Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Malibu Triathlon - Race Report

The week leading up to the race was supposed to be a nice taper week. I was intending to swim all week, ride gently to work but hold off on the running as I didn't want to compromise my very relaxed muscles. As a result, I actually tapered even more than that and just rode to work. I thought at one point I was coming down with something but lots of healthy fruit and veg seemed to keep things at bay.

Against advice, I had the odd glass of wine, even though I had far less on a normal week, but the intention here was to remain relaxed and to take my mind off the race which I regarded as much more important.

Thursday night was not a good night for sleep. For some reason I couldn't take my mind off the race. It was like it was the night before the race. I still had 2 more nights to go. This was not encouraging, especially as I know how important sleep is for performance. Luckily, Friday night was much better and I felt great. I had been a little worried about that before as we had been told not to worry about sleeping the night before the race, The important night is the night before that. We had been out to Rush street as a team for a Carb Load dinner. Lots of pasta and a pint of beer seemed to so the trick.

Saturday was the usual case of driving up to Malibu and doing the packet pickup. The only difference that day was the extra trip I did to Triathlon Lab to pick up a set of race day wheels. I had rented a set of Zipp 808's. These were the most aerodynamic wheels that they had. They really require a longer race to make the difference but they look great on the bike. I hope that if I looked fast, I would be.

Once home, I got all my gear together in my newish transition bag and packed it into the car, which I had left out on the road so that I only needed to walk my bike down on it's own in the morning. At 9pm I went off to bed. I didn't really sleep much but as I was getting up at 3am I had to give it a try.

Race Day

As usual, I woke up before my alarm. I kissed my wife goodbye, grabbed my bike and set off for Malibu. The drive was great and I managed to consume a breakfast cookie and some of my smoothie that I had been experimenting with.

2 Bananas
Almond Butter
Protein Powder

I got to the parking lot right on 4:30am when it was due to open. It was already open at this time so there were no cues and the traffic was light and free moving. Parking was just as easy which was great. I parked up and sent my text message to Sam, drank some Gaterade and exited into the darkness of the carpark. As usual, there was a buzz in the air from all of the folks arriving at the same time.
I got my bike out, pumped up my tires, grabbed my bag and headed off. The transition area was already open. I found my rack with about 8 members of my team already there. At first I thought I had missed out on a great spot but by chance, the rack I was on was the next one and at this time it was totally empty. I grabbed the end spot and got all my stuff out. I hadn't forgotten anything which was a first for me. I think the transition bag really helped with this. I also got a couple of last minute tips from Ian Murray as he walked by.

The call came to leave the transition area so I slapped on the Body Glide, put on my wetsuit and headed out to the race talk. This was the usual stuff but it was great to see everyone. As the talk closed, I headed straight into the water for my warmup. I had about 20 minutes before my start so I had to make the most of it. The water was a good temperature and my practice entries and exits were good. I saw Mario Lopez on the beach as I exited and he gave me that look that says "Should I be doing that?".

I watched the first two waves go off from a distance and then headed to the start line as I was wave 4. One thing that was very obvious was the current heading up the course. Lots of the early waves drifted way up stream of the buoy. This was quickly picked up by the experienced athletes and they subtly edged to their left. The count down started and the gun went off. Go Go Go....

The Swim

Due to moving across to my left for the start, I hadn't been able to get right to the front of the pack at the gun, but the run down to the beach separated everyone out and I was pretty close to where I wanted to be. The tide was high so we knew that the incline would be shallow at first so this allowed for a good period of high knee movement through the water. I managed to transition to dolphin dives pretty well and make good progress through the surf, diving under the bigger waves with relative ease. The swimming seemed to start early and I got past the surf zone in the anticipated two waves. This was positive. Sighting for the Buoy also seemed relatively easy. Half way to the buoy I dropped in behind another swimmer and relaxed a little. I was concerned that I wasn't going fast enough so I popped out of his draft a couple of times during the swim but I didn't make a lot of progress so I decided to sit tight and conserve energy. I stayed on the lookout for other faster swimmers but I think I had already let them go. The good think about the guy I was drafting was his sighting. He stayed on a perfect line for the whole race. I checked every so often but he was great. We rounded the last buoy and headed for the shore. I didn't manage to get any body surfing opportunities but I did what I had been told in training and made sure I was always moving forward and making progress. I exited the water in a time of 00:14:22. Although 14 seconds faster than last year, I know that I am capable of much faster. This works out as a 1:48 pace for 100m and in the pool I have been doing 1:35. This would work out at 00:12:40 so I really need to work on closing this gap.


