Thursday, 9 June 2011

New Orleans, North Shore and the Escape from Alcatraz

A long time has passed since I last blogged, disproving the rule I mentioned earlier this year when I said that while injured, athletes tend to blog more. I suffered a pretty severe SI joint irritation late into March putting me out of the game completely for a week and pool running for a further 5. Those who know of my running know that 5 weeks of pool running might sound like a season ending death sentence, but I was assured that a full and well executed pool run program could maintain fitness and even maintain intensity levels. Huge thanks go to my run coach Jerry who kept me heading to the pool for run sets each day and Nicole for the technique advice.

It wasn't until mid May that I was off the ever increasing levels of walk/run I had been managing and into full running once again. 4 days later I was on the plane and headed to Louisiana for 5150 New Orleans. New Orleans as a city was incredible, so much history and culture, maintained beautifully and filled with really nice and friendly people.

I was there with my buddy from Vancouver - aspiring Ironman Darren Hailes, and as a team we managed to see the best bits of the city...and a bit of Alabama, Mississippi and Florida too. Unfortunately for me however the gods of triathlon were conspiring and due to the intense flooding upstate with 30 minutes to go before the race start they pulled the plug on the swim ... granted there were a few small waves in lake Ponchartrain but still ... Mike wants to swim. It was not to be, instead I had to rush a run warm up to get ready for the 2 mile out and back I now had to get through. I was a little apprehensive but considering the 2 months previous I actually ran well and was alongside Chris Lieto over the second half ... which was cool. Off onto the bike though and my legs were not working, being on a road bike into a serious headwind was a factor but my legs just weren't ready for a duathlon. Day was cut short as I came into T2.

Fast forward a week and it's a different story at the North Shore elite sprint triathlon in Vancouver. I have an unusually uneventful swim exiting the water about 5 seconds down but feel like I'm firing on all cylinders in the bike. It took me about 3km to find my legs off the bike but I finish strong and in 6th, definite progress.

Racing back to back weekends can be a double edged sword for many reasons but if the first race doesn't turn out as planned the quick turnaround to the next event can really prove a great way to reset mentally and get a good result in.

I then had a short 10 day reprieve in Vancouver before flying off to San Francisco for the IMG Escape from Alcatraz triathlon this past weekend. This time I took Nicole along with me and Darren flew down at the last minute to help with cheering, both of whom did an amazing job on course - shouting at me the things I needed to hear, and Nicole was amazing at keeping me positive and focussed before the race.

The course is legendary, it started way back in 1980 and has evolved over the years, initially as a mini Ironman around the awesome San Francisco bay and now as a pseudo Olympic/middle distance race with by far one of the hardest swims in the world ... Not forgetting the run course. Craig Alexander was here, Andy Potts, Bevan Docherty, Brian Fleischmann - lots of great athletes. I love races like that, getting to race against the best guys in the word, even if I finish 25th ... And get beaten by Leanda Cave, is an amazing experience for me.

The race starts by being released from a massive boat "the San Francisco Belle" which sails right out to Alcatraz prison. The water is intensely cold, 52 degrees F - around 11 degrees C I believe, and if you speak to the locals, filled with seals, sea lions and hammerheads. The age groupers get to jump off from opened up areas on the deck but the Pro wave has to clamber over the barriers and hang onto the side of the boat before diving the 8 feet into the bay. I had a good start but quickly the combination of very salty water and low temps + the general aggression of a big pro swim, had me feeling a little nauseous so I reverted to breathing 1 in 4 and got some clear water. With no buoys to follow I just followed the guys around me and though I felt as if I had dropped back from the leaders. Once I approached the shore, 2.5km from Alcatraz itself, I realised I was up there within 20 seconds or so of Andy Potts.

You then have a pretty big beach run up and an epic 1/2 mile run to transition which hurts the feet, though about half way through I realised I was running next to Simon Lessing who had been roped into a relay and had just killed the swim - pretty cool! Off onto the bike course and my focus was to stay measured on the 4 big climbs and not kill myself on the 4 equally big decents.

I felt as if I kept a hold of myself mentally very well on the bike, staying focussed and concentrating on working the hills, hitting the corners on the descents and taking in plenty of nutrition. 8 mile run was just around the corner...

The run course was intense, 1 mile flat out of T2 - up 100 stairs and continue the climbing until you are at the golden gate bridge - now you have to run down the other side all the way to the beach again and do a mile out and back in deep sand on the beach - up another set of stairs ... this time 400 of them - keep climbing after the stairs on the road to the bridge then back down the other side and a flat mile to the finish. I felt a little sluggish over the first few miles and the out and back in the deep sand was tough, but the dreaded "Sand Ladder" (the 400 stairs) wasn't nearly as bad as I had thought, most people apparently walk up but I managed a pretty good little jog most of the way, by the top I was feeling great and my pace started to increase. I finished well, coming down from the bridge quickly and holding pace along the final stretch to the finish line, in all I was very pleased with 37th / 2100.

I'm now back in Vancouver for a few weeks getting ready for my next event, where this will be I'm not yet sure, but it will be soon. Had a hard run set last night so feeling it today but will get going with a decent effort on the TT bike tonight. Have been missing home the last few weeks as well but a nice trip to the British food store last night helped me quite a bit, 1 jumbo pack of Custard Creams later and I'm feeling good.

Pictures to follow,



A-Russ said...

good post Mike. Glad to here the SI settled down and things on building up quite nicely for the summer....if it ever arrives here:)

drop a line next time your in Victoria for a Thetis Lk swim.

Miguel Vieira said...

Nice post Mike. Its great stopping by to read your experiences as I try to learn from people like you.

I am new to the sport (1 year) but am loving it. Best of luck with everything.


Darren Hailes said...

Oh, the memories! ~ Darren Hailes