Thursday, June 14, 2012

Training / Book Update / Baby Prep

Been quite busy of the past week between starting my new training schedule for a 1 mile road race in mid July and prepping for the arrival of the baby.

After a week with no running (first in as long as I can remember), I felt very strong last week.  On Tuesday I knocked out 10 X 200 with 100 recovery all under 38 seconds and on Friday I knocked out over 400 ft of climbing via hill work at 7:30 pace.  I rounded the week out with 29 miles of running, 26 miles of cycling, and 1 swim and 2 core sessions.  I up the speed work today to 8 X 400, something I haven't done since high school :).  The end goal of the this training set is to run a mile below 5:20 (something I also haven't done since high school).

Baby Prep
I took last Friday off from work to get some projects done around the house.   The two main goals were to paint / finish setting up the baby's room, and cleanup and paint the front porch.  Painting is such a slow process.  The baby's room is now a nice soft blue and we added some wall decals of monsters and robots.  T-2.5 weeks to until estimated arrival.

The Book Update
This weeks update is from the third section of the book and probably will be the last for sometime (until I actually publish the book or find a real editor to review it).  In section 3 of the book, I profile races and events that I have completed and how I trained for them.  Section 3 was the most fun part of the book to write, as I got to relive some of the events as I wrote about them.

The event I have chosen for this weeks post is what I have currently deemed as my favorite, Survival of Shawangunks, an 8 leg triathlon in New Paltz, NY.  I chose to profile this event due to its uniqueness and and level of difficulty.

Over the past five years I completed over 60 events between running, cycling, triathlon, swimming, and winter triathlon.  I have done anything from a 50K trail run to 148 mile bike ride.  I have competed at national championships and done crazy eight leg triathlons through a mountain range.  Below you find the details of some of these events, my experiences with them, what they taught me, and how I got through them. 

Every year I try and find a few events that will bring a new adventurer and a new challenge.  Sometimes I like events so much I come back for a second go round and attempt to improve my time.  Being an endurance athlete has brought me to new places, shown me new things, and introduced me to all sort of cool and new types of people. 

Chapter 19: Survival of the Shawangunks

“The best way out is always through.” --Robert Frost

The Event: Survival of the Shawangunks
Date: September 12th, 2010
Distance: 8-Stage Triathlon (Bike 30, Run 4.5, Swim 1.1, Run 5.5, Swim 0.5, Run 8, Swim 0.5, Run 0.7)
Time: 5:38:14
Place: 61 / 149 Overall, 13 / 17 Age Group

My second “badge of honor” event of 2010 was Survival of the Shawangunks, known as SOS for short.  SOS is an 8-stage triathlon consisting of a 30 mile bike followed by 4 runs separated by 3 swims.  I had first heard of this event shortly after I joined my masters swim team back in January of 2009.  Sue, the Friday morning coach, had done the race back in 2007.  As she explained to me this crazy event she did in the mountains in New York, I blew it off thinking, “Wow she’s nuts.” Of course it would only turn out to be an awesome event as most everything Sue has done or recommends turns out to be awesome. 

The Event

SOS truly is a unique event.  The event started back in 1983 as means of training for the Ironman World Championship in Hawaii (Kona).  2010 was the 25th anniversary (as the race was run in secret for the first couple of years) of the event.  The races founder and director Don Davis still competes. 

If trying to complete an 8-stage triathlon is not tough enough, SOS throws a few more snags at you.
1.     The race starts with a bike leg and the only real transition follows it.  What this means is that you are responsible for carrying swimming equipment while running and your running equipment while swimming.  This basically rules out a wetsuit and means you need to get creative to enable swimming with your shoes. 
2.     The bike leg starts off with about 25 miles of flat or slightly downhill riding with just a couple of small rolling hills.  The last 5 miles of the bike you climb 1200 ft and literally enter the mountain range. The climb continues over the 1st 2 miles of the subsequent run leg.
3.     All of the run legs (minus a 1 mile section on the 3rd leg) are on packed dirt trails.  Not very technical, but some significant elevation changes. The run legs total to 18.7 miles. 
4.     The total of the 3 swim legs is 2.1 miles; almost as much as an Ironman swim (2.4).
5.     The final run leg is just .7 miles, but has over 300 feet of climbing.  You run straight up to the finish tower and towers are only on the tops of hills.  The finish line is called the “Survivor Line”

Figure 12 - Course Map for the Survival of the Shawangunks Triathlon.

