Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Chasing Vegas

If you read my blog post from yesterday about what I try to do and not to do in a race report, then please call me out if I stray from my parameters. Read on...

Rocky Balaboa famously stated in Rocky VI (one of the best films Hollywood has produced since "Shazzam") that
"its not about how hard you can hit, it's about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward."
Wise words from a guy who not only devours raw (most likely non-organic, pasteurized eggs), but also has gotten his brain kicked out of him by the likes of Apollo Creed, Mr. T, and Drago since 1981. Regardless, those were the words that replayed over and over again while racing Syracuse 70.3 this past weekend.

I went to Syracuse with one goal in mind: re-qualify for Vegas. Ever since Galveston where I skipped roll down because I thought the Vegas slot would never roll down to me in fifth, I have been kicking myself and craving a Vegas slot. I was originally supposed to race Rev3 Williamsburg, but the Vegas slot was too tempting to pass on. A week before the race, therefore, I pulled an audible and registered for Syracuse. It would my last shot at qualifying before I move to Phoenix; it was all or nothing.
I am going to skip over the logistics and details about my travels up, but if you are thinking about doing this race next year, here are a few tips you may want to consider:

  • drive the course before since the its good to know where the hills, turns, mile markers, and aid stations are. The scenery here is gorgeous too so you may want to drive it twice: once to get the logistics then once to take in the scenic and idyllic landscapes. 
  • Get into the water the day before since you can. Not many races allow you to do this but since its a state park, the beach has open water swim times. The water is cooler than you would expect
  • Drive the run course since you want to see the hills. 
  • Pack your own food. Syracuse is a college town and shuts down once the students leave. Restaurants are closed for the season so there are not many options within walking distance of some of the inner Syracuse hotels

Let's skip ahead to race morning where it all begins: The Swim

I will be honest and say that the swim is like any other swim: swim out, take a turn, swim some more, take another turn, and then swim back. Temperatures were at 70 degrees (21.1 C for you foreign readers), so ideal for wearing a long sleeve wetsuit with little to no chance of hypothermia. No thermal neoprene cap needed--although I did stash one in my bag just in case. My blueseventy helix was perfect, but I saw plenty of people in sleeveless. In the words of my man, Justin Timberlake, "as long as I have my [wet]suit and tie/Imma leave it [in the water] all night...let me show you a few things."

Even more typical of races, my wave got screwed and was seeded last with an 8:15am start, an hour and fifteen minutes after the pros. I am not a huge fan of late starts. I would much rather get out right after the pros as early as possible since there is less time waiting around and getting nervous, don't have to swim over, bike around, and run by, everyone. HOWEVER, this is out of my control, so I just have to deal with it until I get old or go pro whichever come first or occurs at all.
I went out strong and held a decent clip but I felt that I was holding back. 34 minutes is not my fastest swim but in retrospect saving my energy a bit for the bike ride was wise. With such a challenging bike and run course, you definitely do not want to go anaerobic. Moreover, wear tinted, smoked, or tinted goggles because the sun can be glaring.

The only difficulty of the swim at Syracuse was that there was ton of weeds at the bottom of the shallows so that when I emerged from the proverbial deep, I felt like swamp thing.

T1 was a very long run from the water's edge over carpet, into the bike corral, then another long run to the bike mount line. Thankfully they had strippers at the swim exit (get your mind out of the gutter if you thought I meant the other type of stripper--those came later). A huge volunteer who looked like he would have been an excellent lineman pulled off my wetsuit with ease, and without much time lost I was on my way. To minimize my transition time, I skipped the socks, slammed my feet straight into my shoes and took off. I have not yet mastered the flying mount yet but it would be wise to do so so that you do not have to run as long in your bike shoes.

On to the bike: the bike course is difficult but definitely manageable. A lot of people talk it up like its the Pyrenees, but it's not. The first 15 miles are a gradual incline and then it turns into rollers with an overall negative trend downwards. YOU HAVE TO PACE YOURSELF! DO NOT GO OUT TOO HARD! A lot of people went out much too quickly and were suffering in the later stages of the race.

My plan was to stick to 230watts and hold it there regardless of what gear I was in, what my speed was, or how many people past me. Like all races, this strategy takes discipline and the need to check your ego at T1. To parafrase those frozen waffle: "Leggo my Ego" Sticking with the plan though pays off.

I accidentally hit the lap button on my garmin which divided the bike up into two parts (the first is on the right):

For the first half of the race my normalized power wattage was perfect at roughly 229watts with little variability (VI= 1.03, which is good but not great). The second half it was slightly lower at 207 with greater variability (1.08), which I think was due to the turns. Regardless, a weakness to work on for the future especially in the lead up to my next race.

