Lessons Learned

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Lessons Learned

Last month, I wrote about being “In Over Your Head” and my serious misgivings about doing a 70.3 tri, 16 years out from my last long race. (Long = 70.3 or full IM.) You can read that blog here.  

So, I’ll address what I learned about each of these eight items that put me “in over my head.” Here are a few reflections…and, I’ll add in comments from last Sunday’s Chattanooga 70.3 race where I continued to learn…a lot. My updated, “Lessons Learned” are in italics. 

Reasons to think I was in over my head:

  1. 16 years! That’s a long time. That’s how long it’s been since I went “long.” When you’ve not done something for over a decade and a half, well, you just might be a bit rusty! Indeed. 

One good thing about endurance sports is muscle memory. You swim, you bike and you run. I know how to do those and though it had been 16 years, my experience and just-enough-training, allowed me to get to the finish line in 5:33. I wasn’t really rusty. That’s the wrong term. It was a new/old experience. Just keep doing what you’re doing month after month, year after year and that muscle memory will become second nature. After just my second attempt on Sunday I’ve started to remember what it’s like to go long. Most of it I like. Don’t be afraid to come back and try something after a long break.

  • 64 vs. 48 yrs. old. Our bodies change and as the years go by, that change accelerates. Doing XYZ in my 40s is way different than doing XYZ in my mid-60s. The difference is not minor, it’s major. 

My body responded fairly well for the first time back. Now, after a second 70.3, this ‘ole carcass seems to be cooperating. The biggest challenge is learning to control my effort on the bike so I have legs to run on. I wanted to come off the bike with my legs still having lots of energy. It’s SO easy to blow out your legs on the bike! Don’t do that!

  • It’s springtime. Though the grass is greening up and the temps are slowly rising, it’s been a cool and at times, cold spring. So, what’s the big deal? Training is training right? Hmmmm, read on…

See comments after next point…

  • Heat/humidity. I’ve been checking the temps and humidity. It’s central Florida and they’re having a hotter than usual April/May. Forecast calls for 92 for the high. The humidity there yesterday morning was 90%. Acclimation to that in Omaha is impossible.

And what awaited me and all of us, was a virtual oven. After decades of racing, this would be in the top 3 hottest races I’ve ever done. So, I was hoping for a normal Chattanooga spring…with temps in the 70s. Nope. Record highs this past weekend. Hit 90. Next day it was 94. That changes a lot of things. Slow down the pace. Pay SERIOUS attention to hydration and electrolytes. I feel I did that well in Chattanooga. I started the bike very hydrated. Push fluids the first 1/3 of the bike so you get that internal “hydrator” turned on. You know it’s on when you are, well, going. Choices are…. stop at porta-potties or, just go and then rinse with your water bottle. Main thing is, GO. If you’re not “going” once or twice during the 56 miles you’re not going be starting the run in good shape.

  • No wetsuit, probably. So, the jury is still out on this one. 50/50 that it’ll be wetsuit legal they say. I’m guessing no. I KNOW that if it IS wetsuit legal, I’m going to have a much better swim. If it’s not, well, it’s just more energy expended that I could have used the last hour of the 13.1-mile run. Which, brings me to…. 

Hey, it was wetsuit legal!!! 78 degrees is the cut-off and it was, no kidding, announced at 77.9 degrees. Hmmmm. Interesting. So, I wore my sleeveless wet suit and it was the right choice. Definitely saved me a few minutes. And then, in Chattanooga, the water was 70 degrees. Full wetsuit worked great. 1.4-mile swim vs. the normal 1.2 but we had the current helping us. The swim seemed like it would never end!  It was pretty interesting swimming that point to point course. I was happy with my swim time.

However, here’s something NOT to do. The temporary stairs that were inserted down into the river had a very high first step. I had to lift my right leg way up to put my foot on it. The volunteer grabbed my hand to pull me out and I pressed hard on my right leg to pop up and BAM…Whammy…”B-I-F!” (picture Batman and Robin fighting bad guys) and I screamed out as my hamstring immediately cramped badly! So strange. I had to sit down on the stair and try to straighten my leg. Man, that hurt! They pulled me up to the top and out of the way of the other swimmers coming in. I just stood there, again trying to straighten out the leg and have the cramp subside. I was very well hydrated. I had stretched before we started. I had electrolytes in me. Sometimes strange things happen. You might feel like you got T-boned by a truck at some point in your race… totally unexpected! Deal with it. Stay calm.

I stood there as the clocked ticked. Tried to walk…limped. Thought my race was probably over. How could I run 13.1 miles with my hammy in this condition? As I walked towards T-2 with tons of athletes flying by me, it started to loosen up a bit. Did I dare try jogging? I did, very slowly and it didn’t tighten back up. Thankful. As soon as I got on my bike, I took a couple more electrolyte caps and slowly started peddling. Be ready for anything and try to calmly deal with whatever T-bones you.