The race is capped at 150 people and sells out pretty quickly.  Similar to many other popular triathlons, you need to commit about 11 months in advance if you really want to do the event.  So on Halloween 2009, after having a few drinks with some friends, I decided to pull the trigger.  As registration opened (at midnight) I typed as fast as I could and was able to get in. 

Training for SOS

The 1st challenge was to figure out what to do with my running sneakers while swimming.  After speaking with some friends and doing a little research, the recommended method was to shove one shoe in the front of your shorts and a second in the back and just let them get wet.  Not overly impressed with this idea I started testing out some options with a dry bag that I had. 

Option 1: Tether - Put shoes in a dry bag and using a short strap tied around waist
This just didn’t work.  The increased drag was ridiculous and it kept getting in my way when trying to kick.

Option 2: Dry bag in back of shirt
This wasn’t too bad an option, but often resulted in chaffing problems

Option 3: One in the Front / One in the Back (As specified above)
Really only works if you have a one piece tri-suit (which I did not) and I kept loosing the one in the front while swimming.

Option 4: Dry bag as Pull Buoy (Stick the dry bag between your knees and just pretend it is a pull buoy)
As long as I put the opening side down and it remained full of air this worked wonderfully (if I went the other way all the air would squeeze out from my knees and my feet would sink causing too much drag).  It also provided a nice energy savings for weak kicking swimmers like me. 

Needless to say, I went with option 4. 

Race specific training began at the end of July following the recovery Ironman 70.3 Rhode Island (half iron).  SOS had less cycling then a half iron, but more swimming and running (2.1 miles of swimming vs. 1.2, 30 miles of cycling vs. 56 and 18.7 miles of running vs. 13.1) so I had to restructure my training to increase the volume in those disciplines.  At the time my longest run was only 13 ½ miles so right off I knew I was in for challenge.  Below is a list of some of the key workouts that I did while prepping for the race.  I trained primarily at Walden Pond as it was very convenient to do all types of brick workouts. 

1.     Swim, run, swim, run: (750 m, 1 ½ mile, repeated)

The goal of this workout was to just get used to swimming with my shoes and running directly after swimming.  As most triathletes know, running directly after swimming (or even running to the transition area) can be somewhat of a challenge.  Going quickly from horizontal to vertical can cause temporary dizziness.  This workout was done at Walden Pond and consisted of swimming across (the long way), running a full lap around the pond, then swimming back, and running a second full lap.   I tried to keep my transition times to less than 2 minutes, but when someone sees you get out of the water with a dry bag and put your shoes on, they just have to ask what you are training for. 

I performed this workout a number of different times before the race.

2.     Swim Run Swim (1500m, 5 miles, 1500m)

This workout’s goal was to stress the swimming aspect of the training with a little bit of a longer run after the first leg.  Unfortunately (or fortunately depending upon how you look at it) the day I did the workout it was over 90 degrees Fahrenheit which made the whole workout just that much tougher.  The first swim went quite well, but the run was a killer in the heat.  I took about a 10 minute break after the run just sitting in the water cooling off.  The second swim was a pretty slow do to exhaustion. 

3.     8 legs (The Walden SOS)
35 mile bike (got lost), 3 mile run, 750m swim, 3 mile run, 750m swim, 3 mile run, 750m swim, 1.85 mile run

This was my last “break through” workout before SOS and I completed it just over two weeks before the race.  I took a wrong turn on my bike ride which added an additional 5 miles to what I had planned and I took it pretty easy in transition making sure to fuel up appropriately.  All and all the workout went really well and I was pretty psyched for the race.

After speaking with Sue weeks before the race, I incorporated a little hill work into my training.  During the last few workouts at Walden Pond I ran directly up the stairs next to the bath house, across the street, and then directly up a steep hill to the water treatment plant; a nice 250 ft climb over about a mile. 

