For a few months now, my friend Mary Craig and I have been planning to race Duathlon Nationals in St. Paul, Minnesota. After a long flight in, we made it on Thursday and raced on Saturday. Here’s a race report.
My race reports usually go much longer than I like and describe every detail under the sun. Just in case you’re pressed for time, however, here’s a quick synopsis.
- Fiasco #1. I left my water bottles in the hotel room and so I had run back to the hotel (2 miles round trip) before the race start to get them. I did the whole race with my hotel key under my shorts.
- Fiasco #2. Coming out of T1, I caught my right shoe on the uphill bike mount. Turned around, walked back 10 feet, leaned my bike up against the fence, sat down and put on my shoe, and took off again. By my calculation, this mistake cost me 30 seconds and two places.
- Stupid Fast Age Group. I ran my first 5-K at a 6:32 pace– and got my butt handed to me. Wow, those guys go out fast.
- Frozen Shoulder but Still Good Aerodynamics. Over the last few months, I’ve had a frozen shoulder, which has been causing a lot of pain and compromising my performance– but really taking a hit on my aerodynamics. Nevertheless, my aerodynamics are still pretty good compared to my competition and really saved me on the bike.
- Tough Hill Slowed Second Run for Everyone. This year’s course was totally different from last year and had three loops up a really steep hill. Everyone’s times were slower on the second run but I got lucky– Seattle races are almost always like this so I had an idea of what to expect.
Over the winter and spring, my training had been going great. During the winter months, I put in a good base of slow running miles and some super-fast above-VO2Max efforts. Over time, this morphed into fewer long runs but more longer intervals, slowly developing up to hard 1.5 mile efforts. But then my left shoulder started bugging me in mid-spring. At first, I couldn’t care less about a super-painful shoulder because it didn’t affect my running or cycling. I was seeing a physical therapist and undergoing Soma treatment– surely, I thought that it would resolve. When it didn’t, I made an appointment with my doctor after my shoulder did start to affect my cycling– but the first available appointment was a month out. By the time I finally saw her, she said it was a frozen shoulder, which was the last thing I needed to hear!
A frozen shoulder is an odd ailment to have. As my doctor explained, it happens around my age (50’s and older)– even though I had none of the predisposing factors for it (e.g. obesity, diabetes, etc). During the “freezing” phase, the shoulder becomes more restricted in it’s movement. For instance, right now I can’t move my arm above shoulder level on the left side. I can lift it overhead from the front– with tons of difficulty. I also can’t cross my hand over my chest or scratch my back at all with my left hand. Also during the freezing stage, going outside the current range of motion is answered by an intense pain that isn’t specific to an exact location. In fact, that last symptom is a telltale sign of frozen shoulder. The pain also lasts for a good 30 seconds or so, leaving me bent over, holding my shoulder, and cursing. It’s very temperamental at this stage and there were several times when I moved it slightly in the wrong way during my sleep and I woke up in the middle of the night in agony! After a few months, the shoulder enters the “frozen” phase where it isn’t as painful but just as restricted in movement. It’s still very painful to try to move outside the range of motion– just not as suddenly painful. Finally, the shoulder enters the “thawing” phase when everything slowly (e.g. over one to five years) returns to normal, leaving its victim only with a painful memory. After that, range of motion is fine. My doctor told me that it appears to be a fairly random auto-immune reaction in which the joint capsule mildly inflames– but just enough to mess up the shoulder’s delicate mechanics. Also, fibrotic tissue starts to form but eventually (and somewhat randomly) breaks down. It doesn’t have a specific cause– it’s just Mother Nature’s way of screwing with carefully laid plans.
My doctor explained that they can’t do much to resolve a frozen shoulder during the “frozen” or “thawing” phases– but they could arrest the freezing process and shorten the remaining phases if they caught it during the “freezing” phase. All she would have to do is insert a needle deep into my shoulder joint and inject cortisone. From having undergone PRP and prolotherapy a number of times, I opted for the injection, which she was able to do the next day. It helped a little but not a great amount.