  • A 13.1 mile run. I’ve not run that far since I crossed the finish line April of ’05 at Ironman AZ. Why not? Cause I get injured. A lot. I’ll spare you my long history in that regard and the issues I deal with…well, OK, just one. My left leg is shorter than my right leg. Big deal, huh? It is! It causes issues. That’s one of about a dozen. I’ve worked on all of them and slowly but surely, increased my training distances, but have only gotten up to about 12 miles in stand-alone run/walk workouts. Having raced triathlons with 5K and 10K runs for 16 years, 13 miles seems like an ultra-marathon to me. While I’m at it, I’ll add this…

See below regarding distance…

  • Total distance, 70.3. All three – swim 1.2, bike 56 and run 13, back-to-back. Again, it’s been since ’05. At 64, having not done this distance for years, what will happen when I put them all together in an oven? I have no ideal. I know it won’t come out half-baked. Probably well-done to badly burnt. I did get in a brick of 50/9 but that’s different when you’re wearing a couple of layers of clothes.

I’ve said for years that 70.3 is my favorite distance, so it was fun to test myself against the miles. The biggest reminder of days gone by was during the run. It was, “70.3 miles IS a LONG way!” Indeed, it is. Yes, only half an IM but a real test of endurance, brains and self-control. I’m actually looking forward to trying a couple more this season! If you’re thinking about doing one, go for it.

Chattanooga reaffirmed that it’s a long way, but very doable if you’re smart. Set your goals realistically. I didn’t hit my goals for this second 70.3 but, the course was much harder than Sebring, FL. So, I’ll take the results and look forward to Des Moines 70.3 and then one more in July. I’m getting comfortable with the somewhat uncomfortable distance.

  • Pacing. Long races are about pacing vs. just pedal-to-the-metal short-course racing. You’d better not go too fast on the swim, bike and first half of the run or you’ll end up doing the death-march shuffle to an embarrassing finish. Since it’s been so long, will I know what pace I can hold? 

I was pleased in this regard except of course, not being able to hold my desired pace on the run in Florida due to the heat. I caught a great swim draft off my training friend and race partner, Kevin McKeon, and rode his feet the last 1,000 meters. Perfectly paced swim. I made myself slow down quite often on the bike. I knew it was hot and that the run was still to come. Would I have had a faster run if I’d taken the bike even slower? I don’t think so. Got in all my desired calories, fluids and electrolytes during the ride. I’d say it was almost a perfectly paced bike.

The run…Uggggghhhh. The heat and humidity killed it and destroyed my planned pace. I tried, but after the first six miles, I knew it had slipped away.

In Tennessee, I continually told myself to hold back on the bike. “It should feel easy to moderately easy!” I think that served me well as I took 10 minutes off my run which I’m very happy about, but my bike was 7 minutes slower. Harder course as mentioned but wise in the overall, bigger picture.

Here is THE BIGGEST mystery for me at this point in my journey back into longer races and maybe it’s a mystery for you at any distance… What’s the fastest pace I can hold on the bike to still run well? I can learn that through more races. It’s also very clear to me that I must slowly and wisely increase my run training to the point where 10-12 mile runs become easy.

Finally, I hope to actually RACE this next 70.3 distance. These first two have been great learning experiences for this 64 yr. old. My time in Chattanooga would have landed me in third place and on the podium in the next age group up (65-69) which I’ll hit in 8 months! This season is a “practice” season. Next year, we get serious about actually completing!

48 hours after finishing Chattanooga, my legs are toast. Every single muscle hurts, but in that good-kind-of way. Now, I must again be smart in my recovery. This is the second big mystery for me to solve. Swim and bike, no problem but the run? How much? How soon? How fast? Gotta be careful here. I’m doing a Race Omaha Olympic in two weeks and then a 70.3 in four. I want to be fully recovered! 

Remember, a race is a race. But a race is also the best workout you’ll do that week or for several weeks. Be sure to fully recover so your body can make the physiological adaptations needed to improve.

OK, that’s enough, probably too much, for now. Learn. That’s the key. Learn and grow and adapt. This is my 27th year of triathlon racing and I’m still learning. It’s a great adventure. Enjoy!

Lincoln Murdoch
Lincoln Murdoch
As an accomplished endurance athlete, Lincoln has been competing in running events for 40 years and racing in triathlons for 25 years. He is a 3x USAT National Champion, 14x USAT All-American and 3x ITU World Championships Top-Ten finisher. Lincoln is passionate about helping athletes meet their goals through books, online resources, coaching and motivational speaking. You can learn more at www.lincolnmurdoch.com.
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