The Plan

It took a little while to get used to the style of a many-transition race, but I felt pretty solid after my training.  I put in a couple of 10K+ swim weeks and got my run volume into 30 mile / week range.  My new long run was up to 16 miles without any hit in performance.

Distance (Miles)
Get through the bike with minimal energy expenditure.  Try and hold a 18 mph average.
Quick, but not a rushed transition (ditch the bike)
Other Trans
6 X
Quick, but not rushed (aka packing shoes or putting them on)
Hold an 8:30 pace, don’t press the hills
Hold 2:20 / 100m, easy cruise pace
Hold an 8:30 pace, don’t press the hills
Hold 2:20 / 100m, easy cruise pace
Hold an 8:30 pace, don’t press the hills
Hold 2:20 / 100m, easy cruise pace
Full court press to the finish

I figured the plan was slightly aggressive as I have never run over 18 miles in a single day before, but I figured the paces were conservative enough to allow some buffer room. 

The Race

Amy and I arrived in New Paltz around 3pm on Saturday, the day before the race.  We decided to stay at a local campground as it was only $20 and would be up and out of there at 5am (Amy has a become a pro at taking down our ten in the dark).  Following setting up of our tent, we headed over to the race check-in which included a pasta dinner for the athletes and a briefing on the course.  Since this wasn’t your standard triathlon, the race briefing helped quite a bit. 

One of the nice parts about events like this is that you always meet interesting people.  We ended up sitting with these two guys that lived in Manhattan.  Only one of the two was doing the race, but both were endurance athletes.  The one competing was training for Ironman Florida which would take place about 2 months later in November and the other was an ultrarunner who had just completed his 1st 50 mile race.  Over the years I have met all sorts of people at these dinners including an 18 year old that could do a 4 hour half iron and pro-triathletes Chrissy Wellington and Andy Potts.  I recommend attending these dinners from time to time if you get a chance. 

My alarm went off right at 5am on race day and to my surprise I actually got some pretty good sleep.  Interesting enough this seemed to be the defining point where I started sleeping well before races.  Ever since my 3am wakeup before Ironman 70.3 Rhode Island (which I got a horrendous nights sleep, if you can even call that a night) I have slept well before races.  Not sure what caused the change, but it is so nice to not feel like I was fighting the slow moving clock all night. 

It was still slightly dark out as we arrived at the Ulster County Fair Grounds.  After parking I set my bike up and took it for a quick spin to make sure it was all set and get a short warm up in. 

The way the race worked was there were small waves (5 year age group for each sex) spaced 4 minutes apart.  Since this was a standard non-drafting race, it was your responsibility to stay 3 bike lengths behind (or pass) the person in front of you.  You were also responsible for having a person manage your transition at the end of the bike.  This boiled down to driving your car to the transition, getting your swim and run stuff out for you, and then taking your bike and transporting it to the finish line.  Right at 7am the first group took off and we were under way.  I started in the 3rd wave with the other 30-34 year olds. 

Leg 1: 30 Mile Bike – 1:37:55 – 18.38 mph
Transition 1: 2:01

The 1st 10 miles on the bike absolutely flew by.  The road was in pretty good shape and the course averaged about –1% grade over this section.  My speed hovered around the 22mph range which is much faster then I generally hold for most races.  The weather was in the upper 60s and slightly overcast which kept you from sweating much.  I had to constantly tell my self not to push to hard as I was quite excited. 

Miles 10 – 25 were much of the same.  A couple of rolling hills were thrown in and one technical descent with some quick turns.  We were warned about this in the course brief the previous day, but that didn’t stop one athlete for taking the turns too hard and ending up in the woods (luckily he didn’t hurt or break anything and was able to get back on the course fairly quickly). 

The course got a little crowed towards the end of this section as some of the more competitive women caught up with my wave and it made it hard to observe the non-drafting rules, but we did the best we could.  Next we hit a section of course that had been partially washed out by flooding earlier in the year and had to drop to single file line on a sidewalk for a 100 meters before getting back up to speed. 