Three days before Nationals, my shoulder was still a mess so I made an appointment with an acupuncturist whom I had seen many years ago. A quick search on the internet revealed that acupuncturists tended to have some success with frozen shoulder. When I went to see him, he told me in extremely broken English that, in China, people know that they shouldn’t go to western doctors for frozen shoulder– only acupuncturists can help the disease. But, while he could offer some relief, it wouldn’t be fully cured without at least one follow-up visit the following week. Nevertheless, after that one visit, I was moving much more freely and with less pain. Maybe Nationals wouldn’t be an entire disaster after all? I did have to move my left elbow pad from the most extreme inward position to the most extreme outboard position– probably costing me a few grams of drag and more time in seconds. But my front end is so low and my back so flat that I’m sure the compromise wouldn’t be too severe.
Mary and I arranged our some inexpensive tickets on Alaska Airlines back in December. I’m a frequent flyer on Alaska Airlines and have MVP Gold status (about 40,000 miles just on Alaska) and so they are really nice when I call them. While we were arranging our tickets, the agent kindly said, “you have a few upgrade coupons– and they expire today.” Obviously, we jumped at the opportunity.
We flew in on the late morning flight and made it to St. Paul without a hitch. Friday was pretty lazy and uneventful. Sleeping in, checking out the course, and picking up our race packets.
Riding the course, we rode up a really steep hill that they inserted in for this year’s race. In fact, they even added a “King/Queen of the Mountain” category this year just to draw some focus on the hill. On paper, the hill wasn’t that impressive– a 1.78 mile long hill with a total climb of 261 feet. But the hill is front-loaded with a half-mile stretch at over 5% and momentary pitches over 10% (according to my Garmin file). One time up the hill on an easy day was no big deal– three times up the hill on race day would be a different story.
After taking care of the race business, it was a very lazy afternoon in St. Paul. Marta explained that she spent time in St. Paul and that the winters were utterly brutal– sometimes as cold as -20 degrees fahrenheit. To accommodate these brutal winters, there is an elaborate set of enclosed above street-level walkways connecting the buildings downtown. It goes on forever– and Minneapolis’s habitrail system is even more extensive. It forms an enormous shopping mall that includes a ton of restaurants and shops. I would love to run a race in some of these walkways! We also visited a park with tons of Peanuts sculptures in the walkways and sidewalks. A quick search on Wikipedia revealed that Charles Schultz was born in neighboring Minneapolis.
After an early dinner, I nervously prepared for the race. I’ll confess that I’m a wreck when it comes to race preparation. So I was up to 11:00 pm getting ready– and then had to take an ambien to fall asleep.
Race morning started okay. Up at 6:00 am, quick warmup on my Omnium trainer, fast pre-race breakfast, and off to the transition. As an aside, in case you haven’t heard of it, the Omnium trainer. it is the most amazing bike trainer– I’ll blog about it in the coming weeks because everyone who travels and races a bike should have one. Then Mary and I rode our bikes to the transition zone and set up our bikes. I use rubber bands to hold my bike shoes in just the right position (yeah, more about that later) and usually tuck one under my water bottle.
Up to that moment, my life was going so well. I suddenly had a feeling of utter disgust– I had no water bottle! For a few minutes, I panicked– transition was closing in five minutes and there was obviously no way to ride back and get my bottle in time. In a shorter, cooler race, I would have raced without one, but that wasn’t an option today. While I normally hate waiting a long time for race starts, this time it saved me. I figured I had 45 minutes until my race started– easily enough time to jog two miles for my water bottle back in the hotel. Ugh. After I ran the extra two miles, I begged a race volunteer to toss my water bottle on my transition mat. At the end of the day, it only meant a few extra seconds replacing my bottle in T1 and having to carry my hotel room key in my shorts during the race. Not a total disaster, but still way too much stress to start a race.
Run 1: 5K in 20.20.3 (6:32 per mile)
It just amazes me that I ran this race faster than I’ve run some open 5-K’s– and still managed to get my butt kicked. Wow, the guys in my age group (50-54) are ridiculously fast. I’m absolutely positive a bunch of them must have been Division 1 runners in college.
Starting off, I felt pretty solid. I was breathing hard, but knowing that the bike is my strong suit, I kept my pace under control. The air felt heavy and much more humid than I was used to.
