Challenge Prague and what's Next
Wow it feels like a long time since I sat down to do a blog post from my own couch after spending the last 3 weeks in Europe. Went from ITU World Championships in Odense, Denmark, to recovering and trained a bit (sort of) in Berlin, Germany, and then racing again the next week in Prague, Czech Republic.
I mentioned how ITU Worlds didn't really go as planned between injuries, and just totally random things going wrong and I thought the lead into Prague would be much better. I thought at least I wouldn't be jet-lagged, and figured the leg problem that really hampered my running leading into Denmark, although painful, was at least somewhat bearable on race day so maybe it would be bearable in Prague too. Unfortunately, things just continued there course and really it was almost comical at points since for example on the bike I would just go from one mechanical problem to another from what I'll call the tubular fiasco, to my power meter suddenly not working, then as my power meter would start working etap would out of the blue check out and stop working (the night before the race at midnight). To be honest it was a bit of a nightmare and mentally I didn't feel like I was super focused on Prague, and physically for the first time in a long time I felt more than under-prepared. After Worlds I chilled until Wednesday, hoping my leg which felt pretty wrecked after the race would get better with lots of R&R, foam rolling, normatec etc but running was a no go entirely until Saturday where I was able to trot along very slowly but very painfully from bike store to bike store in search of a tubular. Then around that time, after doing some longer intervals at a cool abandoned airport in Berlin, I started getting some real bad pain in deep in my right glute. I figured most likely it was something like Piriformis syndrome brought on by spending more time then I ever have really at race watts or above in aero position (and riding more outside than I ever have - the longest stretch I've ever gone not being on a trainer - so I guess muscles get worked a little differently). What it meant was as the week progressed, late into intervals I would get this sharp pain in my glute on the bike, and it would extend into my hamstring. So now had three things cooking along between the never ending saga of the left hamstring, the lower right leg issue, and now this glute problem. In the couple days leading into the race I strongly considered pulling out since I thought with how much stuff was going wrong I couldn't really picture it going well in any way. But spurred myself on basically by thinking that like any other race it will be an opportunity to dig deep, learn, and grow as an athlete and person. Also the day before the race during a conversation with Pablo Dapena, who had just smoked me at ITU Worlds and is Javier Gomez's training partner who was also in the race, I remarked to him about why he was wearing a speedo for the swim familiarization in 60degree water and he had said his bags hadn't even arrived yet so his wetsuit and race kit weren't here yet. Basically, it made me realize that I wasn't the only person in the world who had stuff go wrong, and that I need to just suck it up and stop essentially walking around saying oh woe is me, move on, and once that gun goes all this other stuff usually fades away and it is just me versus Prague. I even just heard in a news article that one of the female pros rode on a burrowed bike. Things go wrong for everyone (especially in a sport like triathlon where there is a lot more mechanical pieces then say running for example), you can throw yourself a nice pity party and let them derail your day, or get angry and use it to race hard.
So race day came, and this one definitely felt really weird from the get-go with a 12pm noon start time. My sister was happy since it meant she didn't have to wake up at 3am, but for me it was just something else to think about. I have my routine like anyone else, and at this point waking up at 3am is no big deal. It feels normal. Now had to re-plan breakfast time (including the pivotal advil time -peak serum concentration 2 hours post, half-life 4 hours), what to eat maybe 2 hours out and most of all because now there would be a big gap between what time I woke up and race time do my absolute best to stay hydrated and cool. However, staying cool didn't really pan out since we missed the shuttle to the race site thanks to me forgetting of all things my wetsuit on the way to the shuttle and having to sprint back and up four flights of stairs to get it then walk about 4km to the site carrying all the transition bags, after race bike, my bike, etc, so was basically in a dead sweat finally walking into transition at 10am. It was kind of a funny way to forget your wetsuit since literally as we are walking over lugging all this stuff I say over to my sister "you see this is why is is so much easier when bike and bag check in is the day before the race, since then really all you need to bring race morning is your wetsuit.. the wetsuit [looks around], crap give me keys ill be back." Anyways we arrived nonetheless, "warmed up" (it was already around 30C without humidex), and after 2 hours of sort of waiting around and doing as many arm circles as a person can do we were off.