As we reached mile 25 we turned on the Minnewaska State Park access road and the climb began.  The next 5 miles were pretty rough and were somewhere around a sustained 8%.  Being a solid climber on the bike I quickly knocked off almost everyone that had passed me earlier in the ride as I watched my average speed drop from 21 to 20 to 19 and so on.  As the induced wind chill we enjoyed from moving over 20 mph disappeared as our speed dropped to around 8 mph the sweating began.  About 35 minutes later I reached the top and dismounted my bike. 

Slightly hypoxic I barely even noticed Amy standing right in front of me waving her arms in the air and trying to take my bike.  After a quick transition to my running sneakers, I took off only to run about 10 meters before realizing I still had my long sleeve shirt on.  I handed it to the closest volunteer and asked her to give it to “Amy” in which she promptly turned around and shouted “Amy” at the top of her lungs.

Leg 2: 4 ½ Mile Run – 36:04 – 8:00 / mile
Transition 2: 1:00

The beginning of the first run leg was an absolute bear.  I climbed roughly another 500 ft over the 1st 2 ½ miles and was truly wondering what the hell I had gotten myself into.  Just before it flattened out you hit this nasty climb where I was relegated to walking.  I couldn’t believe I was walking already this early in the race.  Luckily the remaining 2 miles were much tamer and I was able to get back into a groove fairly quickly. 

I purchased a GPS watch about a month earlier and was very happy to have it with me during the race.  Trails through the woods without mile markers can disorient you pretty quickly and having an idea of where you are during a leg can help quite a bit. 

As I reached Lake Awosting, the site of the 1st swim, I was feeling pretty solid again and was ready to give my legs a short break and cool off. 

Leg 3: 1.1 Mile Swim – 33:05 – 1:52 / 100m
Transition 3: 5:59

Little did I know what was in store?  The water was 67 degrees Fahrenheit, roughly the same as the air temperature, and my body temperature plummeted quickly.  As the shivering started to set in, I started to swim harder and harder in a futile attempt to generate more heat.  Maybe my non kicking technique was not the best choice here. 

Even though I was shivering I was still able to absorb some of the surrounding beauty.  Lake Awosting is no where near any roads and gives you a sense of the calm wilderness in the mountains.  One of the best aspects of SOS in general is just taking in the surroundings as your traverse up and down the ridge line and finally to the famous Mohonk Mountain House[1] near the finish. 

Just over 33 minutes later I finally reached the far end of the lake and the end of the 1st swim.  Frozen to the core I was not sure if I could continue.  As I got out of the lake the volunteers were more then ready for us with both space blankets and hot tea.  I can’t say I have ever seen this before in the middle of a race or will probably ever see it again, but I was elated for how they dealt with the situation. 

As I stood there wrapped in blanket and drinking tea and praying for my body temperature to rise, a woman came out of the water, grabbed a cup to tea and proceeded to pour it over both thighs in an attempt to warm up.  I remember thinking, “That was different.”

Leg 4: 5 ½ Mile Run – 46:42 – 8:29 / mile
Transition 4: 2:00

After standing around for a few more minutes I realized the only way I am really going to warm up is start running and just get my heart rate back up and generate some heat.  Luckily (in this case) there was another 300 ft of elevation gain over the first 2 miles and about 10 minutes later I was back to sweating again.  As I reached the ridgeline, I could see that the morning fog had lifting and you could see for miles, including the tower on the top of Mohonk Mountain where the finish line awaited. 

Between running the trails during SOS and the trail run I did as part of the XTERRA Stoaked festival a month earlier at Storrs Pond in Hanover, NH I truly fell in love with off-road running.  Coming from a track background in high school and college I had no idea what I was really missing.  Trail running can be quite a bit tougher then road running both do the technical aspects of the trails (having to watch out of roots, rocks, streams, etc.) and the fact that the elevation tends to vary much more widely.  The added beauty, the sense of being one with nature, and the fulfillment that comes as a result are just orders of magnitude above running on the road. 

