Monday, August 22, 2011

Turning Slow Into Fast - Rex Wellness Sprint Triathlon Relay

I've spent the summer doing nothing but long, slow distance training. Mostly because it's been too stinking hot to do much else, but also because I wanted to experiment with Maffetone aerobic conditioning. However, since I'm both lazy and cheap, I never bought a heart rate monitor to do the aerobic training properly. I used a combination of Buteyko breathing, and running by feel to try to stay in the aerobic training zone. And it mostly worked, or at least it felt like it worked. I've been putting in some long training runs the past month or so and my post run recoveries have been non-events (no soreness, no food bingeing, no exhaustion).

In the middle of my long, slow experiment, a friend who had recently been turned on to triathlon competition, incited a nasty feud in our group at work. He slyly suggested that it might be interesting if we formed a couple of triathlon relay teams, aligned by university affiliation - NC State versus UNC Chapel Hill. As soon as this hit the departmental email inboxes, it was on like Donkey Kong! We would battle it out at the Rex Wellness Sprint Triathlon.

To Train Or Not To Train
I volunteered to run the 5K portion or the relay, even though I had done zero speed work all summer. Actually, I never do speed work, since I'm naturally slow and hate the feeling of my heart hammering it's way through my rib cage. But this was State versus Carolina! And the Carolina people were talking smack almost immediately. I hate smack talking.

Swim/bike/run positions were filled and team names were chosen: "Blue Express" for the Carolina smack talkers, and the classic sports chant "Red Means Go!" for us State guys.

I had no idea how to increase my 5K time while also maintaining my long, slow runs in anticipation of my October trail marathon at Medoc Mountain. I poked around the interwebs asking about interleaving 5K training with marathon training, but the general consensus was that since I had only about 4 weeks before the 5K, that I wouldn't see any significant improvement with speed work. So, being of the lazy sort, I did no speed work. I just continued my long, slow training ramp for my marathon and hoped my teammates could give me enough head room in the swim and bike legs to limit my losses and pull out the overall win.

Triathlons Are Cool!
By the time race day arrived, I was running 15-16 mile long runs, but I had yet to lift a foot in anger or do any sort of speed work. I had run a 5K back in May, after a full Winter of trail running, and managed a 26 minute finish on a very hilly course, so I was figuring on maybe squeaking out a low 26 or high 25 minute finish in the triathlon 5K, since the course was very similar (very hilly).
This elevation is inaccurate. There
were NO flat parts on the course!

Aside from the ridiculous start time, 7:00AM, which required me to get out of my oh so comfortable bed at 4:30AM, I really enjoyed the triathlon experience. Watching the swim and bike portions of the event while hanging out in the transition area was a very cool experience. I can definitely see why people love triathlons, and if I can get my swim skills up to date, I might actually try a sprint tri on my own next year. But back to the race..

Our two teams were positioned about 20 spots apart in the transition area, which meant about a 4 minute gap in swim start times. This meant my team would be chasing, which I prefer, but since we had a staged start we had no clue if team "Red Means Go!" was making up time or losing time.  I knew the "Blue Express" runner, and knew she could easily rip off a sub 24 minute 5K on a hilly course. I was just hoping we had made up enough time to allow my probable 26 minute time to be close enough.

Running For Beer
To make the race more interesting, the two teams had decided that the losers would buy lunch, with beers! I do indeed love beer, so motivation wasn't a problem when my time finally arrived. Unfortunately, motivation doesn't equal skill, so while I was dreaming of Guinness, I was fumbling with the timing chip, unable to get the velcro to stick when wrapping the strap around my skinny, pale ankle. Eventually (19 seconds later!) I left the band loosely wrapped around my leg, and just took off, hoping the chip wouldn't fly off as I clomped down the street.

My relay running rival had long ago left, so even in places where I could see runners a quarter mile ahead, I couldn't spot her. I figured my only hope was to try to run to the edge of puking, and if that didn't work, just go ahead into full puke mode (FPM).

So, I ran. HARD. Harder than I've ran in many, many years. I didn't think about form, or pace, or strategy. I just pushed harder and harder, hoping not to pass out, and not to puke. Finally, when nearing the half way point, I met my rival coming back from the turn.

She said something to the effect of "You are going too fast!"

I replied "wheeez!!!! sputter!!! <repressed puke..> Oh god!!!"

Since I couldn't get anything intelligible out of my mouth, I lamely attempted a flying high five, only to totally miss her outstretched hand. I am a first class doofus.

I had no idea how much farther the turn would be since I had not previewed the course. Turns out it was a LOT farther than I thought. I made the turn several minutes later, thinking we had lost. Thinking I had lost it for us. I wallowed in my tiny pity pool for all of 10 seconds before I put my first foot down in anger. I was losing my beer!

You Will Not Take My Beer!!!!!!!!
Running By Rage
I'm not an angry person generally. I have a temper like anyone else, but almost never show it. Life is too short for anger in my opinion. My Dad on the other hand, has a blazing, super nova temper. I think I inherited just a fraction of his temper, so when I do get mad, it's not a pretty sight. And now, I was mad.

I've only run angry once before, and it resulted in a pretty good half marathon time. But I wasn't thinking about that. I wasn't thinking about anything. I was rage running!

Strangely enough, I don't remember much about the return leg of the 5K, except that I passed a lot of people. I also think I scared one of the women at the last water station. I must have had a real rage face in the last half mile, because when I passed by the water station, our eyes met and she immediately told the other person handing out cups "He doesn't want anything". And she was partially right. The only thing I wanted was for my legs to move quicker. But they wouldn't. And this made me even angrier. By the time I hit the last 100 meters, I was in a full sprint, or at least full speed. I had tunnel vision and my heart felt like it was going to burst.

I pounded across the finish line. After a few moments of gasping for air, my vision returned to normal and my anger melted away. I had forgotten to stop my watch, but when I finally did, it read under 23 minutes. Could that be right? I didn't believe it at first, but I had smashed my previous 5K time by over 3 minutes.

Once the official time was posted, I was even more amazed. "Red Means Go!" had won, and I had shaved over 4 minutes off of my May 5K time.

22:25 at 7:13 min/mile pace.

Not world class by any means. But then again, I couldn't run a mile a year and a half ago.

Anger is a gift.