More Cliff English!

I have been so blog-slack lately that I realized I hadn’t even notified my readers that I’d be in Hilton Head training ALL weekend with the one-and-only Cliff English (again!). Cliff English is a very well-known, likely one of the best, coaches in triathlon. He coaches several well known professional trithletes including Tim O’Donnell, TJ Tollakson, Hunter Kemper (who just qualified to compete for Team USA in his 4th Olympics in London last week) and our very own, Kelly Fillnow (among others)! I was honored to spend a week with him in Tucson this past December and it was such a treat. He hosts several camps in AZ, but last year, he hosted a camp in Hilton Head and when I heard about it, I knew I would do my best to try to go this year – and I am so glad I did.

When I decided to do this camp, I asked one of my friends / athletes that I coach who is also doing Eagleman if she would like to join. I can’t think of a more appropriate Eagelman race setting than Hilton Head. We arrived Friday afternoon, got our stuff settled in my Aunt and Uncle’s condo and headed to the pool for our first meeting with Cliff and first swim of the weekend. The swim session was great. There were only ~10 people at camp including lots of familiar faces from Charlotte (and Tucson!) so there was lots of individual attention, especially in the pool. Cliff is obviously very good at what he does and was a very, very good triathlete himself before he retired in the late 90’s. He’s very laid back and so easy to get along with and is so good at picking up on the “little things” that are lacking in the water. After a ~3000 yard swim, it was time to head home and Devon and I spent the night eating a big yummy dinner, sharing a glass of wine and chatting until much later than we should have given our early alarm on Saturday.

The plan for Saturday was a 3-4 hour ride with a 30 min run off. We rode ~1 hour together as a group to warm up and we ended on a ~5 mile long street with little traffic where we began our “workout”. We were instructed to do 3×10 mile sets with a few min spin in between at descending race efforts. The first was to be Ironman race effort descending to Olympic distance race effort. The road was generally flat, wide open, somewhat windy and PERFECT race like conditions for Eagleman. I felt absolutely great during my intervals and rode very very strong. I opted to only take about 1 min spin in between and remain in aero position so I could simulate how it would feel on race day. I stuck with my exact race day fueling strategy and was pleased with my energy and power output. I basically picked a power number for each lap and aimed to hold it there or slightly increase by the end of each 10 mile loop. My last 10 miles were just under 25mph and I was very pleased with how my legs felt after 80-90 minutes being aero with minimal breaks. No “White Lake phantom leg pain,” just comfortable. Thank god.

The worst part of camp was on the recovery spin back to the parking lot where we started. Kelly and another guy were riding up front, he somehow just swerved wrong, locked handlebars with Kelly and 4 people went down. Luckily no one was too badly injured and everyone got up and walked away, but it surely was scary. One guy has some lasting hip pain that will require a bit of rest, but that was the most serious injury. I was directly behind the guy who went down and I am thankful for my cat-like reflexes (hehe) and being able to get out unscathed. Bike wrecks are NEVER good and they’re always very scary to witness up close and personal.

We spun very easy after the wreck back to the parking lot and prepared for our run, which included a 5 min warm up together with 4×3 minutes building to 10k pace. The first two intervals felt great. I was hitting mid 6’s pace and my legs were feeling fabulous. The last two kinda sucked, not gonna like, and my pace was hovering more in the low 7’s. Nonetheless, I pushed hard for this workout and that’s what counts.

We showered, housed some food back at the condo, and laid on the couch for a few minutes before having to muster up the energy for swim session #2. This swim was much more technique focused and I’m delighted with how good I felt. Considering I was dozing off on the couch 25 minutes before we hopped in the water, I was happy that I actually felt like a swimmer. Cliff corrected two things for me on Friday – my left arm swings when I breath to the right (which I have always been aware of just not sure how to correct) and my left hand enters a bit at an angle – and it seemed as if everything I corrected on Friday really clicked on Saturday. Our set was a bit shorter today and I would be lying if I said I was upset about that. I was ready to be done working out for one day. We scurried back to the condo, showered and met the group at Bonefish Grill for dinner. Phew, long day. We hit the sheets in the 8’oclock hour totally wiped out.

We awoke Sunday morning to overcast skies, which turned into raining skies the minute we stepped out the door for our run. The plan was ~90 minute run starting down by the beach. We got out of the car, chilly, raining and under-dressed, and were less than pumped about our run ahead. Regardless, it was taking place whether we were happy about it or not so I decided to not focus on the misery of the rain, and instead focus on my long term goals. It helped occupy my mind.

Cliff led us through an easy 10 min jog down by the water, followed by some dynamic stretches and some strides, before we regrouped for the start of the run. There is a nice 3+ mile loop that goes around the island and it was perfect for the run today. Obviously there were a wide range of abilities at camp from pro triathletes to people who have been racing about 1 year. There were 2 high school boys, one had never ridden more than 30 miles but can run a 17 min 5k. And another who is running 4 something minute miles. All over the board. The run distance / time was optional up to 3 laps but I planned to run all 3. The goal, which seems consistent with all workouts, was to descend pace from lap 1 to lap 3. I decided to try to run all 3 starting at my 1/2 IM goal pace which is right around 7:35 and then descend slightly. No, not blazing fast but its where I am right now. My other goal was not to let seeing some of the girls take off on their first “easy lap” at 7:15 get in my head. I am proud that I continued to run my pace and never let anyone else bother me, which is one of my biggest weaknesses. I finished the first 2 laps right at, literally, 7:35 pace and the last 3 miles I picked it up ever so slightly to 7:26 pace. I felt good about that. It poured the whole time and I refused to let it bother me. People ran faster than me, and I refused to worry about that. I’m making progress with my mental game. 🙂

We ended camp with a nice 2,000 yard recovery swim to which I also surprising felt good. Cliff said that my left arm and hand entry looked much better which is nice to hear after focusing on something for 3 days. After a quick question and answer session with Cliff, we were on the road by about 2 and heading to Charlotte for the week ahead. Boo.

I am more focused than ever, and truly excited, for Eagleman and this weekend has given me a lot of confidence that I needed to begin to find for the race. I refuse to let my DNF at White Lake hold me back and I’m determined to continue to use it as fuel to hit my goals at Eagleman. Working with Cliff this weekend is such an honor; I learned a lot from him not only as an athlete, but also as a coach and I’m already looking forward to next years’ camp! Thanks Devon for joining me; I couldn’t have enjoyed the company any more! T-3 weeks till our big day!!

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