Gotta say that first opening 200m was an experience in its own. Here I was lined up on the same starting line as 8-time World Champion, 3-time Olympian Javier Gomez, and my goodness I got a taste of what actual swim speed looks like. That opening 200 I have no clue what he swam but it must have been around 2 min. According to strava I averaged 1:12/100 for the opening 400m which would be a PR if accurate, but it didn't really matter, by the time I was getting to the first turn buoy Gomez and Dapena were well up and away. You can see from the third picture there, the blue Ford thing in the water is the start line, the red in first bouy, and look at the lead already, I'm probably 2/3 back into that pack. Going into this race I really did zero true pace work since every pool in Berlin for the 2 weeks was closed, so I did 100% of my swimming in a swim skin in a small lake called Plötzensee where my GPS and even phone struggled mightily to get a signal. So really most of my swimming was all by feel, and my workouts leading in would be things like doing 4x500 tempo feeling strokes, or 30 take out speed strokes, into 30 tempo, into 30 easy, and repeat. So really I had no clue how quickly I was swimming throughout the week (since I would sprint and the GPS was saying things like I was swimming at 1:50/100 pace), but I will say that although my speed probably dropped off a bit I at least felt very comfortable in the open water, and my sighting and open water rhythm definitely improved. So anyways back to the race, Gomez and Dapena were off on their own, and I just tried to focus my best on maintaining a good strong rhythm and staying on the feet in front of me. It was a pack of 3 of us, we then caught a 4th and past them, then a 5th but they hung onto us, and we rolled into T1 as a foursome. I was happy to see 24:30 light up on my Coros Pace, which is a big PR for the swim with a 1:16/100 average and then began the kilometre and a bit run to transition. Definitely the longest ever transition I've ever done with the swim exit on the island underneath a bridge, having to run from one end of the island to the other, then up a couple flights of stairs up to the middle of the bridge, then run to the east end of the bridge to get to the opening of the fences to transition and then all the way across to the west end of the bridge where the pro racks were located. Running with feet that were numb from the cold water made things pretty interesting, but even though transition was an entire 4:07 it was one of my better transition's relative to the field plus I finally was able to successfully have my shoes pre-clipped into the bike and put them on quickly without looking like a complete amateur -- been taking time out of every ride to practice just going in and out of the shoes.
Started out the bike in 19th place and got to work. Luckily the course didn't have any of the cobbles that shook me and my bike to pieces the days leading into the race, it just featured two 45km loops, with first a couple minute long steeper climb and then a 7-8 minute longer more gradual climb (probably around 4-5% with couple steeper pitches but big gear the whole way regardless). Otherwise pretty flat, with couple technical little turns, 3 u-turns per lap, but very open and exposed to the now very intense sun in the sweltering heat. Hammered through the first lap passing three other pros about 15km in, 2 were dropped immediately, 1 hung around and sat in behind me for a bit. We got to the first little steeper climb and I hammered up it and looked behind me to see I didn't quite shake my companion which was little concerning but continued on. We rolled back down the quick descent, and was pleasantly surprised I didn't get past here, and then it was onto the 7-8 minute climb. I had timed the gap to the Gomez, Dapena, and Heemeryck and then the group of competitors in 4th-8th at one of the turnarounds leading into the climb and both gaps were pretty significant. We then started the climb me and my companion in tow, but after 1.5 minutes he was long gone. Since in the midst of this season I'm also training for another event in October which I'll explain in a minute, I've been practicing holding threshold for about 1.5minutes, and then doing about 10 hard pedal strokes up out of the saddle and immediately back to threshold to simulate attacks (staying with or making), and that is basically what I did up the climb. Climbing at 345W then spiking up to 450 for about 10 revolutions and back immediately to threshold (345). After my first little surge my companion was gone, and then another was in my sights. I sat at threshold and then up out of saddle surge for just those 10 strokes easily blowing past him. Within another minute it was another competitor in my sights, and galloped across the gap then danced on the pedals as they would say out of the saddle past them. Really I wish I could just race up hill or something** I just absolutely love the feel of the bike swinging back and fourth underneath you, the feeling you get of straddling the lactate threshold line, and the intoxicating feeling of just you versus the terrain/gravity.
**Oh ya that's what my October event is, I'll be going down to Santa Barbara California to meet one of my heroes Phil Gaimon and put myself out there against some of the best hill climbers in the world at the Hill Climb World Championships on the famous Gibraltar Climb (about a 30min long climb).
