Race Reports

Luray Triathlon Weekend

When One Door Closes, Another Door Opens

 

I was so fortunate to stumble upon the Luray Triathlon Festival, produced by Racine Multisports.  Although the race has existed for a decade, for some reason it’s never been on my race radar.  This year would have been more of the same, as I was originally planning to compete at Challenge Poconos with a large Snapple contingent.  However, once the Challenge Family announced that the pro race would be eliminated, I decided to look elsewhere for a race.  The Luray event seemed absolutely perfect.  They were offering a decent prize purse for both the Olympic and sprint distance races, and the trip to Luray wasn’t extraordinarily difficult for Tori and I to make Friday afternoon.

The rest of this blog could be devoted to what an amazing event was put on by Racine Multisports.  Instead, I’ll leave it at this:  do this race.  It was awesome.  I’ve been to races all over the country, and this was absolutely one of the best.  I loved every aspect and would do it again in a heartbeat.

Now to the races.  I decided to compete in both the Olympic and the sprint, which is dubbed the Devil’s Double.  I knew there would be some stiff competition, so I came in to the weekend mentally ready to give it a go.

The Olympic took place Saturday, and there were more than a handful of pro/elite competitors in the first wave, enough to make the swim start a bit rough for the first few hundred meters.  I hung tough from the start and found myself placed in the second pack halfway through the loop.  I felt comfortable and smooth, so from there I pushed the pace and broke the second pack up, resulting in not only making up some ground on the three leaders, but also creating a buffer between myself and the rest of the group.  I exited the water 5th and quickly set about trying to make up the 30 seconds or so that I lost in the swim over the long run to transition.  I was a bit rusty in transition, but got out decently well and found myself in second on the road within a mile of the bike course.

Nick Brodnicki had executed a very nice swim and a very quick T1, and he was just far enough ahead of me that I could spot him on long stretches of road.  His cycling was on fire, though, and he gradually distanced himself from me over the 26 mile course.  I was happy with my effort, and for me, I executed my race plan well.  I just didn’t anticipate that Nick would be three minutes ahead of me going into the run.

I will admit that the gap immediately made me quite nervous.  Three minutes in a full or half isn’t too much, but that’s a lot of ground to make up in a 10k.  I wasn’t going to do anything stupid, though, so I set out running within myself. I figured if that effort could get me to within 90 seconds at 5k, then I had a legitimate chance.  Nick started off strong, and in the first two miles I had made up about a minute.  Then at 5k the time gap was 1:10.  I felt good, I was relaxed, and I was ready to roll.  Over the next 2 miles I pushed hard, caught Nick just after 4.5 miles, and then kept the pace for another mile or so to attempt to create a gap.  The effort worked, and with half a mile left, I was able to come into the finishing area smooth and steady, and enjoy the victory.

After a couple of media interviews, I went for a cool down in Lake Arrowhead with Tom Wood, attended the awards ceremony, and went home to put the legs up and prepare for the Sprint.

Ouch.  I knew racing two triathlons in two days was going to be tough, but holy moly my legs felt rotten when I woke up Sunday morning.  I kept having to tell myself that all the guys who raced the Olympic were feeling the same way, so expectations for my own race execution were just going to have to be moderate.  I opted to cut my run warm up short and instead did most of my warm up in the water.

There were about the same number of athletes in the elite wave as the day before, but the race conditions were a little different.  There was a massive glare from the sunrise that made sighting eastward almost impossible.  It was strange because the day before was clear (and I would have assumed the sun would have been rising at the same time and at the same location), but for whatever reason, it was causing a much bigger problem today.  The start was hectic again, and there were a few who jumped off the front right away.  As soon as we turned the first buoy and looked east, BAM!  nothing but sunshine.  The leaders continued on course, and I worked with one other athlete a few ticks back for about 100m, and then the leaders unexpectedly turned right and started heading towards the finish.  I stopped for a brief moment, got my bearings, realized that there was one more buoy before the turn and continued on.  The three leaders realized their mistake after 15-20 seconds, and then corrected their line, meeting me at that turn buoy.  So I kind of lucked out in that I ended up right in the dead middle of the front group, as the front pack and second pack merged just 250m from the finish and they didn’t create another gap in that short period of time.

That gave me a bit of confidence, and I stormed up the hill to transition, looking to be as efficient as possible onto my bike.  All of the major players were there, and about 8 athletes hit the bike course within 15 seconds of each other.  I was determined to stick with Brodnicki on the bike today come hell or high water.  The sprint distance for Luray is a bit bike heavy, so I was concerned that if he put even 90 seconds into me on the bike that I wouldn’t have the time to catch him.  Brodnicki, Tom Wood, and I separated ourselves from the group quickly, and soon Tom made the pass for the lead.  I was content to sit back and stay within range of them both.  I kind of yo-yoed between 5-15 seconds of their pace over the next 5-6 miles, but when we hit the false flats, Tom really put the hammer down and I decided to make a push and bridge the gap.  I passed Brodnicki who wasn’t having the ride he had hoped for, and caught up to Wood with about 3 miles to go.  From there I stayed put and we came in to transition together, about 20 seconds ahead of Brodnicki.

Tom had run strong the day before (actually passing Nick at the line to take second), so I made the decision then and there to go out of the gates hard and make it as tough a possible the entire way.  We exited transition side by side, but after a few hundred meters, I had formed a gap.  I kept the pressure on until the turnaround, where I saw that I had a sizeable margin, and then was able to relax a bit and run controlled for the last half of the race.  It happened to be the USAT Mid-Atlantic Sprint Triathlon Championship, so I was able to add that title on top of my two wins.

Overall it was a great weekend, I was able to get to know some of my competitors, many of which race for US Pro Tri, and they represented their team extremely well.  I was able to meet up with some Snapple teammates, and I was also able to meet some new triathlon faces some of which were completing their first triathlon.  Congratulations to everyone!

Thanks to Tori, my daughter Cassidy, and my incredible support from Team Snapple, Xterra Wetsuits, LG Apparel, Osmo Nutrition, and Rudy Project.

Up next:  Going for my fifth win in as many tries at the Patriot’s Half in Williamsburg, VA.

Out of Control

It was somewhat fortuitous that my column in the April version on the Snapple Triathlon Team Newsletter was about dealing with disappointing races. I certainly had one of those yesterday at the 119th running of the Boston Marathon.
Training had gone very well leading up to the event. I had ticked off all the boxes: long runs, consistent volume, speedwork, technique work, downhill running. I not only made sacrifices with my family, but also sacrificed some short term success in my triathlon season by cutting out a lot of  swim and bike mileage in favor of adding more running. I had some breakthrough workouts, I trained smart and avoided injuries, and I was feeling great leading up to Marathon Monday.
But no matter how much you do to prepare, there are some things that are just out of your control.
Saturday morning I awoke, and Tori had prepared a massive pile of pancakes for breakfast before I drove to the airport. At the time I wasn’t hungry. I thought it was perhaps a lack of appetite associated with tapering, or some early butterflies in my stomach in anticipation of the big weekend. For the remainder of the day I ate, but struggled to take in small amounts. I didn’t feel super, and I was pretty confident that it was not nerves but a stomach virus.
My initial thought was: “Good! I have this now, perhaps it’s only one of these 24 hour things.  So if I get plenty of sleep tonight I’ll wake up tomorrow, and I’ll have a day to fuel up and rest before the race.” Unfortunately that was not the case. I awoke Sunday with the stomach in the exact same state. I tested it out with a very easy run along the bay by the hotel, and the legs and lungs felt ok. So based on that and the assumption that the virus would continue to pass through my system on Sunday, I decided to still start the race, even if I had to adjust my goals.
Sunday rolled along, and I forced myself again to eat relatively small amounts of food throughout the day.  I probably only consumed somewhere in the neighborhood of 1000 calories the entire day, most of that coming in the form of Gatorade and an Odwalla juice.
I woke Monday morning, again hoping my stomach would say “feed me!” Alas, no such call came from my hurting belly. I managed to eat a pack of cliff shots and a banana, but that was it.
It was cold, windy, and there were bouts of sporatic rain hitting the pre-race area. I welcomed the cold and the rain, but the wind was going to make for a slow and tactical day for everyone in the race. I decided to take the first miles as originially planned, and then see how I felt. I took the opening downhill miles very conservative, running 5:59, 5:48, and then 5:42 for the first three. I felt smooth and controlled, and my legs felt better than I thought they would (although still not super). The next 10 miles were run right around the high 5:30’s, which was a shade off of what I had trained for, but given the wind and my pre-race situation, I was very happy and content to keep clicking off those miles as long as I could. The half was reached in 1:14 and change. Knowing I would need to adjust my nutrition plan a bit, I stopped and got Gatorade a few more times than I planned early on. Once I reached miles 15-16, but body started telling me that it was running out of fuel. Although I still managed to average 6:10’s from miles 16-17, I was using the last dregs of energy stored in my fatigued muscles, and soon they would not be able to support that workload. I nabbed two gels at the aid station at mile 17 (I should have grabbed 3 or 4 had I known how bad it was going to get), and the goal from that point on was to keep running if at all possible. That goal worked for a couple miles, but it could not be sustained, and the last 10k of the race I was only able to muster a walk/jog. I began drinking several cups of Gatorade at every aid station to give my body something to use during the intermittent distances. The only thing running by mile 25 was my mind, hoping that I could get to the finish line without doing it “Julie Moss style.”
In the end, I did make it there under my own power. It was not pretty, it was not quick, and my finisher’s pictures are comical. I could have not started at all. I could have easily dropped out. I could have gotten myself into some really big trouble by not keeping my mind in the game. My body spiraled out of control and I simply tried to funnel it in one direction. I was happy to be part of the history of the Boston Marathon, and hopefully I’ll come back and get some redemption.
Until then, I think it’s important to bring back those points in the column I wrote and show how I am using them to deal with this disappointing weekend.
1. Identify what went wrong and take steps towards rectifying the problem
I started racing a marathon on empty. I caught a virus at a very inopportune time, and it unfortunately affected how I prepared my body for the physical demands of the race. To some extent catching cold is an unlucky break, but leading up to my next big race I can be more diligent about washing my hands several times throughout the day and taking in some extra immune support vitamins and herbs.
2. There are other races.
Heck yeah there are! And all I can think about now is doing another marathon. I am so bummed that I was not able to show my fitness and have a nice result to accompany it. I am already looking for possibilities in the fall for my Boston redemtption race.
3. Work on resiliency
The result of this race came down to something that ended up being out of my control – illness. I understand that and also understand that although I did not have the race I was looking for from a time and place perspective, it may have been an even better race from other perspectives. I know I ran tough as nails from mile 20-26.2, and literally tapped out everything my body had that day. That took a lot of mental strength, especially doing that knowing that I was putting out that effort and still going backwards in the faster moving field around me.
4. Find the positive
I was still able to finish the race! I have some experience on the course that I can use in the future. I helped break the wind a a few times for some of the guys I was running with in the first half who may have gone on to PR’s. Even when I was racing with no food and with a stomach turned upside down, I still ran a 2:46.
Thanks to my family for their constant support, the Snapple National Triathlon Team, SweatVac, Osmo, Rudy Project, 3Sports, and Trainingpeaks for getting me through this race. I may not have hit a homerun this time out, but even the best hitters strikeout from time to time!

Maritime 8k Finish 2015Night and Day

Maritime 8k Race Report

After cramping up in my season opener at the Love Rox Half Marathon, completing the last eight miles of the race in damage control, I looked to find another race before Boston where I could create a positive experience.  Since several of my athletes were racing the One City Marathon, I decided that jumping in the Maritime 8k, which took place in conjunction with the marathon, would be the perfect opportunity.

Honestly, time and place were not the most important things for me this time out.  Goal number one was to take steps towards being able to race without cramping up.  So I just decided to change all sorts of things leading up to the race.  I didn’t stress about eating a specific pre race meal, I changed the foods I ate for breakfast, I decided to race in Mizuno Sayonaras instead of my Nike Lunar Racers and Saucony Kinvaras, and I changed my warm up routine, starting 15 minutes later than usual, leaving less time between the end of my warm up jog and the start of the race.  Even if my cramping issues were just mental, making all of these changes might relieve some of the mental tension that was created every race as well.

From a racing perspective, the experience was fairly unremarkable.  My strategy going in was to start very conservative.  After talking with Ryan Carroll before the race, I knew he was just doing a race pace workout, so I knew he was essentially running with an effort cap.  I started off very easy with the pack, Ryan Carroll took off and created a 15 meter gap through the mile.  Once we went up and down the on and off ramps to Interstate 664, I steadily increased the pace and caught Ryan around mile two.  I kept my foot on the pedal and opened up a sizable gap over the next mile.  At mile four, the lead bike let me know I had about a 200m buffer, so I was confident that I could shut it down in the last mile without fear that he would be making up a 30 second gap.

So I didn’t really have to race for the win, but I did not cramp up which was great news!  I was also happy to have won the race, of course, and I was pretty happy with my time of 26:00.  The Sayonaras may not be the fastest and lightest racing shoes on the market, but they did the job.  Definitely a much better experience than my first race of the season!

 

This was the first Ironman where my passion for the race was not there for a long, long time. With my baby girl at home, a new job, and the current state of professionals in triathlon, I waited to sign up until the last minute in August. I started the season gung ho about competing in Rev3 races throughout the year, with IM Chattanooga as a culminating event after a season of Olympics and Halfs. When Rev3 cut the pro prize purse, it really hit me hard. And that feeling did not, and really has not, let up over the year. This year has been difficult in the fact that I feel like I don’t have a “place” in the triathlon world. I feel lost.  You have the top professionals, the guys who are winning races, demonstrating an absolutely unreal ability to swim/bike/run at the highest levels.  You have the top age groupers, who dominate for top amateur bragging rights.  And then there are guys like me.  I’m not performing at the highest level of the sport, and I certainly cannot make a living off of racing events. At the same time, I desire tough, deep competition, and with the exception of Ironman Hawaii, I can’t find that in the amatuer fields any more. So I’ve been racing in pro races, finishing in the top 10, but never cracking the podium spots and garnering attention. When the Rev3 series discontinued their pro races, I was left with very few options for viable races that fit my personal calendar and were within driving distance. Then when IM announced they were cutting their pro races down to a select few, I was even more disheartened. I don’t race pro to make a living; I won’t pretend that I do. I race pro because that’s the best place for me now, and it’s pushing me to be a better athlete. So to pretend that I might be able to just fly to whatever race Ironman deems worthy of having a professional race throughout the year, no matter what time of the year it may be, is foolish on my part. So although I love the sport, it just was the culmination of those depressing events that tempered my enthusiasm for really getting after the training for this race. I did what I needed to do, but it took a lot of encouragement from my wife, Tori on many days where I just wasn’t feeling the love from triathlon.

Before I knew it, I was heading to Chattanooga. Chattanooga is a really neat city, and I would recommend visiting, especially if you love the outdoors and you love being active. I wish I had more time to explore the city and all it had to offer. With the race looming, I had to pick and choose my pre-race activities. My dad and I traveled up Lookout Mountain and toured Point Park, which is a National Park dedicated to the Civil War battle that took place there 150 years ago. Then we were able to meet one of my old high school friends for lunch the day before the race and catch up. Then, I went back to my hotel room to get a good night’s rest before the race.

When the race organizers said that the pro men were starting at 7:20am, I knew we would start the race right at or just before dawn. I entered the water and swam upstream for a minute or two before relaxing and floating back to the starting line. There was a pontoon boat across from the dock with a rope suspended in between for the pros to latch onto while we waited for the cannon. I positioned myself in the center in the second row, hoping to get caught up and dragged along in the wake of all the speedy swimmers. When the cannon fired, that’s precisely what happened. I went out, guns blazing and took part in the melee that is a professional Ironman swim start. I knew there were a bunch of guys ahead of me, but the pace was sizzling, and I just kept telling myself to stay latched onto the feet of the guys right ahead of me so that I could stay in contact. So 1/3 of the way through the swim I was really excited – I knew that I was right on the back end of the main group, which was really a best case scenario for me. Then in about five seconds it was gone. I lost the feet of the one guy directly in front of me, and a small gap opened. I immediately put in a surge to get back on, but my surging was only enough to keep the gap where it was. Then my surging resulted in only losing ground little by little. Then I recognized the fact that I was going pretty much all out, 15 minutes into an Ironman, and I knew that catching the pack was not a possibility anymore. If I wanted to have a successful race, I had better calm down and finish the swim at my own comfort level. So the pack gradually disappeared up the river, and I was alone. I stayed that way the rest of the swim. I thought for a while that the “main pack” had actually been the end of the pro field, because I found it incredibly odd that after losing contact, no one else was up with me or passing me. Fortunately when I exited the water, I noticed a decent crew of swimmers about 15-30 seconds behind me.

So of course the time for this swim meant absolutely nothing because of the massive current we had assisting us, but I was so proud of my swim in the fact that I put myself in great position from the start, stayed with the main pack for a good amount of time, and even after falling off the group, still kept everyone else at bay.

Once onto the bike, a couple of the guys who were right behind me in the swim took charge and set pace. One was Kyle Pawlaczyk, an old college teammate who coaches in Richmond, VA. I was extremely comfortable riding through town, but the effort was just slightly higher than I was planning on riding, so I eased off the gas a bit and really tried to hone in on my target watts. Kyle and a crew of about three other guys took off, and after 20 miles or so, they were out of sight. For the remaining 96 miles of the bike, the pattern would be: get passed by a pro, watch him slowly ride out of sight, get passed by another pro, watch him ride out of sight, etc etc. After the first 20 miles of the bike, I don’t think I passed one pro rider, but I was passd by probably 15. It was a bit demoralizing, but at the same time, I was right where I needed to be for how I had trained, and I trusted that I would have the run to come back on many of those guys later on. I ended up coming through 112 miles in 4:46 flat, which would have been a 2 min IM bike split PR, but of course the bike had four more miles, so my final split was just under 4:56.

When I hopped off my bike, I did not feel good. My back was super tight, my legs did not feel fluid at all, and mentally, I was in a rough spot. I knew I was back in the race, in the mid 20’s (actually 26th) and I had a lot of ground to make up. It took me a mile or so, and then I finally loosened up and got into a good rhythm. There were a couple guys up the road that I could see, so I immediately went to work, gliding past them as I ticked off the miles. After passing three guys we hit a long stretch of highway, and I could see nobody. So from a mental and emotional standpoint, this was the lowest point for me all day. I was still behind over half the pro field, I couldn’t see anyone within a quarter mile of me, and I had 21 miles left to run. So I did what I typically do when that happens and just stopped thinking and ran. I read the billboards on the side of the highway, I played “see how many steps you can take with the gel flask in your right hand before you have to switch to your left hand” game, I thought about keeping a smooth, effortless stride. After three miles of that lonely slog, I finally saw someone. Then it was on. I did not do my due diligence, and I was not familiar with the run course, so when I crossed the river and was faced with a massive half mile climb, I was pleasantly surprised. The entire north shore loop was an IM runner’s dream. Climb after punishing climb, that loop sapped a great deal of energy out of me, but it also brought a ton of guys back to me faster than I could have possibly imagined. Over the next four miles, I passed another six guys. Then it was back to the flat section. Although I had lots of age group athletes to run down, I did not see any pros over the next seven miles. Then we got back to the north shore loop, and magically, there were guys walking and shuffling all over the place. I wasn’t running incredibly fast at this point, but I was making up tons of ground on the guys ahead of me. With a mile to go, I knew that placing in the money was out of the question, but it was still a real possibility that I might go under 8:40, so I really pushed hard and in the process passed one more competitor just after the 26 miler marker to take the 10th spot overall. I finished in 8:39:32, a 12 min PR, and also put down a 2:56:09, an IM run PR by just under two and a half minutes.

So where does this leave me in terms of triathlon? Right now I’m not sure. I have registered for the Boston Marathon next April, and I’m really looking forward to that. I will take some time this off season to look at various options for races in the summer/fall and see what may fit. I am definitely excited about how I raced in Chattanooga, and I know I have better performances in me. I just need to keep chipping away at the swim and the bike and hopefully put myself closer to the front at the start of the run.

I’m thankful for all of the support that I received from my wife, my Virginia and Michigan families, the Snapple Triathlon Team, and my training partners. Without it, this breakthrough would not have been possible.

Patriot’s Half 2014 Race Report

On the NBC coverage of the Ironman World Championships, I believe it was Craig Alexander who was quoted as saying that he was merely a custodian of the world title, but he became accustomed to having it and for obvious reasons, did not want to relinquish it. On a much smaller scale, that’s how I feel about the title at the Patriots Half in Williamsburg, Virginia.

Over the past three years, I have taken ownership of the title, and I selfishly feel that it’s mine. Of course that’s not true, I’ll be the first to admit that previous results, training log totals, and fancy equipment mean nothing when it comes to racing. I’ve been in enough races to know that anything can happen to anyone on any given day, and that you can’t take anything for granted. In that same token, you can never underestimate anyone, including yourself.

Historically, I have been in or close to the main pack in the swim, then pulled away early on the bike en route to a lonely, but satisfying ride with the lead motorcycle. In the past I have been getting off the bike with a large lead, running steady through to the end.

For this year’s race, the James River was up to its usual antics, with a tricky current and some decent surface chop. On the warm up I knew it was going to be a slow swim day. So the race started, and I got out well, among the leaders. There were about 6-7 of us around the first buoy. Once we turned, the current started to wreak havoc on the trajectory of the pack. We split up all over the place, and I lost everyone I was with. For a while I thought I was the one who had somehow strayed off the correct line, but after a minute or so, realized that two guys had just plain taken off, and the other two or three had been pushed inland by the current a bit, so they were swimming 15-20 yards to my right. Not knowing who the two swimmers were up in the lead, I was determined to minimize their gap to me, just in case they turned out to be legitimate contenders. The rest of the swim was fairly uneventful, as I was by myself. I exited the water 3rd, with two USProTri athletes about ten seconds behind me.

Swim: 30:44 (1.2 miles)

I had a poor T1, as I spent an inordinate amount of time trying to fasten my helmet, and then realized I had left my sunglasses in my backpack. I spent maybe five seconds going to my backpack to get them before realizing it really wasn’t a big deal, and leaving without them. In that time, the two pros who came out of the water behind me were about dead even with me hopping on our bikes.

Almost immediately the two USProTri racers got out ahead of me, and I was content to let them set the pace down Greensprings Road and onto Route 5. My plan was to stay right around 290-300 watts, and for this section that’s exactly where I was. About five miles in, one of those riders started riding away, so I moved up and started in pursuit. This was where the race became the most difficult for me. For whatever reason, I just assumed that by riding at 25-26 mph, that I would soon catch all of the faster swimmers ahead of me, and then leave everyone else in my wake. Well, for the past three years, that had been the case, but not this time. By Wilcox Neck Road I had moved into third, but Nick Brodnicki (USPro) was continuing to steadily ride away from me. I was riding hard and losing ground. It was around mile 25, after finally catching the lead swimmer where I became focused on trusting my effort and not worrying so much about Brodnicki as he sped up the road. I didn’t feel great on the bike, but my power was still in my goal range, and I knew I was riding a best time if I could maintain the effort. I received some nice feedback in the last 15 miles from a couple of spectators that gave me my split to the leader, and all splits were in the 1 minute range. So even though I couldn’t see him, I knew I was still keeping him in check. I came into T2 with a new best time for this course, and that brought with it a load of confidence for starting the run.

Bike: 2:19:08 (58 miles)

I started out the run very slowly, hoping to avoid suffering through another half marathon battling a side stitch. The thought was to try and get my breathing under control for a couple of minutes, and then stretch the pace out and see what I could do (until hopefully taking the lead). It only took a two miles before I caught the race leader, and the pass was courteous and otherwise uneventful. I soldiered on, and by mile 5 I had already built a sizable gap of over six minutes. At the turnaround at mile 7 I had a 10 minute lead. At that point I completely shut it down and tried to get through the remainder of the race as easily and efficiently as I could. It was getting hot, so I made sure to stop at the aid stations to get plenty of fluids. As always, it was a thrill to cross the finish line first. I am so thankful to have the opportunities to train and compete, and I was humbled to see so many competitors giving it absolutely everything they had to finish such a tough test on an uncharacteristically hot and humid day.

Run: 1:22:49

Total Time: 4:15:57

Thank you to the Snapple Triathlon Team, Osmo Nutrition, Xterra Wetsuits, LG, Rudy Project, and of course SetUp Events for another wonderful race.
Next: Ironman Chattanooga

Better Late Than Never

After opening the season with several consistent results in local running road races, I planned on taking a bit of a break while I set myself up for a good run at a late season Ironman. So yesterday at Challenge New Albany, while most of the pro field was hitting their stride in the midst of the busiest time of the year for races, I was opening up with my first triathlon of the year.

In my prep I knew what I needed to work on: swimming. I had to get closer to the majority of the race in order to give myself a chance on the run. So going into the race, I had a much different mentality than I have in the past. Get out hard on the swim, race hard right from the start, and let the dice fall where they may on the run. At least I would give myself a fighting chance.

There were some great swimmers in the field in this inaugural event, so I expected the field to spread out right from the start. I held my ground, had much better technique in the shallower sections of the start thanks to some open water practice, and found myself tailing a huge group by the time we got to the first turn buoy. My effort was high, and it was challenging to stay right at the back of the group, so I focused on doing two things for the remainder of the swim:

Staying smooth and as relaxed as possible while staying on feet
Making sure the guy ahead of me was not getting dropped by the pack (and therefore dropping off the pack myself)

I came out of the water amongst a huge group of 7-10 guys in 26:39, which was an awesome swim for me. Not only did I improve my swim time by several minutes over last year, but I caught a nice draft and I knew I would have guys to ride with on the bike. My Xterra Velocity Speedsuit was fantastic and greatly aided me in my swimming breakthrough.

Once on the bike, I was a man on a mission. It took about five miles to catch the main group that had formed on the bike, and en route I was riding right at my goal wattage. Once I caught the group, I stayed with them for several miles, but realized after about 10 minutes that my power was not quite where I wanted it to be, so I made the decision to work my way through to the front and take the lead. This is a fairly risky move in the pro field, as pros ride using the stagger rule. Basically there are two lines of staggered riders, and when you have a group of seven guys riding legally, if you want to move through the group, you pretty much have to drill it and move through the entire group. The last thing I wanted to do was to get a drafting penalty for just trying to get past this massive group. So it took another couple of miles before I found an opportunity to weave through the pack.

Once I hit the front, I pushed a bit to make sure I wasn’t just going to start pulling eight guys behind me for the next 35 miles. After 10 minutes of riding close to my threshold, I took a peek back, and had only one guy who had decided to come with me. Great! I went back to riding at my wattage target, tried to smooth out the uphills and downhills, and focused on staying as aero as possible.

The bike course at Challenge New Albany was really fun to ride. It reminded me a lot of riding on the roads in Charles City and Surry, so I felt right at home. I continued working with Justin Metzler until about 5 miles to go when Steve Rosinski came motoring past us. I executed my ride perfectly, and was feeling good for the run. I let Steve and Justin lead our small group into T2.

Even after swimming with a big group and passing though that group and essentially riding alone for just about the entire bike route, I was still unsure about what place I was in when I came in to T2.

I saw Tori as I ran out of transition and found that I was currently 8th (with 6th and 7th just seconds ahead). Yes! I am very confident in my running, so I was excited for what lay ahead in the last leg of the race.

I started off patiently, taking about a mile and half to take over Steve. Then my struggles on the run started. Side cramps, here we come. So a couple minutes after I overtook him, I stopped, worked my cramp out, was re-passed, and got back going in 8th. Then I had a decent stretch of running where I moved into 6th before I had to stop yet again to work that pesky cramp out. I had run well enough over those few miles that I was only overtaken and put back into 7th at that point. Around the 6 mile mark, Justin and I passd John Kenny, who had put together a blazing swim and bike and was slowly coming back to us over the first half of the run. I was still very optimistic that I could continue moving up throughout the back half of the run.

Having said that, the last 6 miles of the run I was in total damage control. I was cramping once every mile or so, and although I could get the cramps to subside temporarily, they would come back shortly after. Justin was running away from me and taking my top 5 finish goal with him! To be honest though, at that point I was more concerned with holding off some chasing runners from behind me. Adam Bohach was less than 2 minutes behind me with 5 miles to go, so I knew based on his previous results and my suboptimal situation, it was going to be tough to hold him off.
Luckily, I did have another carrot to pull me along. There was one pro up the road who I hadn’t seen all day who was still coming back to me. As it turned out, I caught him just as Adam Bohach passed me to take over the eventual 5th place spot. I could not hold his pace and just ran as best as I could to finish 6th.

4:01:13
6th

I have gained a lot of confidence from this race. I finally had a good swim in a pro field. The work that I’ve been doing in the pool with the Fort Eustis Master’s Team is paying off. I biked within myself and put myself in great position to run through several more positions on the run. I just didn’t have it on the run. More times than not, I will have it on the run, so I’m very much looking forward to getting back out there and giving it another go. I made it up to 5th in this field twice throughout the run, and it was tough being there and losing it. But the point was that I WAS there, and I know I can be there again and again and again.

Thanks to the Challenge Race Organization for a well-run event, and thanks to all of my sponsors: Snapple, Xterra Wetsuits, Osmo, SweatVac, Louis Garneau, 3Sports, and Trainingpeaks!

Ryan and I on our way to a 3rd place finish.

Ryan and I on our way to a 3rd place finish.

 

“Running to him was real; the way he did it the realest thing he knew. It was all joy and woe, hard as a diamond; it made him weary beyond comprehension. But it also made him free.”

– John L Parker Jr.