After the peak at mile 2, I descended roughly 500 feet over the next three miles and was able to knock out a few miles in the 7:40 range.  This may have a put a little bit of a hurt on my knees and quads as I hadn’t been doing too much down hill training.  For those thinking about doing any type of race that includes a significant downhill portion, I highly recommend some downhill speed work before the event. 

As I arrived at Lake Minnewaska, site of the second swim, some initial fatigue was setting in and I wasn’t sure I could survive another cold swim.  This was the Survival of the Shawangunks and really the only way out was through (as Robert Frost so profoundly put it), so I dove in and hoped for the best. 

Leg 5: ½ Mile Swim – 17:31 – 2:10 / 100m
Transition 5: 1:38

The second swim went pretty well.  I focused on holding a comfortable pace and not pushing it.  The water temperature was about 5 degrees warmer then Lake Awosting and I made it about 90% of the way through before I started to get cold.  Similar to most other triathlons that I had done in the past, many swimmers pasted me, but I figured I would catch back up on the next section. 

The end of swim brought us back to Minnewaska State Park where the second part of the adventure had begun and as this area was accessible by vehicle there were many people there cheering us on as we exited the water.  At this point I was managing to keep my transitions pretty short, but it still felt painfully slow unrolling my dry bag, taking my shoes out, and putting them on.  One other quick note was that you have to make sure to transition slowly as after you have abused your legs to this degree they are just waiting to cramp upon exiting the cool water. 

Leg 6: 8 Mile Run – 1:11:12 – 8:54 / mile
Transition 6: 0:44

At the beginning of the 3rd and longest run leg you exit the state park and run a mile down the access road.  You also drop over 400 ft elevation wise before you are back on the dirt path.  Normally I would have just blitzed and said the hell with the damage it would put on my legs, but my legs were already wrecked and it was just too painful to run hard.   The first mile took me a little over 9 minutes to run and was one of the most painful miles I have every run. 

Once you got on the path you continued to descend for another 2 miles and another 200 feet, but at a much more gradual grade.  Also being back on a dirt trail lessened the impact on the joints (another reason why trail running is vastly superior to road running) and I was able to find a fairly reasonable groove. 

Over my next 4 miles I began to approach my wall and my pace began to degrade at a linear rate.  As I crossed the 16th mile of the day (my max training mileage in a day was 16 miles also) I began to fade even faster and focusing on running was even harder to maintain.  At this point my left knee was absolutely screaming at me for running those long and sharp descents and I was forced to succumb to a walking break.  The true battle had now begun and the remainder of the race was going to be a true mental challenge. 

Tips for Running after you Bounce off the Wall
In many endurance sports and specially when taking on new distance or challenge you will reach your minds breaking point (which generally is significantly before you body’s breaking point).  Being prepared for this to happen and having a secondary game plan to put into play after it happens will make for both a better race and a happier athlete.  The 1st time I broke, I was devastated. I couldn’t believe that I couldn’t run any farther and had succumbed to a walking break (at mile 3 in the run at Firman Half Iron as described earlier in the book).  I had 10 long miles of walk / running where I felt like a failure before hitting the finish line.  Below are a few recommendations to employ in both your training and after hitting the wall during the running segment of any race. 
  1. You are only as strong as your training.  Don’t expect to get much past 15% of what you have trained.  For this reason many marathoners longest training run is 22 miles (or 15% less then a full 26.2). 
  2. Prepare yourself mentally for a break when taking on your 1st race of the distance.  Even reward yourself for a break.  When running long distances I will tell my self get to mile 16, 18, 20, etc. and then you can have a 1/10th of a mile walking break.  Even running 90% of a mile will generally keep your pace at a good clip. 
  3. Fuel: Hitting the wall is often a result of glycogen depletion.  Proper fueling and hydration can delay this quite a bit (or if you are trained well enough until after the race is over)
  4. Think back to another event or hard workout you have completed.  Often when I start to feel like I can’t go farther, I think back to something intense that I have done like cycling 148 miles in a single day (SOS has now become one of those events). 
  5. Believe in yourself: If you are taking on an endurance event you are in the top 3% of the population that are able, both mentally and physically, to do this.  The strength that I have gained from endurance events makes me better at everything that I do. 
During the 7th mile (of 8) of the leg I took a couple of short walking breaks as I ran by some rock climbers.  The Shawangunk Mountains are a famous location for out door rock climbing and some experienced climbers will lead climbs over 200 ft. 

