Monday, March 20, 2017

Thoughts

Writing a "reflections and thoughts" is something that has made me feel icky and entirely self-indulgent, because honestly, I'm not sure who cares that much to read it that doesn't already know the way I feel. Still, it's one of those part obligation, part catharsis exercises that I'm instead trying to add more and more pictures and "copy editor humor" that I inherited from my mother.
I may have earned my elite license halfway through 2015, but realistically, that season was a throwaway for reasons including terrible race selection, below average focus, inconsistent training, and a less than stellar personal life that influenced many of the other factors. In addition to some personal issues and a great deal of uncertainty about my ordinary career, my foray into racing elite or "professionally" was an absolute ass-kicking. It wasn't enjoyable at all, and triathlon had actually become a source of stress for the first time in almost a decade of doing it. I realized I had the most fun in Richmond, despite finishing in last place, because it was just enjoyable, so I decided to go in on off-road triathlon as much as I could, limited by where I live.
Of course, I still got crushed in 2016, though maybe a little bit less. Even my race placings may not have been awesome or what I wanted, but there were times in training and racing that I started to really realize that I'd made the right decision. Some brief thoughts on the year:
I'm very happy that I was able to race a full schedule of the inaugural edition of the XTERRA Pan American Tour and finish 7th in the men's pro standings.
Armed Forces Championship was an absolute dream scenario for me individually, where I finally got into the front group and then backed it up with a great run.
I was ECSTATIC to finally be able to race the Breezy Point Sprint Tri. I'm pretty sure it's an unwritten rule that anybody in the Navy or Coast Guard that does triathlon has to race it at least once.
This season was definitely a grind at times, where I really felt like triathlon consumed me, but in a positive way. I realized that I had finally structured my life around it appropriately. I was away from home for 53 nights between when I first left for Clermont in March until I came home from Maui in October. That's a lot, and something that will likely decrease a bit in 2017 because I learned from it, where more time at a race venue isn't always better, and so on.
All in all, it was a great first full season. I made a little bit of money doing this, though nowhere near in the net positive. By the IRS's standards, "hobby income" is still very much a thing, and reportable at that. There's also the slang term of "hobby pro" that gets thrown out there from time to time in cycling, track and field, and triathlon, that certainly has a bit of a negative connotation. It's something I'm actually embracing, because frankly, it fits me extremely well. Due to commitments I've made, it's unlikely I'll be able to leave the Coast Guard much before I'm 34 or so, but I've been able to race more or less what I want to. Honestly, there's not really much of a thing as a true full-time professional triathlete outside of a small handful of people in the world, so the fact that I have a single, steady job rather than a smattering of half-jobs to make ends meet I don't see as a negative whatsoever.
I wouldn't be able to do any of this stuff without all of them, so I'm thankful for that.
San Telmo, Buenos Aires. I've had worse 36 hour layovers.
Just off the road, outside of Snowbasin resort in Utah. Utah is pretty in late summer/early fall.
Sherando Lake became one of my absolute favorite riding locations. Yes, we have 15 minute, brake rotor-heating singletrack descents in Virginia.
Relationship goals.
For four years, I'd been dreaming of this scenario: being off the front with nobody from any of the other teams. My personal ideal scenario, now for 2017 to just keep getting a little better with a larger gap at T2 and a faster run...
It's beautiful to have the sun just ever so slightly poking out from behind the mountains at sunrise, especially when I'm used to sunrise being right on top of the water (this photo from NAS Point Mugu, California, the day before Armed Forces Triathlon Championship)
Cornering is fun. ITU racing...I could take or leave.
Jonas was my coaching guinea pig, where I learned a lot more about myself as an athlete, and got him to get some of his own goals. 

My days in Virginia Beach are likely numbered, and my focus shifting to off-road means fewer and fewer weekend rides on the Pungo loop.

Now, starting off this offseason I was in a MUCH better place than I was the previous year, really excited to get to training. That said, I was actually taking an offseason this year, as opposed to last year which was two weeks of other stressors that hardly left me with any sort of recovery. These are all out of order. Don't hold that against me.


