Monday, November 14, 2011

ITU World's..It doesn't always stay in Vegas.

When is a "race report" not  race report? When it the race turns into a survival slog, a lesson in humility and most of of all a valuable learning experience.

As most of you know, I competed in the ITU World Triathlon Championships recently. A season of preparation came down to one day and one race in Las Vegas/Henderson NV. There is a certain anxiety that comes with putting all of one's eggs in a single basket. I was hyper focused and clearly not my normal chipper self in the days leading up the race. I'd like to make a formal apology for that. Since the race, I think normalcy has begun to return and I've certainly had time to think analyze my race and take away some very important lessons. Hopefully you can learn something from them as well!

Two Thirds of my cheering section
Before I get too far into this, I want to thank my wonderful wife for putting up with my "unchipperness" and cheering me on. I also want to thank our good friends Ralf and Dara for making the trip from San Francisco to yell at me for a few hours. It is always nice to hear your name, even more so when you are suffering like a dog 2500 miles away from home.

The race was supposed to be a 4k Swim, a 120k (75 mile) bike and 30k (18.6 mile) run. Mother Nature conspired against us in the form of heavy rain, high winds and huge cold front blowing in the night before. We were staying on site and as I made my way down to go finish setting up all of my gear Jenn and I were met in the lobby by a fellow athlete who informed us that the swim was cancelled.

I'm not a super swimmer, but I've been working hard in the pool, so needless to say I was bummed. I didn't understand why at first, but in hindsight it was the right call. The water temp had dropped to 55 degrees and it was 37 degrees outside. The rules said, in black white, too cold, cancel the swim. *(see lesson one below).
Chilly Start..

The race was turned into a bike/run event. All the athlete's started in the cold one by one every 5 seconds. The bike course was very hilly with roughly 5100 ft of vertical gain. The wind was not howling, but it wasn't exactly calm either. Simply put, even for a ex-cyclist it was a hard course.
Going too hard..

The staggered start created a bike racing mentality and unfortunately after 12 years of racing bikes I have a hard time turning it off *(See lesson two). Simply put, I smashed myself racing the eventual winner and realized on the way into town what I had done. Unfortunately by that time it was far too late to do anything about it.

When I got to the run transition I was in a bit of a panic mode and a bit delirious as well. Looking at my transition time, I could have had a picnic lunch in the changing tent. In hindsight I think maybe that would have been a good idea.

I started the run hoping and praying that my legs would come around. It is pretty depressing when you see the mile 1 marker, you feel cracked, and you realize you have 17.6 miles to go. Still I was hoping for a miracle. *(see lesson three)

The course was four laps of a pretty hard out and back loop. Essentially you ran one way on the road then ran back from where you came from on the sidewalk. Half the course was downhill, unfortunately that meant you ran back up hill for the other half. The run had about 1200 vertical gain, which under normal conditions would not have been to bad. Unfortunately, these were not normal conditions.

I'll save you from the drama, but I ran pretty much the whole way and walked the aid stations. With all that walking and a 2 minute stop in the Port-O-John I averaged 8:40 miles. I felt like a mall walker. But I was not going to fly across the country and quit, so with a healthy bit of encouragement from my tiny entourage I finished the race. *(see lesson four)

I was certainly not the only person who had problems. This was taken from Michael Raelert's Facebook page. Michael is a 2 time World Champion and one of the best triathlon runners in the world. When he passed me he looked pedestrian. I had to do a double take to make sure who I was seeing. Granted his pedestrian run is streets faster than mine. (English is not his first language so excuse the grammar)

actually i cannot remember the race. i know there was no swim, b/c of the cold weather, and a big explosion after 100km (on one of the toughest bike courses i'Ve ever rode on) - maybe you've heard this big bang even back in germany. my legs just went off and didnt wanna keep going. i lost more than 4:30min on the last 20km - in watts from 297 down to 186 - this is a lot. but it was really surprising how i started the run with these legs. i've got back in the game and kept up the speed(5:15/mile). i got really excited b/c i got significant closer to the front and got my mind back still for the win. unfortunately, after 2 1/2laps(of 4) there was another big big explosion. you might heard this one as well and than the interesting part begun. i cannot remember anything until then. the last thing i know, i've got overtaken by some girls and then i "woke up" in the resting area. first question: "where am i and did i finish?" - i did and i am really happy with this fact. for myself, it was the best performance ever - for sure not from the "sporty" perspective - just in general. but i think it cost me another 5% of my regular lifetime.

*(see lesson five)

  • Lesson 1: Expect the unexpected. Figure out an alternative plan and try to execute that plan. Don't just "wing it". I had a set plan going into this race. Without the swim my plan got thrown out. In the future I'll make sure I come up with a new plan and stick to it.
  • Lesson 2: Ride the bike on target, not like a crazy person. The first 56 miles I rode super fast. The last 20 I came unglued. I had ridden too hard. My output for the last 45 minutes was only 60 percent of what I had done for the previous 2:45. Had I ridden a steady pace, my OWN pace, I would have finished with roughly the same time and still been able to run.
  • Lesson 3: There are no miracles. Once you have overcooked yourself, it is nearly impossible to get your legs to come back around. On a hilly course like this, just plain impossible.
  • Lesson 4: Never give up. Sometimes your best performances are not your wins, but the ones that push you beyond what you thought was possible. It was not the performance I wanted or was capable of, but I am proud that I finished with my head held high (well except at the finish when I bent over and tried not to throw up). I learned that I can go to some pretty dark places and still come out relatively unscathed. These experiences will only help in the future.
  • Lesson 5: Have Fun. This is the most important one of all. I suffered like a dog, but I had fun. It was great to have people shouting "Go USA!, Go Dotson!" all the way around the course. It was cool to know where all of your competitors were from. It was great to be competing in that very big pond and realize I'm not a super small fish. We saw the Hoover dam, Lake Mead National Park the day before the race and partied in Vegas on Sunday night. Were these things best for my prep or recovery? No. But they sure were fun! 

So all in all, I learned some very important lessons in Vegas and those lessons I am making sure don't stay there.

Thanks to Jenn, Earthfare, First Endurance nutrition, HD Coaching. Cyclesport Concepts. If you haven't had a chance to check out my website please do.. Thanks for Reading!
The Start...

Where the wheels came off!
Post Race at the Venetian