 

I’ve raced in many of the biggest events in the world, and I’ve completed many smaller, local races.  Each one gives me butterflies in my stomach beforehand, a rush of adrenaline at the start, and a sense of accomplishment at the finish.  In each race I fight a battle, whether it’s against myself, my competitors, or the elements.  Consistently overcoming these obstacles has shaped my character.

I think that everyone deserves to experience these sensations.

 

Recently, I decided to team up with United Athletics Williamsburg, a program that pairs assisted athletes with able-bodied athletes.  My goal for the race was to help Ryan Wilson, one of my Rawls Byrd Elementary students, complete his first 8k.

 

I was much more nervous in the first couple of minutes of the race than I expected.  Most of my anxiety was due to the fact that I needed more space to maneuver, and if there was an unpredictable move in the field, Ryan’s safety was at stake.  I felt this overwhelming sense of responsibility for his well-being.  Once the field spread out, I was able to get into a rhythm and we went!

We managed to move up the field one by one until the halfway point, where we reached third place.  On the way back home, we continued to gain on second, but could never quite close the gap.  Regardless of our overall place, for those 29 minutes, we were free.

If you want to read more about the event or United Athletics Williamsburg’s involvement, check out this WY Daily article on the event:  http://wydaily.com/2014/02/11/runners-children-with-special-needs-team-up-for-athletic-experience-w-video/

It was such a fun time, an experience I will never forget.  If you are interested in becoming a United Athletics volunteer, please visit http://www.unitedathleticsrva.com/

For the past few years I’ve been flirting with the idea of running an open marathon, but always choosing against it.  I was unwilling to abandon triathlon training for an extended time, and I was not ready to commit to a running race that would require an extensive amount of recovery time afterwards.

This fall was finally the time to try, so after my abbreviated 70.3 campaign in the summer, I changed my focus and got back to my running roots.

 

Thankfully, my training leading up to the race went very well.  I was cautious to put in too many miles in the lead up, since even on my “big” weeks of triathlon training, I would only record 50-55 miles.  In addition, in 2013, my biggest running weeks had been only in the low to mid 40’s, so executing a high mileage approach would surely lead to some sort of overuse injury.  So I ended up with 10 weeks over 50 mi/week, with 6 of those over 60 mi/week and a high week of 71 mi.  I supplemented with three swims and two rides throughout the cycle, only tapering off the swimming and cycling in the last 3 weeks.

 

In case in anyone is interested, I’ll post a couple of my key workouts leading up to the race:

 

9/21  17 mi long run with mi 7-12 @ 6:15/mi, last 5 miles @ 5:27/mi

9/26  8x (2/3 mi @ 3:20, 2/3 mi @ 3:55)

10/6  Half Marathon in 1:11:26

10/19  10.5 mi @ 6:20/mi, 10.5 mi @ 5:30/mi

10/27  16 mi @ 5:30/mi

 

I supplemented those workouts with a variety of shorter, faster tempo runs, and 1000’s, 800‘s, and 400‘s on the track.

 

I was hoping if all went well on race day, I would be able to run around 2:25.

 

Running the Richmond Marathon was especially exciting for me after growing up in Richmond and closely following the race throughout the years.  The plan was to be smart and cautious, especially the first 5k, and then find a rhythm in the low to mid 5:30’s and stick it for as long as I could.

 

Starting out, I was very fortunate to find a group of two guys from the DC area who were aiming to run in the low 2:20’s.  With the front pack charging off the front, we settled into mid 5:30’s off the bat and worked together well.  Oddly, my biggest challenge in the race came not at mile 22 or 23, but at mile 7.

 

For some unknown reason, I have had the absolute worst luck in getting side sticthes in races recently.  My effort was totally within myself, I was controlled, relaxed, and not under any duress at all.  And sure enough, here comes a cramp.  So across the Huguenot Bridge I tried stretching, bending, breathing, whatever I could do to help it go away, but with no avail.  So after coming down the exit ramp, I decided to stop and address the issue.  Stopping seemed to help it a bit, so I carried on, albeit 20 seconds behind my racing friends.  But it wasn’t done.  It started coming back, and during the stretch on Riverside Drive I was in such a bad place.  Here I was, 18 miles from the finish of a race I had been training for exclusively for 12 weeks, and I was practically just limping along with this debilitating anchor of a cramp.  So as it started getting worse, I stopped yet again, tried bending downwards this time instead of stretching, and miraculously, that seemed to help quite a bit.  I lost another 20 seconds to the group I was with, and at this point I could only see them on long stretches of road, but at least the cramp had subsided, and I was able to focus on my own pace.  Thoughts of at least finishing the race returned, and after passing mile 10 in 56:50, thoughts of finishing the race well had returned as well.

 

Now why I keep getting side cramps in races (and none whatsoever in training runs, even race pace runs in flats drinking and eating gels) is incredibly frustrating and something I will spend some time in the off season investigating.  To happen once is an annoyance, but for it to consistently happen (Colonial Half, Crawling Crab, Richmond Marathon), is worrisome, and I need to think about what might be happening in races to cause that pattern.  If anyone has any ideas, I’d love to hear them!