Monster Cross 2017 on the brand new bike. Love it. So much. I truly built it from scratch. Photo: Jesse Peters.

The brand new bike, fully built, on its semi-maiden voyage. I say semi-maiden because I'd had it for about 3 months, but was gradually changing almost everything on it to be EXACTLY what I wanted, with zero compromise.

Mount Trashmore at sunrise. After a few years since my previous masters group disbanded, I FINALLY found one that worked for both what I'm looking for and my schedule with Tide. That, and views like this make the 4:15 wakeups worthwhile.

Nothing overly special about this, but again, I know I won't live in quirky Old Beach, Virginia Beach forever, so I've found myself taking more photos on easy rides and easy runs (when I'm on call for work and have to carry my phone anyway). This is the LifeguART that only exists in winter. I like to pretend to hate Virginia Beach, but there are definitely things I'll miss about it.

I mean, how could I not?

"Congratulations, you're now an adult! Also, can you go work 72 straight hours because there's a blizzard coming and we have to close the port and queue up all the inbound vessel traffic"

Virginia Beach isn't just endless subdivisions and fighter jet runways. OK, it's mostly like that.

One of these days I will learn to throw a whip. Until then I'll settle for poorly timed bunny hops. Heaps of fun at Rustbucket Cross race in Norfolk.

I guess I have to go back to Cleveland every November now to close out my off-season.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

XTERRA World Championships

I would say that racing my first elite world championship was an eye opener, but I got so much mud in my eyes that I have been unable to open them completely for the past week.
Anyway.
A lot of people get their “itch” to race a triathlon by seeing the broadcast on NBC of the Ironman World Championships and find themselves inspired to go out and do one themselves, even if they’ll likely never actually race there and also may never do an Ironman-distance event (which, by the way, is FINE!). For me, it was something of a natural growth out of being a high school swimmer and cross country runner, but a memory sticks in my head of people running their bikes across golf course-like grass in a tropical setting on television from years before I ever signed up for my first race. I now realize that I probably saw the XTERRA World Championships in its relative infancy.
I chose to race Maui this year with a long-term interest. Even though the course makes some tweaks from year to year, and even moved venues entirely a few years ago, I figured I would be able to get a good feel for the race, with my primary focus being on the Pan American Tour and, by extension, the Pan American Championships in Utah a month earlier. However, after seeing the signs of a potentially great race in Utah derailed by things outside of my control, I really wanted to hit Maui hard. In between the two races, I got the pleasantries of yet another hurricane hitting over a federal holiday, this time leaving some actual impact, forcing me to do a lot more trainer/road riding in the last week before leaving with all of the local trail systems flooded and completely unrideable. Nevertheless, I felt great heading into Maui, and was very fortunate to have my parents and brother there, as the trip literally wouldn't have happened without them.
Casual West Maui sunset picture from dinner earlier in the week.
Previewing the course was difficult enough on its own, as it truly is an absolute bear of a course. While XTERRA Beaver Creek and Utah might both have more climbing per mile, it all seems to come in one shot, and is rarely ever insanely steep. Maui never seems to allow a groove, and many of the flat and downhill sections are very slow-rolling, so it's just a very exhausting course. With ever-changing conditions, my tire selection felt like a college sophomore trying to choose a major.