During my final walk, I spoke to one athlete who was in the same boat as I was and he said this was his 7th year doing the event and this really is the toughest section.  He warned me that during the 8th mile there was a nice 350 ft climb, but once you finished the climb, Mohonk Lake, the great Mohonk House, and the finishing tower would be in view and the adrenaline would get you through to the end.  As we both began to run again after our short break I was starting to feel better and my confidence was restored that I could complete the rest of the event. 

Leg 7: ½ Mile Swim – 16:01 – 1:59 / 100m
Transition 7: 1:01

Mohonk Lake truly is a beautiful site.  The lake is ½ mile long by about 1/10th of a mile wide with a giant 5 star hotel at the far end.  Luckily, the owners allow us to use the pond as the last swim segment of the race as it is usually only open to guests staying at the hotel. 

Entrance into the pond was a little unorthodox.  You slide under a rope on the side of the trail, descended down a rarely used path onto a rock just above the water.  After putting my shoes into my dry bag for one last time I dove in, then had to promptly resituate my dry bag before swimming. 

Never has cold water felt so good on my legs.  After a long day in the woods, an ice bath was the better than anything I could have hoped for.  I felt instantly rejuvenated and started to swim a much stronger pace then I could have anticipated. 

As I swam by the main dock at the hotel, I remember thinking where am I going.  You literally swim to the end of the pond, and then climb up a wall of rocks, before stepping on the timing mat which signals your final ascent to the finish.  Looking out over the pond as I put my shoes on, I just thought “Wow, this place is incredible.” 

Leg 8: 0.7 Mile Run – 5:24 – 7:42 / mile

The last run may have been one of the strangest things I have ever done in my life.  I flew through the 1st quarter mile like a maniac and as the path literally started to go straight up every muscle in my leg started to lock up. 

I remember muttering “F*#* you legs” as I pushed with everything I had.  I resorted to the run walk approach that I had used during the previous section, but with a much more caffeinated flavor: run 10 steps, walk 2, repeat. 

As you reached the top, you literally had to go on all fours for a few steps as a volunteer asked your name.  Over the remaining 20 meter sprint to the finish, a volunteer ran with you shouting your name at the top of his / her lungs (his in my case) similar to what you would see in a Starbucks Espresso Shot commercial.  I can still hear it now “Scot, Scot, Scot, Scot” and it will forever bring a smile to my face. 

5:38:14 – Survivor

Next thing I knew I was wrapped in a giant beach towel and Amy appeared with a change of clothing.  It was about 60 degrees with 30 mph winds at the top of the mountain so I changed out of my wet triathlon uniform and grabbed a cup of hot chili. 

Figure 13 - Warming up at the Survivor Line at the finish of SOS, September, 2010.

A Look Back

SOS may have been the defining moment when I decided that I would rather be more of a trail runner then a triathlete.  Since completing the SOS I have taken on numerous trail runs in all sorts of places including Ogden, Utah, Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, and Brooksville, Florida.  Each trail system is always unique to itself and makes the sport of running much more beautiful and enjoyable. 

In my opinion, SOS is as hard as a really hilly half iron distance triathlon.  It is much different then your typical triathlon, but in a fun and challenging way.  Having significantly increased my running volume from the days before the SOS, I hope to make it back at some point and set a new personal record on the course. 

Volunteers at SOS

Below I give the volunteers a rating of 11 out of 10, which is sort of like an A++.  While this might not make that much sense, I could not tell you any other single event that I have participated in where the volunteers have gone so far above and beyond. 

Space blankets and tea in the middle of the woods; at another rest stop the two volunteers ran 10 miles round trip to hand out drinks and food.  The dedication to the race by the volunteers was unbelievable and greatly appreciated.  I just wanted to say thank you. 

Overall: 10                                      Volunteers: 11
Organization: 10                        Toughness Factor: 9.5                       
Recommended: Yes

[1] Mohonk Mountain House:

No comments: