2013 Steelhead 70.3

After spending three weeks in Cheboygan, Michigan with Tori’s family, we drove south to Benton Harbor en route to Virginia.  I was hoping to improve on my 10th place finish six weeks earlier at Rev3 Williamsburg.

 

My training in Cheboygan was consistent:  lots of open dirt roads to run on, a variety of nice biking routes, and my pick of lakes to swim in.  There is not a pool in Cheboygan, so I swam in open water exclusively for three weeks.

 

Steelhead was an enticing choice for me for a number of reasons, the top two being that it was in Michigan, where Tori’s family could come and see me race, and that the swim was advertised as always going with the current.  Now, I’m not one for backing away from challenges, but after my experience in Williamsburg, I was hoping to get into a situation where I would not find myself out of the race from the cannon blast.

The morning of the race was cool and breezy, and once dawn came and the lake was visible, it was evident that it was again going to be an epic swim.

 

When the race started, I got into the water and after having practiced maneuvering through shallow water in practice over the past several weeks, I found myself if a good position as we reached the first buoy.  I was right in the thick of things, and it felt so good to be in the race.  Then about 5-6 minutes into the swim, just as fate would have it, as I was turning my head to breathe, a wave smacked right into my face and flipped my goggles.  With my heart rate soaring and floating in the lake with a large amount of chop, it took me a while to compose myself and get the goggles securely back on my face.  Once I got going again, the pack was gone.  I was able to keep them in sight for a majority of the swim, but as the swim progressed, they inched further and further away from me.  So I had quite a bit of time during the swim to feel sorry for myself,  about how I had botched another opportunity to swim well, about how this race was again going to be a true mental test.  When you’re far behind, staying “in the race” when you literally have no one to race is incredibly difficult.  I dealt with it in June, and here I was again, having to do the same thing again.

So I was a ways behind just about everyone in the field, finishing 21st out of 24 professionals.

 

Honestly, for the first ten miles of the bike, when I literally saw no one on the course, I kept thinking to myself how much I had let down my family, friends and sponsors.  I had a lot of negative thoughts creeping into my head, and it was hard to get them out.  Then it happened:  a rider on the horizon.  Ok, someone to chase after.  Thankfully I became fixated on getting up to that rider.  It took a couple minutes, but sure enough, I caught and passed him.  Right ahead were a couple more.  Ok, I can do this.  I’m not going to let some bad luck dictate my entire race.  After all, isn’t the official motto of Snapple Triathlon “Dream Crushers?”  So I continued to slowly pass riders one by one, gaining a bit more confidence after each pass.  By the end of the bike, I had moved steadily up the field into somewhere in the low teens, and I had biked 2:10:49 a new HIM bike split personal record by about two and a half minutes.

I felt all right, and was confident that I could run well.

 

It took me several miles before my legs opened up, but once they did, I was able to settle into a nice rhythm of clicking off 5:45 miles.  About halfway through the run I caught my teammate Wes, gave him a couple words of encouragement, and then set off to see how many other guys I could catch.  In the end, I finished in 7th, with a 1:17:18 run split which gave me a total time of 4:04:46.

 

Steelhead was a spectacular event.  Very well-run, great course, and huge crowd support along the course.  I would recommend the race to anyone from a beginner to a professional, and I hope to get back and race again myself.

 

Going into the season, I wanted to consistently put myself in position to finish in the top 10 in big pro fields.  So far, I’m two for two.  I’m going to keep working on that swim, and I’ll nail one eventually.  Until then, I know that I’m honing my mental toughness by racing up into the field, using the best equipment on the triathlon market.  Thanks to Rudy Project, Xterra Wetsuits, Louis Garneau, and Mizuno!

Rev3 Williamsburg

 

Welcome to the Pros, Newbie.

June 23, 2013

 

This racing year has been filled with plenty of unknowns.  Tori and I were expecting a baby in late April, and along with not knowing how my race performances would stack up to other professionals, I wasn’t entirely sure how my training would be affected both before and after the birth of my first child.

 

After receiving my pro card at the beginning of the year, I hoped that Rev3 Williamsburg would be my first race in the pro division.  Having a race that essentially took place in my backyard would give me a sense of confidence and certainty that I was searching to find.  Initially, I waited registering for the race until I knew my training showed that I was at least at the level of fitness I had been when I was able to qualify for my pro card.  From there, I figured I’d give it my best and let the race shake out the way it would.  So I registered about a month before the race, and started prepping as best as I could.

One change that I had to prepare myself for was a difference in drafting rules in the pro division.  Now I had to contend with the stagger rule and be cognizant about keeping not 7, but 10 meters between myself and the rider ahead of me.  I was a little nervous that in the heat of battle I would naturally zone into my past race habits and start breaking rules.  I was afraid that I wouldn’t have the focus to follow the new rules under duress.

My race can be summed up in one sentence:  I had a horrible swim.  That’s it.  It was the first swim start I’ve ever been involved in starting on the beach.  With an extremely long and shallow section into the James, the technical ability to dolphin dive and navigate through a strong cross current was very important.  I just didn’t stack up with most of the pros in this aspect.  The race started, I chaotically followed what everyone else was doing (albeit not half as well), and then they were gone.  Welcome to the pros, newbie.

Once they gapped me, that was it.  And it happened early, like after only 100-150 meters.  So with the exception of catching one other pro about halfway through the swim and having two of the lead women who started 2 minutes after me catch and pass me, I didn’t see anyone else the entire way.  Again, the end of the swim rewarded those who had technical open water skills, so I lost more time sloshing my way 50 yards from the finish in knee deep water.   I came out of the water 17th out of 24 pros, which was somewhat what I was expecting.  The depressing part was that I was about 7 min down from the leaders, and about 4:30-5 minutes down from a majority of the pack.  Welcome to the pros, newbie.

I had a decent transition and got rolling on the bike course.  I knew the bike course, and knew that with the morning wind, it would be fast going out, with a headwind coming home.  So I managed my watts carefully going out, re-passing the two female pros that had caught me in the swim and also catching two guys that had straggled in just ahead of me.  Then I was in no man’s land.  Since I didn’t have anyone to work with or anyone to even see up the road, I became best friends with my powermeter and tried to stay within myself.  Around mile 15, I reached a long stretch of road and could finally see a small group less than half a mile up the road.  At first I thought to myself, “Is that the main pack?  Could I have really been that close?”  So I gradually worked up on the group, trying to keep my power steady and my efforts smooth.  At mile 23 there is a turnaround on the course, and it was there that I realized that the group ahead of me was not the main pack, in fact THAT group was about 6 minutes ahead of me (and another 4 minutes or so behind the eventual race winner Eric Limkemann who was absolutely on fire).  Welcome to the pros, newbie.

So that was a little depressing, but nonetheless, I kept working on catching those three guys ahead of me.  This continued for many miles, and finally once I hit Carwash Hill, I was able to really close the gap and pass the riders in that small chase pack.  We played leapfrog for another 5-6 miles, and coming out of Jolly Pond, I was able to put some daylight between us.  My legs felt good the last 10 miles of the bike, even into the headwind, and I was ready to run.  I recorded my fastest ever half iron bike split, 2:13:18.  I came off the bike in 13th out of 24.

I came into T2 right behind Kevin Collington, who had apparently had some really bad luck on the bike course, getting a flat and a drafting violation.  I knew he could run, so I figured we could work together.  Unfortunately, as I started the run, I felt a cramp coming on, so I stopped for a sec, worked it out, and then eased back into things.  It was what I needed to do, but Collington was long gone.   I got into a rhythm and started reeling off miles in the high 5:30’s and low 5:40’s.  At the first turnaround at mile 2.5, I realized I was WAY behind that pack, and running 5:30 miles probably wouldn’t put me up into the mix by the end.  “What?  You mean those pros can swim super fast, bike super fast, AND run decently well?  They don’t have a weakness?”  Welcome to the pros, newbie.

I did what I could, continued my pace, and was catching the guys ahead of me, just not fast enough.  Finally in the last 2 miles I passed 10th place and held it through to the end.  I ran ok for me, with a 1:15:33, an effort that was solid, but I know I have more in the tank.  Finished the race in 10th out of 24.

Finish time:  4:05:33, my second-fastest time at the distance.

 

Post-race thoughts:

1.  First of all, I have to thank everyone who made an effort to have this race here.  Charlie, Eric, and Jay and Rev3, as well as all of the volunteers, police/fire/lifeguards.  I am so thankful to have such a great race here in Williamsburg, and I sincerely hope it stays for a long, long time.