I used the water shower briefly, but more importantly, I splashed my feet in one of the puddles that had formed. I was told to look out for this as it's a quick and effective way of removing lots of sand. From here to my transition spot was about 30 meters or so. I had delayed taking my wetsuit off my shoulders as I knew I had time during this run. I managed to get it fairly low on my hips by the time I reached my spot so the final bit was pretty easy to remove. I saw Josh Wills just leaving with his bike so I knew he was about 45 seconds ahead of me. I put the helmet on very smoothly considering it's tight fit. It's one of those aero helmets so the ear covers get in the way whilst putting it on. I fumbled the catch a little but I only lost a couple of seconds. The glasses went on and I was away with my bike.

The Bike

My shoes were on the bike already so running barefoot was easy. I got to the mount line and did a flying mount which went very well for the first time on this bike. I put my feet in pretty much straight away which is unusual but it means that I can get up to speed quickly before tightening the straps. My task was to hit 25mph as quickly as possible. I did this and started to sort out my feet. My left Velcro strap had come out of it's buckle but I was able to fix this at speed so not a lot of time lost. I set out to catch Josh. It surprised me that I caught him at the first underpass. I then unfortunately witnessed Josh's water bottle flying out as he tried to avoid a pot hole in the road. That part of the course catches a surprising amount of bike bottles and in past years I cycled through it while holding my bottle firm. This year I was trying out a carbon water bottle cage which hold them tighter so everything went well. They are not cheap but I had been told the benefits of their stiffness and I managed to find one that paired up nice and tight with my target water bottle.

I passed Josh as we got on the PCH and I picked up the pace. My target speed was supposed to be 35 mph but I felt good and there was little wind so I upped the pace to 28 mph. Even at this pace I was passed by a guy named Peter Smith who was absolutely flying. Just before the first hill, I eased slightly and took on some fluids. I picked up the pace again for the hill and attacked it as planned. Peter was going faster than I would have been comfortable with so I had to let him go. He was in my age group but he earned the place. I later found out that he did a 41:06 split for the bike which was probably the fastest amateur time for the day and 8 minutes quicker than my last years time.

I got to the turn around point still feeling strong and ready for the climb back up from Leo Carrilo. I took it fairly easy as climbs go, but I remained in the big ring and kept the pace around 15pmh. At the top it was a case of cranking up the gears and getting back up to 25mph again. The rollers that follow allow you to hold your speed pretty well and there was only really one more hill to climb and I hit that really hard. I felt good still and I had passed quite a few of my age group. I had no idea exactly how I was doing but I was having fun.

I managed to take on the GU Gel that I had taped to my top tube and swigged down a good amount of fluid to go with it. All was going to plan. I got to the turn around point as you enter the Zuma car park and decided to check my bike computer. I was shocked that it was only just ticking over to the 40 minute mark. This meant that I was way ahead of schedule. My task now was to keep the pace going until the very end. I did this but as I was approaching the dismount line, I was nearly taken out my a spectator that crossed onto the course in front of me without looking. Luckily I swerved enough to avoid her but it was a close call made more theatrical by the gasps of the onlooking crowds.

I got my feet out of my shoes and placed them on top, one at a time. The mount line approached and I carefully pulled to a near stop with both legs on one side. A gentle skip off the bike and I was smoothly into transition.

I didn't look when I got to T2 but my bike split was 44:29 with and average speed of about 24.5 mph. This was about 2 minutes faster than I had hoped and 5 minutes quicker than last year. I think my new bike with its bike fit had worked.


T2 was a blur to me. It started with a very smooth dismount, leaving my shoes on the bike and followed by a smooth run with my bike to the my transition area. I didn't get lost and for the first time in a race, I didn't mess around. I was intending to keep my glasses on for the run but they fell off into my transition area when I took off my helmet and I didn't want to waste time recovering them. I slipped on my running shoes that were already adjusted with elastic laces and grabbed my race belt and visor and set off. Simon Gowen saw me and shouted "Go for it Dan" which was nice encouragement. And I was out on the run.