The day before our race, this stream crossing had about a foot of water running through it, only about 400m from the finish on the run course. I was actually looking forward to it, but it actually dried back up before our race. But this is just how much water there was on the course.
With race morning came the largest ocean swell we'd seen all week, and I smiled. I properly found the best rip current I could, away from many of the faster swimmers on the start line, but managed to slot right into the back of the front group within the first 300m. Ultimately, the elastic snapped and the leaders got about 2 minutes on my group, but I found myself leading a group the majority of the way, save my accidental body surfing on top of somebody into shore. Whoops! We gradually pulled back some time to some stragglers who'd held onto the front group for a bit longer, and I felt like I put myself in a pretty good spot coming out of the water, taking the very long, uphill transition in stride, careful not to light my whole matchbook on fire a mere 20 minutes into the race.
On the golf cart paths and road out of transition, I settled in, allowing the insanity of that first part to sort itself out, though I ever-so-briefly sat on Sebastian Kienle's wheel (#lifegoals). Nevermind the fact that he was just putting on his gloves and shoes and then took off as soon as the road pitched upward. Somewhere there is a picture of me calmly sitting on his wheel. Through the early twisty climbs, I felt good, until we started to hit the really slippery stuff. At that point, Josiah caught me, then another #lifegoals when I rode a section he bobbled. Then he took off on the next climb, just like Kienle. But I did not know Josiah was human, so that made me feel better.
Not too muddy. Yet. Photo: Jesse Peters
Then we hit the upper part of the "bike" course, better known as the hiking section. It was just SO hard. It's really hard to explain to anybody who wasn't there, but it was simply unrelenting. Those steep climbs I mentioned earlier that are difficult even previewing the course? Impossible to ride without traction, and even difficult to push the bike up. At one point, I found myself sliding out on a descent, and just opted to slide on my butt, holding bike above my head, for the rest of the way. It seemed the best option. I'd tell you about the 300 different mechanical issues I had, but I don't think anybody was safe from that. Burped tires, hit-or-miss shifting, broken chains, sheared derailleurs, seized bearings were the name of the game. I was just glad to finally make it off the bike without any catastrophic issues or crashes. Then I remembered I had to run.
It's hard to appreciate just how muddy EVERYTHING was. It's taken almost two weeks to get my bike back and sorted. It was a constant "glasses on to protect from mud flying off the front wheel. Nope, now they're covered in mud and I can't see anything." Look for my water bottle and gels taped on the top tube, too. I had no choice but to eat mud. Photo: Jesse Peters 

If I plan on racing mostly off-road in the future, I'll make sure NOT to have a mostly-white kit. It's never getting clean.
The run course is gorgeous, but it hurts like hell at race speed. It's just a long, long, long uphill, followed by a downhill, but I was just in no shape to let anything loose by that point. Chris Ganter caught me near the top and tried to give a little motivation, which was nice as he's become my surrogate big brother this season it seems, but otherwise, it was simply a test of finishing, which is not a goal I've had in triathlon in a very long time. I came to the realization that I am still a long way away from truly "racing" the run portion of an XTERRA event, but that will come with time.
SO glad to be done.
Panda face paint or mud splatter?
The semi-interview in which I allowed the guy to call me "Mark" without correcting him, and I made my plans for a coffee-nap known to the world.
Strava Ride
Strava Run

Right after "what is your favorite race," people will commonly ask "what's the hardest race you've ever done?" For the latter, I've never had a particularly great answer, as I've struggled to compare an ultra-intense 40 minute Rev3 Rush with a 4 hour half with a very intense/deep field in an ITU race. 2016 XTERRA Worlds easily has become the answer to that question now, for me, and anything I've read or heard from long-time veterans of the race, including those who have done far longer, traditionally "tougher" events like Ironman, Race Across America, multiple-week stage races, ultramarathons, and so on...pretty much all of them are saying the same thing. Having now understood that, it puts my own performance into a bit of perspective, especially as I am still generally just trying to learn how to truly "race" a cross triathlon in the first place.

So that puts me into my "off-season" now. A week-plus into things, I'm enjoying the lack of focus, but I've so far spent most of my time just fixing my bike! Still, I'll have some time to enjoy having some sort of free time, just playing around on a bike, on a surfboard, whatever else for some time. Although I started racing in the elite division halfway through 2015, I've looked at this year as the first season I really tried to approach racing in a more professional manner, so I'll likely write something up on a reflection of that if I feel inclined to at some point. For a better way of following how I spend my time, some of the best ways to go about following, in rough order of probably the "best" way to find out what "Ian the triathlete is up to" are:

Strava: Ian King (Probably pretty boring the next week or two, still)
Instagram: @idking90 (#IoverusehashtagsandI'mnotashamed)
Snapchat: ik9064 (I promise my Instagram story and Snapchat story are not the same. Often similar, but not the same)
Facebook: Ian King (as long as you promise not to try to sell me fake Ray-Bans)

Really glad I got to share this race with my family, though. I wouldn't be able to do this stuff without them. All three of  them have always been so supportive of this crazy little sport, and getting to see me in this race I think really helped them realize that I've really found my "home" in cross triathlon. Plus, mom and dad's genes didn't hurt, either.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

So close! XTERRA Pan American Championship

I had what I am willing to call my best block of preparation ever leading into this race. I felt like I had done virtually everything right, even down to some great management of a flexible schedule over Labor Day Weekend when Hurricane Hermine was looking like it would at least disrupt my ability to train outside, if not be cause for me to be working for 4-5 days, 12-15 hours a day.
Gale force flags out at the Old Coast Guard Station! No, I didn't purposely choose my apartment to be three blocks from the Old Coast Guard Station, but it's kinda cool nonetheless that I walk by it all the time, and that they actually update the small craft/gale flags.

I chose to go to Utah a week out from the race after my disaster with altitude in Beaver Creek. While Utah "isn't that high" according to most people, when you live at 5 feet, a course ranging from 4,900 to 7,300 is pretty high. Previewing the course was amazing. It was a pretty conscious effort on my part not to overdo it, and the leaves were right in the middle of changing, so riding each day got prettier and prettier!
Pre-riding the course, I took a lot of photos. There was a wedding nearby, so this geofilter showed up on Snapchat, and I couldn't resist myself.
I'm not a huge fan of open water swimming except in races, but Pineview Reservoir makes an exception for that.

One day I got stuck on the road for my ride because it was too wet to ride the trails. Even then, Utah had this to offer.

Walter's Airbnb had this older-than-us arcade game, and we got some descending practice on it. We figured that it worked for Gwen Jorgensen to spend time on a motorcycle in real life, so this obviously had some benefit to us.

Race morning came nice and chilly, still somewhere in the 40s, with the water a LOT warmer than that. A few minutes before the swim, I made sure to try and line up near Karsten Madsen and Branden Rakita, both of whom I've swam with before, and I expected this to be a faster than usual swim because of just how deep the 33-man field was. By probably 600 meters, we did end up letting a gap open up, but there was no way I had any ability to close it, so I was content to stay with Karsten, Branden, Matt Lieto, Alex Modestou, and a few others. We ended up spotting about a minute to the leaders, probably more than most of us wanted to, but still a manageable gap in XTERRA.
You can almost see that I had almost a beard after not shaving for a week. Photo: Unleashed Coaching
The first few minutes of the bike were absolutely insane, not unlike an ITU race where you're sprinting to find wheels to hold while still trying to get situated on the bike. A short description of the course is: short stretch of flat trail and road leading to first trailhead and major climb, then shorter technical descent, then longer climb, then longer but easier descent into some final rollers into transition.
Click to expand it, but the elevation profile is pretty clear. If you care enough, red is heart rate, pink is power, and green is speed. The entire ride is on Strava.
Riding with Alex in the little rhythm-breakers rolling section near the top of the first climb. Photo: XTERRA
Making a 29er look like a 26er since 2011. Photo: Jesse Peters/XTERRA
I felt amazing riding up the first climb, holding my own better than I really felt I ever have, especially considering the depth of the field and some of the guys I knew would be coming behind me. I bobbled a bit on the first descent, but nothing major to rattle the confidence significantly or cost much time, again still feeling great and ready to make a move on the riders around me to start the second climb. That's when I felt my rear tire wash out and realized I had a flat. I don't carry a full spare because the amount of time it would take to stop and fully repair it like that would make my race a complete waste, as there's not much incentive to finish outside the or top 15 for series points. I jammed my emergency sealant and some CO2 in the tire, but it kept hissing and I hoped that just maybe the sealant would hit it and it would manage to hold a little bit of air. In that time, several of the guys that I was hoping not to see all day came by me. Still, I got back on with my partially deflated and still-leaking tire and chased HARD up that second climb. I started to even pull back some time on the last few guys to pass me, but my tire kept leaking until I had no air in it right near the top of the climb. At that point, I figured I had to get down anyway, so I just started going down without any air in the tire, fishtailing every switchback, rattling over every rock. I couldn't lean into any of the turns, and I know I gave up TONS of time on that descent, as some guys I'd never seen in races, including some of the front of the amateur field had caught up at that point. Then we hit the rollers and I kept just trashing my legs to stay in some sort of contact. I managed to get some good cheers from spectators out on the course impressed (or perhaps shocked at my stupidity to do something like that).
Getting off the bike, my legs said they were done and that running was not on today's list of activities anymore. Semi-fortunately, the first kilometer of the run is pretty much straight up a ski slope, so "run" was a very loose definition of what I did. I started to find my legs once it flattened out, making some passes here and there and just trying to hold on until we could absolutely bomb downhill for the final mile. My run split was far from exciting or braggable, but considering the shellacking I gave my legs trying to climb on a bare rim, I'll take it as a positive. I'm not positive on this either, but I think this might have been the first time I've ever improved my position in an elite field on the run, so that's a huge step in the right direction. Here's the file for that one.
Letting it go downhill. Photo: Unleashed Coaching
There's no sugar coating that it sucks to feel like I really had the skill and fitness to have a great race, but it got derailed by something mostly out of my control. I'll admit I played a little bit of the game of "well, I could have at least had this bike split, which puts me at T2 here, and with the same run I'm here....or maybe my run is a little better from not wrecking my legs and that puts me here...." It's agonizing, to say the least, but this is just a part of racing. It's inevitably part of any sort of triathlon, but certainly off-road racing introduces far more challenges and chances for things to go wrong.
As far as what's next, I'm now turning my focus towards the XTERRA World Championship in Maui at the end of October. I'm excited to take this same fitness and skill and put it out there on an even bigger stage to see where I truly fall.
For those keeping track: fries, a chocolate shake, a large Coke (that I refilled at least twice while waiting for my food to come), a double-double, and a single. No, I don't like animal style, now stop bothering me about the secret menu. I'm from the east coast.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

A few days late on National Dog Day

There's a saying about the dog days of summer, though, or something like that. In the past, this has been a time in the season where I'll frequently struggle with motivation and race too frequently, finding myself out of shape and in need of panic training before a late season focus race.
Following Armed Forces, I started finally getting out and exploring the magnificent Blue Ridge Mountains/Shenandoah Valley area with some solid training trips, either weekends or just a long day there and back. Frankly, I regret that I didn’t do this more in the first 3 years of living in Virginia, because I just never realized how awesome that area really is.
Atop Signal Knob at the very northern tip of Massanutten Mountain and George Washington National Forest. Everybody talks about Front Royal, VA for road riding because it's the end of Skyline Drive, but there are some amazing backcountry trails there.

I've now ridden the Blue Ridge Parkway like a proper cyclist from the east coast. However, I've only ridden about a 2 mile stretch of it that connects two trailheads. 
For racing, I had a mid-July back to back stint of racing at XTERRA Victoria in British Columbia, and XTERRA Beaver Creek in Colorado. Victoria was a bit of a disappointing race, as I just felt flat on the swim and missed the lead group, had nothing on climbs, and rode the technical sections of the course poorly. This led to getting off the bike pretty much way out of contention, so a good chunk of my run was focused on trying not to eat it on the really difficult downhill each lap. Of course in doing so, I tripped over a small root on the flat gravel road part of the course. Regardless, Victoria was a really cool place, and I subsisted entirely on Tim Horton's for the time I spent there.
Between Victoria and Beaver Creek, I got to spend a few days in Fort Collins with Coach Mace where I'm pretty sure he was doing his best to get me to seek a commission in the Air Force so I can get myself stationed there. Maybe some time after the Coast Guard...
I opted to head up to Beaver Creek/Vail relatively late to avoid getting destroyed by the ultra-high altitude, combined with talking to some of the more experienced XTERRA guys who assured me that there was little to no reason to do much course previewing. Staying in the house of roadie converts at Casa de O’Neill, it was actually pretty cool to be the “experienced” one in the group, as I always feel like a complete newbie at XTERRA races.
Because of its proximity to the Front Range and relatively non-technical course, Beaver Creek draws a different crowd from most other XTERRAs. This made for a faster than usual swim, causing me to yo-yo off the front group for the first lap one too many times until the elastic snapped and I was hoping somebody would turn the oxygen back on at 7,000 ft. I had this idea in my head of pushing the hell out of the climb and staying with the strong guys when they came by me, but my legs and lungs said otherwise. I pulled a little time back on the miniature descent on whoever was around me, then lost it again on the second mini climb, pulled back some more on the longer (but still short) descent into T2. Then, somehow I managed to cover the not quite 10km of trail running, though I pretty much don't remember it. Looking at my split and file, I'm not sure I want to. I ended up spending almost two hours in the medical tent afterward after being dizzy and having an irregular, low heartbeat at the finish.
Go up! XTERRA Beaver Creek near the top of the climb. Photo by Jesse Peters.
No recollection of this taking place. XTERRA Beaver Creek finish. Photo by Jesse Peters

Nevertheless, I got to work preparing to go fast in a straight line while riding upside down for the Luray Triathlon, a double race weekend. It ended up being an awesome experience, made great by the area (those Blue Mountains get me every time), the race environment, race weekend, and all the other people throughout the weekend itself.
Saturday’s international had me getting dropped by John Kenny after 150m of the swim, then feeling sorry for myself and swimming too slow the rest of the way. Eventually somewhere on the bike, Adam Otsot and Colin Riley caught me and I did my best to stay in touch until Colin flatted. Despite getting off the bike in 3rd, I ended up coming 7th after a struggle-bus of a run. Nevertheless, I was in an awesome place and got to play around in the mountains, including an attempt to go to the epic Page County Fair, but it wasn’t open until the following day, opening up with lawnmower racing. Still, there was lakeside sunset wine. It’s hard to argue with that.
Go up! (Time trial bike edition) cresting the final climb on the course at Luray International. I launched an attack on the climb before this one in the sprint because I thought it was this one. Photo via Luray Triathlon



It's like where I grew up in NJ, only there are mountain ridges in all directions beyond the farms. Photo via Luray Triathlon

I got to have a larger cheering section on Sunday from new friends from lakeside sunset wine. I’d like to think this was part of the reason I stayed a lot closer to John's feet in the swim, enabling me to bridge up to him by a few miles into the bike. We traded leads back and forth for a while with an official very carefully watching the whole time, causing me to realize that I’d almost completely forgotten what a legal draft zone looks like after racing nothing but off-road and draft-legal this year. I played it safe and tried to give a 2 second gap when John was in front, knowing 10 m/s is about 22 mph, so I was usually 20m or more behind him with that fudge factor.  On the home stretch, Colin and Adam caught us again, and Adam just kept going, while John, Colin, and I ended up staying more or less together the rest of the way, save my accidental attack on what I thought was the last climb, but turned out to be the second to last one. I paid for that. Whoops. I took off on the run in 3rd behind Adam and Colin, which is exactly how it stayed, despite the evil yet beautiful uphill second half of the course.

You'll have to pry this beyond the knee, non-textile swim skin from my cold, dead hands for non-ITU/WTC events. Exiting the water at Luray Sprint. Photo via Luray Triathlon

Workin' on a mystery, goin' wherever it leads...approaching the finish at Luray Sprint.


With the result, I ended up third for the combined Hawksbill Double, behind Adam who won both days, and behind Ricky Flynn who showed all of us triathletes how to run on both days, but especially the International where he ran himself up into second place with the fastest split by several minutes. The weekend turned out to be a good showing and a great experience overall, a nice little confidence boost to get a decent result in a reasonably competitive field. It’s time to put the time trial bike away, though, and get excited for some more mountain biking!
Now I can properly decant all of my wine! Photo via Luray Triathlon

Luray views.
More Luray views, from part of the run course (albeit you don't get the pretty sunset racing in the morning).