Nutritionally, my typical plan of three Amrita bars and then two gels worked great. Thats about 1000 calories total for the 2.5 hours. It would have worked better if I drank more.

What killed me on the bike was not the hills, but my lack of hydration. I underestimated how hot it would be and only brought two water bottles (my speedfil up front then my favorite Amrita bar bottle full of Nuun in the rear). This got me through the first aid station but not enough after that. I was relying on the aid stations to provide water, which they did, but the amount I took was not enough. I had to squirt the water into my speedfil but was only able to squeeze about half the bottle before the end of the station. I could not put the bottle in my rear cage because it would just bounce out. This left me in a water deficit and by the time I hit the run I was severely dehydrated.

T2 was nothing special so no need to elaborate.

The run was the toughest run I have ever done. The heat index was 106 degrees with little shade. I started out with a good 6:15 pace for the first two miles after which my race deteriorated. I would say it went down hill but on the contrary the course went up hill.  My stomach cramped up, and my energy was in the tank. I could not take in solid calories because that would aggravate my stomach even more. After slowing down the pace at mile 3, my energy levels still had not bee restored so I shelved my pride and did something that I have never done in a race before: I walked the aid stations.

At this point in the race, I did not care about Vegas, I did not care about the podium, I did not care about time, all I wanted to do was finish and if I had to walk the aid stations simply to get to the finish line so be it. I therefore would run from aid station to aid station at about a 7:15 clip then walk, drink two cups of water, poured another cup on top of me, shoved ice and sponges down my jersey, then drank some coke (not diet but real coke). I felt like a Boston Market rotisserie chicken that had been left in the oven for several days or a 7-11 "hotdog," rolling over again and again and not going anywhere but slowly drying up into a cracked tube of junk.  

The hills were brutal and the heat just compounded it. While I did not walk the hills, my Ironman shuffle was almost walking pace. I can usually handle hills but not today.

I finished but barely. I think almost everyone on that course had thoughts of quitting and I was no different. In this race, it was not necessarily the fastest who did well; it was those who kept going despite the conditions.

Overall, I finished first in the age group and 36th overall with a time of 4:46: 32, which was good enough to get the Vegas slot. Needless to say I have a lot of work to do before Championships:

  • My swim efficiency 
  • Hydration!
  • Power Variability and power levels in general
  • Run fueling
  • Do not drive 7 hours back home after the race. It will kill your recovery. 

While it was not my fastest race, this race taught me racing tactics that an easy race could never do. Its not the easy races that make us stronger and wiser, its the hardest ones but thats just my two watts.

Now a few shout outs:

  1. Adam Furlong who put me up for the weekend
  2. Amrita bars for fueling me on the bike
  3. The race organizers who put on an excellent race despite the adverse weather conditions
  4. An awesome crew of volunteers 
  5. Bonzai for giving me the weekend off

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

The Prelude to a Race Report

Before I publish my "official" Syracuse Race report tomorrow let me take a moment to explain why I  (and others) publish these things in the first place:

Usually when a triathlete returns a rental wetsuit or wheels to Bonzai after a race, I like to ask how his/her race went. Some customers say something along the lines of "oh, it was good" then leave. However, a percentage of those asked (I would estimate around 40-45%) will give you a 20-30 minute intricate, elaborate, stroke-by-stroke, mile-by-mile, step-by-step, race report complete with rants about the jerk who cut him (or her) off on the bike, how the Ironman Perform drink was not blended to the correct strength, the quality of the bowel movements before, during, and/or after the race, calorie intake, and a power analysis that even Training Peaks would be proud of. (While I occasionally speak in hyperbole, these past examples are actually what people have described to me when I inquired about their race. Sometimes you cannot even make stuff up like this).

All I can do is smile, nod, and keep an open mind while trying not to pass judgement. Unless I am slammed with work or other customers, I rarely cut them off because talking about a race afterwards is not only beneficial from a training perspective but also therapeutic. (Believe it or not I actually like to hear all the stories about "what actually happened" during a race. With all the different perspectives, it's like reading a James Joyce book.)

My Spiddy sense are tingling just writing this
Analyzing a race, allows you to analyze what went as planned, think about what went wrong, and highlight your mistakes so that in the next race you do not make the same ones. Looking at power and splits can also point out the weak points that you will need to work on in the training leading up to your next race.

In my race report tomorrow and those to follow I will try to avoid:

  1. Bashing the race organizers
  2. Ego boosts
  3. Self-deprecation 
  4. Using it as a means to pick up women (<---no guarantees here)
  5. Elaboration and hyperbole i.e. turn a sprint into an Ironman 
What I aim for is:

  1. A way to get my thoughts out on the page and put words to my emotions (I am just that sensitive)
  2. Write down both my strengths and my weakness so that I can improve and get advice from others on what to do differently
  3. Some humor, some tragedy, some light hearted but true stories
  4. Provide race tips to those who will race the same race next year
  5. Provide general race tips and tricks that I found worked
  6. Prevent readers (and myself) from making the same mistakes that I did.
Hopefully, what I write will help. I  know that just writing it down helps me...but thats my two watts.