The Run

I had decided to keep run without my GPS as this would allow my transitions to be much faster so I had no idea how I was doing on the run. It felt good, and it definitely felt faster than previous years. I was quickly passed by a guy named Andras Heczey who was running for the Childrens Hospital Los Angeles. I had passed him on my way back into the parking lot on the bike course but he was very much the faster runner. I picked up the pace a little to try to keep him in sight but I definitely wasn't catching him. In the first mile my legs felt pretty good, but I did start to cramp in both. Instead of slowing down, I tried to pick up the cadence and relax into it. At times I thought it was going to develop into a full on cramp but luckily it held off and after about a mile, I had relaxed into my running. I saw Jamie Specht from my team running back the other way. For some reason I though he started only 5 minutes ahead of me and I had calculated that he was way further ahead now. As a result, I tried to maintain a good pace and limit my losses. I later discovered that I had been wrong and that he had started 15 minutes ahead of me in the first wave. Not so bad after all.

The turn around point came without incident and I set off on the way home. At this point, I was looking out for Josh again. I had no idea how close behind me he was and the out and back course would reveal the gap as I passed him on my way back to the finish. I saw him before entering the Zuma Car Park. He put on a spurt which worried me but I figured I was over half a mile ahead of him with under two miles to go. All I could do is keep my pace up and home that he didn't have the legs to catch me.

About 300 meters from the finish line, I caught Josh's brother Zach. He had set off with Jamie and was having a great first race at Malibu. He has a strong kick so I said hello and tried to keep up the pace and open up a gap. This wasn't to last as the next think I saw with about 60 meters to go, was Zach come sprinting past me. I joined in the fun and put in an all out effort to hold him off. Unfortunately for me, the course organizer's had put in their usual right angle bend just before the finish line and I had no way of getting around it cleanly. Zach had edged ahead by this point and I conceded the sprint to him. I looked up at the timing clock and saw 01:43:59. A great time on its own, but I had to take 15 minutes off this to get my finish time. I had been shooting for 01:35:00 but this was showing up that I did it 6 minutes quicker in a time of 01:28:59. The sprint had got me 1 second under the 01:29:00 mark which was a real bonus and a nice prize for my efforts. My run split ended up being 00:27:31 which was exactly 4 minutes quicker than last year and 30 second faster than my target time. Running a sub 7 minute mile is by far my best in a race. If I can get this close to a 6 minute mile for next time, I will be very pleased indeed.

Post race

Before the results came in, I headed straight for the massage tent. 2nd in line was another great benefit of finishing fast. I wanted to make sure I was loosened up as I normally suffer after a race like this.
After the massage I dumped my belonging with the LATri club tent and jumped in the ocean. This felt great. I don't normally do this either but in practice with Simon Gowen, it had done wonders for my muscles so I made sure it was part of my post race routine. Finally I headed back to the expo to check it all out and speak to some of the other Sony Pictures finishers.

The Result

The results were posted and I had placed 5th in my age group. This totally exceeded my expectations and due to the top 5 placings all getting a podium position, I got to go up and accept my medal. As it happens, the first place finisher was Andy Boldwin, a celebrity best know for his appearance as the Bachelor in the TV show of the same name. He was in my devision but had set off with the celebrity wave so was 15 minutes too quick on the official timing. This meant that I finished 4th in my age group and 14th overall out of just under 2000 competitors. What a day and what a result.

A Bit of Last Minute Coaching

I met a guy called Simon Gowen pretty late into my training. My first contact with him was purely as a radio listener. His show, "The Simon Gowen Show", is a weekly occurrence on LA Talk Radio. It was brought to my attention on one of the LA Tri forum posts. At first, I thought it was a one off featuring the topic of triathlon but I later found that this was the central topic for the show. What a great way to talk about the sport. It's something that I can listen to at work without taking me away from the tasks I need to achieve. As the weeks went on, I found that I was picking up many tips and the focus drew more and more to the Malibu Triathlon. Special guests like Ian Murray (who did my bike fit), Chris Foster (A local Pro), and Brooke Davison (A female pro who was flying in for the Malibu Triathlon), all gave pointers that would ultimately improve my race.

One day, an email came through saying that Simon was to do a talk at Triathlon Lab at their new store in Santa Monica. Unfortunately, I would not be able to make it over that way but I sent some members of the Sony Pictures Triathlon Team over there to check it out. The feedback was great and to top it off, one of our members, Felicity, managed to have a chat with Simon and asked if he would come and talk to us as a team. After some minor arm twisting, Simon agreed to do a lunchtime talk about the mental preparation for the race.

He was a big success and I feel like I gained a lot from what he had to say. The big breakthrough however was the fact that Simon would be training up at Zuma beach in Malibu at the same time as us and asked us to join him. I was intending to do some in and out practices before my main swim but Simon took this a step further and made a full In and Out clinic for us. This may sound basic but getting in and out of the ocean is a fine art. Doing this at race pace is even harder. That weekend, Simon taught us to race.

As a major bonus, Simon also agreed to allow me to tag along with him for the ride on the bike course. He said we were going to do it at 80%. This, I am assuming was his 80% as I quickly ended up pushing it very hard. This wasn't helped by the fact that he put me out in the lead and shouted encouragement and instructions of how and where to attack the course. It also helped to learn good places on the course to drink. This is something I have not done well before so this was encouraging.

The bike was feeling great after my proper fit from Ian Murray. My worries about it not being racy were removed straight away when we managed to finish the ride in 46 minutes. This was 3 minutes better than my previous best and we needed to stop for a stop light and the closed barrier at the turn around point. All very encouraging.

We didn't do the run after the ride as normal and instead, Simon got me to jump straight back into the ocean. This was our ice bath. Getting the muscles into that cold water was lovely and I could feel my whole body relaxing and cooling down. I need to remember that one. I haven't felt so loose in years.

I felt like Simon had helped me out so much that day and I believe I was so much more prepared to race.

To add to this, I had had steady communication with Ian Murray. He has been giving me lots of tips on little things I can do to improve my racing. He is also a great swimmer so as well as the bike fit, I intend to get Ian to look at my swim stroke. Anything to get me faster in the water would be a real bonus and I hear that Ian is one of the best in the business, especially with triathlon specific swimming. Unfortunately, I don't think I will be able to get my stroke looked at before Malibu but it is on the cards for a future time.

I'm also considering getting Simon to coach me on a casual basis. I have a tight weekly schedule so my time is limited but hopefully he may be able to help me with my running speed.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

New Shoes

Okay. you may have realized by now that I am buying rather a lot of new stuff this year. This isn't necessarily out of need, but rather choosing to get a tool for changing some of my techniques. I have been running pretty well for a number of years with some great Asics running shoes but this year my focus is on racing. I have always raced in running shoes before now so I thought it was time to try some racing shoes. We are not talking about track shoes with spikes, but rather lighter weight shoes that are designed to not allow you to get away with a poor running style. I really wanted this to help me avoid my usual breaking action that I am certain I do when plodding along at the end of a triathlon. I know I can run faster than I do but I can't seem to get that efficient technique going in a race.

I checked out the shoes at my local Triathlon store and found that that the main choice was between Zoots and Newtons. I have heard good things about Zoots but in this case, the recommendations seemed to point towards the Newton Racers for me. Both pairs are much lighter than the shoes that I currently run in. The Newtons however had the added bonus of forcing my running style to change in a way that would stop my breaking action from taking place.

There was a big catch however. I only had 4 weeks left before the Malibu triathlon and I needed to get used to the shoes and more importantly the running style they promote. With most new shoes, you essentially need time and distance to run them in. Newton however describe the need for the owner to be run in themselves. The difference is that you need time to mold into the style of running that the shoe requires rather than the shoe molding into the shape of your foot.

This is a process that shouldn't be rushed. 4 weeks was probably just enough time for this process. You need to get about 20 miles in, but you also need to start gently, a mile at a time. I found out pretty quickly why. My calf muscles hadn't really factored into my foot strike before now. After switching to forefoot striking, the calf muscles came into play as a shock absorber which forces your foot to work more like a load and release spring action. This puts a lot of stress on your calf muscles and the result after the first couple of attempts was very sore muscles.

Compression socks, ice and a lot of kick drills in the pool seemed to help with this, but it was still a painful process. At the same time as getting the new shoes, however, I was shown a piece of equipment that would really aid in this process. It was called an Alter-G Anti Gravity Trainer. This was essentially a treadmill with an enclosed bubble that helped to lift you up a little while running. You are able to dial in a percentage of your weight to run at. This allowed me to train with my new shoes while reducing the stress on my muscles. It also allowed me to jump straight in with speed work, so that I could feel the difference right away.

Another important factor was that I was intending to race without socks. These shoes instantly felt better than my asics when not wearing socks but I was able to improve the feeling further by using a product called blister shield. This is a powder that acts like micro ball bearings. With careful placement of this powder in the areas where the foot rubs against the shoe, the requirement for socks is removed. I plan to use this on both my running shoes and my cycling shoes so that socks are not needed on race day. In practice this is working well so I am pretty confident that I will not have issues in the race.

I now had a setup that would really allow me to race. I haven't concentrated on my T1 and T2's before but this time I am going to really cut down the time needed to transition by not having to put socks on over wet skin.

Lets see how this works out in the race.

Monday, September 21, 2009

My bad leg

In the last blog I highlighted an issue I have been having with my leg. This has been going on for a while now. I have been getting numbness down my leg and into my foot. At best, it's just a little numb sensation, but at worst, I lose all feeling and control of my leg which essentially stops all motion. I have nearly fallen over a couple of times when I thought I had moved it to walk and it had stayed in its original position. Not a good situation to be in.

After my bike fit highlighted that something was very wrong, I went to the doctors to get an opinion. I was told that it was most likely nerve damage of some kind but it would require further tests to work out the impact and whether it was old damage, a current nerve restriction or something else.

I was ordered to go to a neurologist up in Beverly Hills to get an Electromyogram (EMG) done. This would involve sticking needle like electrodes into the muscles of my leg to listen to the electrical signals that were passed through the nerves. These test ended up revealing that I had lost 40% of the nerve function in my calf muscle.

So what does this mean. It means that 40% of the nerves that travel into this area are not carrying any signal to and from the muscles. This sounds really bad, but the body does cope with this situation somewhat. The remaining nerves branch out into these dead areas to fill the gaps. The signal is a little diluted and it does also mean that the control and feedback can be a little vague as to which exact area is being stimulated but the muscle does still work. It is a little weak but with some strengthening, I should be able to balance out my body a little more.

Unfortunately this more permanent damage is being added to by ongoing issues with my back which is resulting in spasms in my lower back muscles. For this, the treatment is Physical Therapy to loosen them up and try to strengthen my core muscles.

Massage and PT for me. I am now getting a massage at work every Friday and go to Physical Therapy twice a week at Evolution Physical Therapy over in Playa Vista. We are working on loosening the muscles around the spine and strengthening the leg muscles. This all seems to be helping so hopefully we are solving the problem.

Bike Fit with Ian Murray

So I have my new bike. This is good. I know I have the correct size for me as I had a pre fit with Ian before my trip back to England. Triathlon Lab did a basic fit for me when I bought the bike so it should have been pretty close but I was still debating whether I should take it back to Ian and spend even more money to make sure it is fitted properly to me. I had just spent over $3k on the new bike so spending another couple of hundred dollars on top of this was a real question for me. Would it really be worth it?

I did some research on the web and as it turns out, it is. There is a lot of science and mechanics going on when considering transferring power down affectively between the cyclist and the bike and when it is done correctly you don't waste as much power as you pedal. You also have to consider comfort on the bike and the aero position that can be acheived.

So after spending a lot of money on a new bike, the general consensus is to spend just a little bit more to make sure you are getting the most out of it. Otherwise you are essentially wasting money.

I met Ian through LATri Club and have always found his information helpful and as he was regarded as one of the best bike fitters around I decided to get it done properly. I also knew that the bike I purchased, a Cervelo P2 is very familiar to Ian as this is what he rides. He knows every trick about this bike and was even able to fix a couple of manufacturing design faults while he was at it.

This bike fit highlighted two main things. The first was how much more comfortable the bike is when it is correctly fitted to me and the second thing was how smooth the power seemed to be put down through the pedals when all of the leg and hip angles were correct. Actually there is a third discovery that came out of the bike fit and this was just how bad my left leg is. I thought my left cleat was incorrectly fitted but actually it turns out I have some pretty serious neuromuscular issues happening with my left leg which is resulting in weakness and loss of function and control. It is a knock on affect from some back problems I have had in the past but more about this next time.

So back to the bike fit. We found that the saddle height was a little too high. After needing to cut the seat post down a little so that we could lower it a centimeter of so, (a job that I couldn't have done myself), we found that the original drop was good so we removed some spacers from the stem and got it back to a fairly aggressive 12cm drop. This means that my saddle is 12cm higher than the pads on my aerobars.

The next job was to widen the distance between the aerobars so that I could open up my chest a little more and get more oxygen in.

The bike felt really good. Very comfortable which worried me a little. I wanted a really racy position and I was concerned that it was going to be comfortable but not fast. I am however a believer in science so watch this space.