Soon I saw Gomez and the group going down, and then 4-8th and calculated that I ate a good amount of time into both groups. Motivated I pedalled hard down that descent solo to try to catch that 4-8th group, but couldn't get across that gap solo:
I think 10m of a draft zone which we had here is tight enough you are definitely getting a benefit, not to take away from how strong they are biking, but 10m is awfully tight even if completely adhered to. Just an side-note but think it should be mentioned is that it's no wonder that referees sometimes just clearly miss blatant drafting since at the pro meeting in Denmark, the head official actually thought that the 25second rule meant you were allowed 25s within the draft zone before needing to leave it. So as the room started to mutter to one another with confusion, we remarked that based on what you are saying someone could go up to someone's wheel start their watch sit there for 25 seconds, then drop back and keep yo-yoing like this for the entire bike (meaning that basically it is a draft legal bike). The official literally saw no issue with this, and then had to go and check the rule book to see exactly what the 25s rule was referring to. It was obviously referring to the rule that once you start to make the pass you have 25s to get clear and ahead of the draft zone. Basically, if the ITU officials are unclear of what drafting is I'm skeptical of whether officials on course can clearly assess an infringement. Anyways just one guy's opinion, but also objectively you can go to the livestream of ITU worlds where I'll say that one cameraman basically moto-paced lap#2 for some, and check some pictures from the gallery at Prague either 10m is really interchangeable with 10ft or I clearly have a terrible perception of distance. Make it 20m for every race so there is no confusion going from Ironman, to ITU, to challenge, and make sure every official clearly knows 20m is literally 65ft that's almost 5 car lengths (it's significant). The problem with 10m is at 40-50kph the official will just not be able to tell is that 7m or 13m it's unclear. However at 7m you are getting a really really significant draft effect. Heck at 10m you are getting a significant draft effect. In fact, the research piece by the team over at SwissSide showed that at 10m you are getting a savings of 33W (13.5% drag savings), at 7m you would be over 40W in savings (about 17% savings). Anyways doesn't really matter, the rules are the rules, I just need to swim faster to get in the 10m group. Being a smaller cyclist I'm just not able to completely over-power a group working together on the flats and put out like 380-90W for like 30minute to bridge up like Lionel would have to do in the past. Unless we literally start at the base of a 30minute climb where now my 345-350W threshold at 6+w/kg will actually come into play I'm in trouble, and need to adapt. I'll come back to this point after about what I plan to do to adapt to the dynamics of the bike leg.
Anyways back to the race and sorry for the rant, Gomez and Dapena were 100% respecting the rules in this race, they are not ones I am referring to but along course I did witness some blatant drafting from others. I had the 4-8th within sight at the base, but just couldn't catch them. And soon once we were back out onto the highway they were gone. I averaged 272 watts that opening 45km (normalized at 280 thanks to the climb/descent), and was happy where I was, but unfortunately climb number two (second time up the 7 minuter) didn't come soon enough and by the time I got there the gap from me solo to the two front groups swelled back up to an even bigger number. I didn't climb this time with anywhere near the same sort of ferociousness, descended well, but at around 70km once back out onto the oven of a highway, was really starting to feel the heat. The last 20km, though the speed was around 42.5kph, the power was sapped, and was well past the point of being thirsty. I could feel my calves starting to seize up now and again and really just prayed that there was an aid station perhaps 5km from the finish.
There wasn't. Got into transition hit the ground running (literally running to water as quick as I could), and at 1km hit the first station. Thank goodness I thought, but was greeted by not warm but boiling hot water. I needed to cool down asap, but with no ice at the station and no cold water it was almost impossible. No joke it was only 3km into the run when the cramps started, I thought long and hard about stopping. At only 3km into a 21.1km run you really don't already want to be starting to think about stopping. I rolled through lap number one panicking because I had some cramps in my chest that made me feel like I was going to heart attack or something (probably just diaphagrm or something), and lap 2 was an absolute mess. I was stopping at all the stations dumping hot water on myself, making myself look like the Michelin man stuffing about 10 sponges into my trisuit but still felt like death.
Really my bruised and battered injured legs weren't terrible feeling, and glycogen wise felt perfectly fine but as I would run up to usual sort of pace would be brought to a stop by a cramp. Not my proudest moment came about 8km in when Gomez flew past me as I was bent over hurling some non-flat coke I took in a moment ago before the big hill on the run course. Not the impression I wanted to leave on possibly the greatest of all time. (The career change I considered as Gomez flew past me in the picture below).