Stay posted tomorrow for my Syracuse race report

Thursday, June 20, 2013

"Oh no! I caught obesity" Should obesity be labeled a disease?

This post is most likely going to open the proverbial can of worms and cause an onslaught of angry emails to flood my inbox, but I am going to post it anyway because I am that type of guy. This post is not intended to convince you whether obesity is a disease or not because I myself am not sure. The intention of this post is to get you think, look at both sides and not to sway you either way except to better health and understanding. 

Yesterday, the American Medical Association (AMA) officially recognized obesity as a disease ( By labeling obesity in such a way, the AMA recognizes that obesity deserves "medical attention and insurance coverage as do other diseases." Considering, that almost 2/3 of American children are obese and that if the obesity rate continues to rise just under half of America will be obese by 2030, obesity is obviously a big, fat problem. However, is it really a disease?

This is a very sensitive and touchy subject among Americans and especially for me. I come from this subject not as someone who is obese but from the opposite end of the eating disorder spectrum. The American Psychological Association recognizes anorexia as diagnosable disease, and as a result patients of eating disorders can usually file claims for psychological help, nutrition counseling, and in patient care through their insurance companies (unfortunately this is rare, and insurance companies will find any excuse to drop coverage and deny coverage for those who have been diagnosed, leaving the patient with huge bills for inpatient treatments which can sometimes cost upwards of $1000 a day...but thats another subject for another day and another post). HOWEVER, most of the time with diseases like anorexia and even alcoholism, insurance companies are not paying for the treatment of the disease itself rather they are paying for the ancillary diseases that arrise from such disease such as cirrhosis of the liver and depression. Currently obesity is being treated in the same way. We are not treating obesity (if anything we are encouraging but once again another post), we are treating the resulting problems like diabetes, gout, heart issues, low testosterone etc. Defining obesity as a disease, though, increases coverage of disease itself making "treatments" like plastic surgery, gastric bypass surgery, and weight loss pills open for insurance coverage.

My first reaction is this is ridiculous. Why should I have to shoulder the cost of people being fat? Why should I be paying for someone else's surgery to make them be thin again? They ate their way to where they are and therefore they have to deal with consequences. Plenty of people have lost weight successfully on their own without me having to pay for them to help them do it. However, before I get all verklempt lets take a deep breath and look at the pros and cons of labeling obesity a disease:

Pro disease:

  • If we look in the dictionary, Merriam-Webster disease is defines disease as:

"a condition of the living animal or plant body or of one of its parts that impairs normal functioning and is typically manifested by distinguishing signs and symptoms" 
"A particular quality, habit, or disposition regarded as adversely affecting a person or group of people. 
Does Obesity impair normal functioning? Yes. Does it have signs and symptoms? Yes. Does it adversely affect a person or group? Yes. So obesity passes the dictionary test.

  • Obesity apparently also has other similarities to diseases: its contagious(, it can lead to other health problems, and it can kill you. Ostensibly it seems that obesity is a disease.

  • Then there is the moral side of it being that these people need help and therefore as my neighbor I would like to help them. 

  • Saying obesity is a disease also increase awareness and sends the message that being obese is a problem that needs to be treated. 

Now lets look at the cons of labeling it as a disease:

  • By labeling it a disease we are taking the blame from them; we are telling them that its not their fault that they are sick. The same thing happened with alcoholism in the 1950s and 1960s and anorexia in the 1990s and early 2000s. As a recovering anorexic I recognize that my anorexia was my fault. I decided to lose the weight in the very beginning; I decided to keep on losing weight even though it was bad for me; I decided to fight my doctors tooth and nail; but I also decided to get better and to stay better, a decision that I make daily if not hourly. At the deepest darkest part of my disease, I was powerless over it; it controlled me and my actions. Yes, I would call it a disease but a non traditional one and more of a mental issue and problem that I needed help to deal with. 

My conversations with recovering alcoholics show that many in the program think along the same lines. They recognize it as a disease that they are powerless over but that they have to take the necessary steps (showing up to meetings, not putting themselves into situations where they may relapse, etc) to get better. Its not like they can pop a pill and continue on with their normal lives.

  • If we label it as a disease chances are we are going to treat it like other disease through medications and quick fixes like surgery. These do not work! They may temporarily solve the problem or treat the conditions but they do not deal with the underlying issues. 

  • Chances are that insurance premiums will rise especially since its such a wide spread issue. 