The running course this year was two laps of a 2.5 kilometer course that was obviously devised by someone by someone who wanted us to explore every tiny footpath in the park that we were running in. The course had more turns than just about any run leg that I’ve ever run. I suppose the strategy was to get the run course to exactly 2.5 kilometers by any means possible.
Pretty much, I just looked for familiar faces and tried to keep them in sight. Coming into T1, it was clear that I hadn’t pushed myself as hard as I could have. Normally when I come into transition, my head is spinning like crazy. This time, I was fine. A little out of breath, but feeling good. Part of this was just letting the pack go near the end of the run as I composed my thoughts for the long bike leg ahead.
By the numbers, I ran 20.20.3, which comes out an average pace of 6:32 per mile. My Garmin said that my heart rate was really high– in the mid-160’s. I think that this was a device error, however, because my heart rate on the second run (where I was pushing much harder) was a lot lower. Also, I tend to spike up into arrythmias above 160 bpm and I was no where close to that feeling today.
Bike: 21.44 Miles in 1:01:08 (21 Miles Per Hour)
As I mentioned, the bike leg included a fairly nasty hill that we would be climbing three times over three loops. I hate hilly bike legs because it can make the second run utterly soul-crushing. I first experienced this after I first moved to Seattle and ran the Mount Rainier Duathlon—the hilly bike leg that left me walking most of the final 5-K run. After doing lots of (unfortunately) hilly duathlons in the Seattle area, I’ve discovered how to handle them: I need to watch my wattage like a hawk. I never let my watts go more than about 20-30 watts over FTP. Sure, there would be guys blowing by me on the hill— and I reeled in every one on the downhill and flats. As my (only) strengths are downhills, windy conditions, and aerodynamics, this was almost as perfect a course for me as a blustery, pancake-flat course.
Run 2: 5K in 21:04.9 (6:47 per mile)
- Cora Sturzl— a friend who is crazy enough to do Powerman Zofingen for the third straight year in a row this fall–got 9th in her age group!
- Heather Leach, who was nursing a hamstring injury, still managed a 7th place finish in her age group!
- Marta Medcalf, who was changing course from her normal ultra-long distance racing, still managed 7th place in her sprint duathlon!
Next Steps and Lessons Learned
First, I’m thinking that my lousy (and disastrous) transitions might be fixable with Pyro Platforms, which used to be the hottest thing in draft-legal duathlon (old videos from a decade ago showed the ITU elite duathletes all using them to blaze through transitions in draft-legal races). I think I’m a good candidate for the platforms for a couple of reasons. First, because I can’t use elastic laces (my feet slip too much inside the shoe), changing into my running shoes from my bike shoes just about always requires sitting down and tightening my laces. Second, according to comments online, Pyro Platforms can wobble around a bit when standing– but I never stand on the bike because I’m all about saving my legs for the final run. Between that and not dropping my shoe (smile), I figure that’s about a minute off my finish time (and raised me up to about 13th place overall!). Along the same lines, a magnetic helmet closure might shave a second or two by allowing me to buckle or unbuckle my helmet with one hand as I’m running through transition carrying my bike in the other.
Next, it’s time to reboot my running program. I think that many of us endurance athletes have really good lactate threshold development and a fantastic aerobic base– but not such a great VO2 max. For instance, my mile best pace is pretty close to my lactate threshold pace, which suggests to me that getting faster in my runs will depend on getting a little headroom for my lactate threshold to grow into. This means improving my speed at maxVO2. After I take a little R&R, I’ll start in on a bunch of shorter intense workouts (e.g. 200’s building to 800’s) with nice recoveries. This will kick up my higher end speed and then I’ll progressively shorten my recoveries while simultaneously extending that newfound speed into longer efforts.
Third, I think I could use a few carbs on the bike right before hitting the second run. I had planned to tape a Gu pack on my top tube before the race but that didn’t make it into my race prep. While my second run always feels slow, maybe a few carbs would have helped it feel a bit less slow.
Despite its setbacks, 2015 Duathlon Nationals was a great hit. I did really well and turned in some fantastic times. It’s awesome at this age to actually get faster! It was also gratifying to see everyone else turn in some solid performances and get great results. Lastly, it was great to meet old friends– and discover new ones as well.
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