slow my heart rate back down. I brought my calm thoughts back into my head, locked eyes on the next buoy and started swimming again. I wasn’t backing down.

The rest of the swim was all about finding a rhythm. Physically, I still felt strong and wasn’t getting too tired. I found that a long swim like this is a lot like running — sometimes it takes a mile or two to loosen-up and then you feel like you can fun forever. The swim started to feel similar — I just needed to get through those first couple-hundred yards. Once I overcame my mental barrier and realized I was methodically putting the distance behind me, I found myself in almost a meditative state of mind. I realized I didn’t need to push so hard — I could relax in my rhythym and keep knocking out the yards. I was aware of my surroundings, enveloped in the water, yet I occupied my brain with calm, positive thoughts of things I’m thankful for and that make me smile.

The water conditions were fair. A light wind created a light, wavy current, reminding me on a few straightaways that I still need to work on my alternate side breathing to avoid needing to rely on one side. That can be a problem when waves are coming at you from that same side and your mouth is wide open gasping for air. But I was still moving forward. Progress; not perfection.

A metaphorical wave of excitement rushed over me as I swam past the last buoy, with just another 50 yards or so until reaching the beach. I maintained freestyle until the sand below grazed my fingertips, stood straight up and dashed out of the water through the finish line, shouting my number to the timekeepers.

I clocked in with a finish time of 00:33:17 for my first ever one mile swim race. Overcoming the mental battle and finishing strong provided a much needed confidence boost heading into next weekend’s international distance MPLS Tri.

Two years ago, the thought of doing a half-mile swim was daunting, but I did it. This year brought the new challenge of swimming twice that distance. The idea was uncomfortable, with an ability unknown. It’s easy to retreat back into the comfortable. But we never grow when we do. We never find out what we’re capable of. Only when we step outside of that and right into the unknown do we find out what can be — that we’re stronger thatn we think. That’s what happened when I found my calm, leaving doubt and anxiety in the water and allowing power and strength to bring me to shore.

Author’s note: My ROKA Maverick comments are my personal opinion, and not a sponsored review. I’m just a guy who purchased the wetsuit and happen to really like it.