On lap number three atleast the cramps in my chest and sides started to come down so I could pick the pace back up slightly, and on number 4 just took whatever my legs could give me. I was ready to quit 3km in, but literally just said F this thought about everything that went wrong over the last month and instead of letting it anchor me to the curb on the side of the road that looked so inviting, let the anger fuel me and push me through the cramps. Crossed the line and immediately was caught and held upright by the medical staff, and guided into a wheelchair immediately. Really I appreciated so much the care the medical staff gave to me at the race, it was amazing. They immediately got ice on me and and IV going and it helped quite a bit. It took a good 35 minutes or so of IV fluids before the cramps in my hands and feet started to subside, but unfortunately I couldn't stay there all day and the cramps continued well into the night being woken up a number of times by my calves seizing up or my feet spasming. How dehydrated was I after the race I'm not sure, but just to give an idea even after IV fluids, loads of water post race, can of extra salt/vinegar Pringles, two more bags of chips at the airbnb, more fluids, a box of granola with more fluids, and then a massive meal at dinner, the bathroom of the restaurant happened to have a scale in it. I hopped on clothes/shoes and all and even after having literally just ate huge meal the scale pegged me at 53.5kg - in other words light very light even 7 hours post race. I'm not sure what I weighed at before the race since I didn't have scale but it definitely wasn't 53.5kg with clothes and shoes on. That would be little lighter than marathon day race weight back in the day. So I'd bet likely getting down to dangerous dehydration levels. It is odd though and concerning if I ever get the chance to take on the beast of Kona one day that years ago I used to love running in the heat but that's really changed. I even purposely used to run in the hottest part of the day sometimes for extra challenge. But ever since I got heat exhaustion in my first long course race in Miami November 2016, I think something has physiologically changed in me that has made me more susceptible to it or less able to deal with it (maybe just less mentally willing to deal with it I'm not sure). I do have a very high sweat rate anywhere between 2.5-3L/hr which makes staying completely hydrated a real challenge but that's no excuse. I'm not the only person in the world with a high sweat rate, just need to manage myself better at aid stations on the bike so that I'm not starting the run incredibly dehydrated. For example, I found in this race the trash zone was very very close to after the station so I felt rushed going through it and like I was able to only empty tiny amounts into my front bottle before having to toss the bottle. I only then thought of on lap #2, tossing my rear bottle in the trash zone altogether before the station, then just grabbing the entire 700ml bottle and just putting it in the cage, instead of worrying about emptying the bottle into the front. What that mistake meant though was that between my 700ml front, 600ml rear, 700ml that I grabbed, and maybe 200ml front the two previous stations that I was able to fill into the front, I took in maybe 2.4L on the bike, leaving me probably in the range even if assuming a low 2.5L/hr sweat rate for me on the day (but probably higher considering the heat) I would be getting off the bike something like 3.5L dehydrated. That means starting a run around 6% dehydrated. I said to my mom after the race I knew I was getting into a bad place and to dangerous levels since I find for me (I don't know if this is normal for everyone) but counter-intuitively I will start to get very cold chills on my back and neck. About 70km into the bike I felt this, and that's when my mind really started to panic. By that point though with no more aid stations until 1km into the run, it was too late, and with a high sweat rate, once you are well behind the count it is going to be almost impossible to catch back up.
So now that I'm back and I've moved past the races in Europe, what's next. Well first and foremost need these injuries to get better. The run should be my main weapon in triathlon, but if I can't run for weeks and months leading into races, then I lose that card to play. Everyone in the pro ranks are good runners, yes some better than others obviously, but fact is regardless if I'm injured a pure runner at 50% will lose in a foot race versus a 100% healthy "swim-biker". So get some help with this right leg is task one. From a strategic standpoint what did I learn from racing in Europe, and how will I adapt. Well, I'm going to ramp up my swimming significantly. I got thrashed a couple times this year on the bike and the easy/obvious solution seemed to be well just bike more, get stronger on the bike. But in both Prague, and Denmark I biked strong and still got thrashed on the flats. Maybe getting stronger on the bike isn't the only way of going about it, but rather if I can gain 30-40s in the swim then I can get into a group on the bike, feed off the group, work together (since like I said at 10m you are still at a 33W savings), do my thing on the climbs, and come off the bike in a better position to do what I know I can do if healthy on the run. So I'm going to swim a lot heading into the fall season, which I'll discuss in a separate post (since it deserves its own post). Then as a fail safe just in case I swim well but still miss the pack, over the next couple months for the first time in my entire life I'm going to try to gain about 4-5kg. I've been in a constant pursuit for the last 7-8 years of getting and staying as light as possible, but going to try my best to put my normal thoughts to the side and look to go the other way on the scale for a change. Mentally that will be hard being stuck in my own ways for so long, and then physically it will be hard to put muscle mass on top of a body with minimal body fat to transform into muscle. But the hope is that by putting on 4-5kg of muscle I'll get an extra little boost to my raw power on the bike (if the w/kg stays the same it would be like a 20-30W increase) to help bridge the gap at the start of the bike, and maybe who knows the extra muscle will help prevent/break the cycle of running injuries. My head has been wired in a way to think that the less I weigh the less impact force will be on my tibia's, but I need to re-wire to understand that that less that you weight the more % of the impact is of your tibia's since there is less muscle mass to absorb the impact. So for the next 6 weeks you can find me in the gym lifting some heavy-ish things up and down while listening to some hard rap music to really get the testosterone pumping, and in the pool swimming till my arms fall off. Also the goal would be before the fall to keep trying to figure out my race day nutrition strategies, not just in terms of calories but how I can stay better hydrated since for where I'm going in the fall it's going to be hot, damn hot as Robin Williams would say.
Anyways thanks for reading along the lengthy post, until next time, happy training and racing.