  • Labeling it as a disease also adds to the growing number of diseases out there. It seems that everything is a disease now. 

So I am still on the fence here about the whole label. Here is what I do know though:

  • Obesity is a problem
  • I would love to help in any way I can to help them get better. 
  • Everyone has a personal obligation her and himself to respect their bodies
  • Those who are obese have my compassion. I can understand the problem and relate in some way
  • It needs to dealt with through multiple interventions
  • It can and should be treated though other means than medication and surgery except for EXTREME conditions
....but thats just my two watts

I would love to hear your thoughts on this issue so leave them bellow

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Welcome to the Next Episode...hold up

"Now usually I don't do this, but uuhhhh go ahead and break 'em off with a little preview of the remix..." (R Kelly)

Wow, this post has been a long time coming. I haven't blogged in a good three months, which is simply too long for both you and me. In the words of my Middle School, Soviet wrestling coach, "This is unacceptable, Mr. Hague" (pronounced as Mista Ha-gooo").  

I could bore you with every single detail, but that would take too long and my memory is not good enough to recall them. I am sorry if this blog is more a personal baggage than my usual musings. I hope though that you find some sort of redeeming life truth at the end for you to take away (you can skip to the bold section at the end if you are in a rush).

Therefore, here is a snap shot:

March: Bunch of cold weather and little sun light, (that little rodent in Pennsylvania was full of shit when he said it would be a short winter).  Even though I wanted to make my season debute in San Juan 70.3, work and finances (those two pesky life limiters) got in the way, so I  had to pull an audible and change to racing Galveston 70.3.
Galveston 70.3

April: Awesome race in Galveston taking 5th in the AG. More cold weather in DC. Lots of work at the store.

The calm before the storm in Knoxville
May: Went down to Knoxville to race the Rev3 Half, got hypothermia on the bike, had to drop out. Not the greatest of races and a long drive home. More work at the store business picked up and with it my stress levels. Found three grey hairs

My Wattie Clique in Quassy.
"Aint no one fresher"
June:  Raced the Oly at Rev3 Quassy. Awesome swim and 10 mile ride, then two flats, followed by a fast 15 mile ride and a 36:29 10k, so essentially two great races with a 40 minute coffee break in between. THEN I was offered a job in Phoenix, AZ at a charter school, which I immediately accepted. Set to move on July 5th!

That last event was a HUGE life changer, and is going to be the focus of the rest of this post.

For the most part I enjoy working at Bonzai, but over the past few months I have found that my life is out of balance, and when your life is skewed in one direction be it social, work or training then all of those spheres suffer and so do you.

Work was draining me of energy, killing my workouts, stressing me out, and killing my already pitiful social life (it was already dead but it was beating a dead carcass even more). You would think that working at a triathlon store would be great for a triathlete and to some extent it is: I may not get health care but I get great bike care, I am abreast on all the latest tech in the industry, I know all the inside details of geometry and design, and the discounts are wonderful. But everything else is horrendous, the hours are during key training hours so I have to cram all my training (sometimes even 3 workouts) between the hours of 4am and 8:30am, after which I had to be on my feet for the rest of the day, no weekends, one day off a week if I am lucky, and no set hours or schedule. By the end of the day, I am usually so tired that I have no energy to do anything but go home, eat dinner, play a couple rounds of Words with Friends, watch "Jeopardy!" and crawl into bed for another 3:45am wake up call.  Pretty pathetic.

I know there are athletes (some who are incredibly good) who have tougher jobs (doctors, nurses, military, police, fire fighters, just to name a few), who can find time to train in the middle of a chaotic and stressful life, but for some reason I just could not find that balance that I needed. My life was unsustainable. Something had to give and something had to change. When the teaching job became open in Phoenix, I knew this was the change that I needed to make.

Now teaching is not going to be an easy job; it's not going to be a cake walk--not even a gluten free cake walk.  Having worked with kids (and parents) in the past, I am expecting a lot of work, but at least I will be doing something that I am passionate about. When you enjoy what you are doing and it fulfills your passion then you can get through the worse parts and may even "enjoy" (for lack of a better word) them. Its similar to training: if you love the sport, then those hard workouts, while tough, are still enjoyable.

More importantly, I think changing jobs will restore my life balance, which I have not had since leaving my coaching job at Sewanee. Trying to balance life, work and training is always tough. For a happy, healthy, and sustainable life, I think people need all three in near equal proportion. If you are completely focused entirely one sector in your life, not only does that area suffer but also the other two. No one wins except your psychologist who will be raking in the cash from all the therapy session you will need..but thats just my two watts. 

Welcome to the next episode...

Thanks for reading and I promise to blog more often, returning to my normal social and psychological observation and insights instead of mundane life updates from some West Coast (formerly East Coast) kid.