 

I would say the best part of my race came from mile 11-15.  I got into a great rhythm and started reeling off miles in the high 5:20’s.  One of the guys I was running with had maintained pace, and he was well up the road, but the other guy was coming back to me about 20 sec every mile.  So I spent the majority of my time on Forest Hill Ave focused on catching up with him, and that was very motivating, especially since there were no other runners around.  I caught him just before mile 13, and then was able to keep that pace to the Lee Bridge.  Once across the bridge, the race started catching up with me, and the loneliness of setting pace alone took its toll.  My pace slowed to high 5:30’s-low 5:40’s, and I was able to keep it there until mile 24 where I tried to kick it in, and started running in the low 5:30’s again.  Ended up finishing the race in 2:27:23, 6th place overall.

 

There’s no question that the final 10k of a marathon is a tough, tough time.  I’m proud I was able to hold it together and finish strong.  In January of 2013, I wrote down that I wanted to finish in the top 10 and run under 2:27:00.  With the exception of that pesky preposition “under,” I was right there!

 

Thanks go out to everyone on Team Otstot– Tori, Cassidy, Bentley, my parents, the Snapple Triathlon Team, 3Sports, Mizuno, Rudy Project, Sweatvac, and Colonial Sports.

I am so blessed to have so many great events come to Williamsburg.  The Patriots Half, put on by SetUp Events, has been a mainstay in the Virginia triathlon calendar for six years.  That is partly due to a fantastic course that tours rural Charles City, historic Route 5, and a run that stays mostly shaded on the Greensprings trail system.  Mostly though, it’s because the Viginia Triathlon Series does a super job every year and continually seeks to improve their races.

After winning the past two iterations of this race in 2011 and 2012 by a combined total of 58 minutes, I was content with passing on the opportunity to race this year.  I didn’t realize, however, that this would be the first year that prize money would be awarded to the top 3 males and females.  Hmmm, maybe I will race…. 🙂

After Steelhead, I took a short break and shifted my focus to the run in preparation for the Richmond Marathon in November, so I would be lying if I said I was totally confident in my swim and bike strength going into the race.  I figured the prize money would attract some out-of-town studs, so I mentally prepared to hurt on the swim to stay with the group so that I could be there on the bike in case someone tried to get away.

Swim

For the first time since 2009, the swim was wetsuit legal (barely), and since I’ve only had the opportunity to wear my Xterra Vendetta once while racing this year, I took the risk and suited up.  I was happy to get away from the masses relatively quickly, and soon found myself leading the swim along with two others.  As the swim carried on, it was clear that the calm surface of the water, which sharply contrasted the turbulence of the Rev3 swim, still carried a strong current that was pulling us away from the outer buoys.  By the far turn buoy, the lead pack had grown a bit to about six guys, and I took a backseat, fully content to catch a draft and use the others’ sighting skills to my advantage.  Well, that plan worked marvelously until we turned the final buoy and hit what was to be a complete wall of sun glare as we headed back to the shore.  I could not see anything in front of me for at least 4 or 5 minutes as we headed back.  Add to that the current pushing us, and the way back was fairly comical.  Guys in the lead pack would come up and breaststroke for a couple seconds to try and realign themselves with the finish.  I doubt we swam as straight as an arrow, but I also doubt too many others behind us did either.  When we got close, we hit the shallows about 100 yds out from the shore, and the dolphin diving commenced.  And it continued.  On and on, there was just an endless amount of dolphin diving.  And then everyone was tired.  So most of us in that front pack ended up walk/jogging the last 25-30 yards or so until we got on land.

6th overall, 29:33

T1

Despite having a heck of a time getting my wetsuit off, which involved actually sitting on the ground and talking to myself (and my wetsuit, I guess), I still had the fastest T1 of the day.

Bike

I got out of T1 in third position, right behind the top two.  The plan for the bike was to ease into things, pace with the leaders for 10-15 miles, evaluate how I felt, and then either stay put, or take off.  I stayed in third position for the first 13 miles, then decided to go.  I laid down some watts for about half an hour, and by mile 30, I was completely out of sight.  Now it was just me and the lead moto.  I stayed relaxed and smooth on the bike, and came off just slightly faster than I did last year, in 2:20:16, which netted me about a 7 minute lead on second place.

T2

Again the fastest T2 of the day.  I think this is the first time I’ve had the fastest transitions in a race.

Run

With a 7 minute lead, I was confident I could run relaxed and take the title.  I didn’t want to bury myself if I didn’t have to, so I opened up running between 5:55-6:05/mi.  That was very comfortable, and definitely a pace I could maintain for the duration.  Halfway through the run, my lead had grown to about 10 minutes, and at that point I coasted as smoothly as I could to the finish.  Finished in 1:19:2x and broke my own course record of 4:14:04 by going 4:12:16 in what were extremely fast weather conditions for this race.

It felt great to be at the front of a race again, and I will use that feeling this Fall as I train to race those pesky pure runners in half and full marathons.

Thanks again to my sponsors for the incredible support:  Snapple Triathlon, 3Sports, Xterra Wetsuits, Louis Garneau, SweatVac, Mizuno Running, and Rudy Project.