2.  The conditions for this race did not play to my strengths, and it really magnified my weaknesses, and I was still able to finish in the top 10.  I did the best I could with what I had on the day, and I am happy about that.  The guys ahead of me raced their hearts out, and they deserve a huge congrats for great races.

3.  I need to continue working on my swimming.  When I first got into triathlon, I could barely swim at all.  Then I got proficient enough to be successful in amateur races.  Now in the pro division, I feel like I can’t swim again.  I have so far to go in that regard.

4.  Going along with #3, I can’t rely on my bike/run like I have in the past.  The guys ahead of me did not come back.  I had a couple guys that blew up, but those with solid races stayed out ahead of me the entire way.  Even with one of my best bikes and the second-fastest run split on the day, I didn’t make a very big dent into the main group.

5.  I’m so thankful that I became a pro this year.  Was it challenging?  Yes.  Did I pretty much get schooled by guys who are far superior triathletes than I am?  Yes.  That is what I wanted out of this change.  I knew it would be tough, and I knew I would face new problems to solve.  I know some concrete things I can work on, and I will work on those things.  And when I do, I will be a better racer, and ultimately a better triathlete.  I have to face the reality that I have to work my way back up the ladder again, and it’s going to take a lot of hard work.  And I can do it.

6.  The people and companies that help me be the person and racer I am deserve a huge shout out:  Tori, Cassidy and my family, Team Snapple, CORE Fitness, 3Sports, Xterra Wetsuits, Mizuno, and Louis Garneau.

Rev3 Williamsbuh Finish
At the finish with Kate, Tori, and Cassidy
Rev3 Williamsburg Podium
Top 10 Awards Ceremony

Run the D.O.G. 5k

I purposefully left the months of April and May void of any race commitments, as my daughter Cassidy was due to be born mid-April.

Family, first.  Always.

On April 20th, Colonial Sports and the Colonial Road Runners collaborated to put on a fantastic race called Run the D.O.G., DOG standing for Duke of Gloucester, which is the main historic road in Colonial Williamsburg.  It is closed to vehicular traffic year-round, but is widely used for walking, running, horse-carriage tours, cycling, etc.  It’s about 3/4 of a mile long, and it absolutely wonderful.  The 5k winds through the campus of The College of William and Mary before running parallel to DOG Street, and then eventually turning onto it and running down its length.  The great thing about this race is that the organizers offer prize money to the top three finishers, so the race draws a fast crowd.

Having been somewhat stressed about the birth of my baby girl and spending time and energy preparing the house and myself for the inevitable bundle of joy, I knew that I certainly was not in shape to rival my time on this course from 2011 (15:18), but was hoping for something respectable in the 15:45-16:00 range.

The race started out fast, with about 15 guys sprinting off the line to get position.  So for the first half mile I was thrown back into a pack of about 5 guys with another 5 or so out ahead of me.  The one thing I did not want to do in this race was go out too fast and blow the last half mile.  So I raced patiently and conservatively, and came through the mile right at 5:00 with 3 other guys.  By that time, there were two definite leaders, who had probably came through the mile in the 4:45-4:50 range, and unless something dramatic happened, I was in a dogfight for 3rd place.

With no hills and the knowledge that as a long course triathlete I lacked a great deal of closing speed, I knew that to give myself a chance, I needed to push the pace sooner than later.  So at about the halfway point, I made a surge to test the waters.  Out of the three guys who were with me, two responded.  About a minute later I went again.  This time the footsteps of my competitors faded slowly.  This was it, I just needed to hold it together.

My finishing time was 15:36, stronger than I anticipated, and I finished third, so I earned my dinner that night!

TRI-MANIA Team Challenge

TRI-MANIA Team Challenge

 

Team Snapple returned in full force to defend its overall title in the TRI-MAINIA team challenge.  There was a huge turnout from members of the Snapple National Team, Snapple DC Tri Team, and Snapple Club Teams.  I’m going to write about my experiences with the teams I was a part of, but before I start, I want to congratulate all Snappletes on a job well done.

 

The Running Company Campus Dash 5k

 

The day started off with a challenging run across Georgetown Prep’s golf course.  Matias, Andy and several of the Rip It Events competitors took the race out hard from the start, and I settled in and gradually moved up towards the pointy end of the race.  After two laps around the track, the course hit the grass.  Did I mention I wore spikes?  For the first time since college!  Around a mile into the course there was a long, steep climb, and one of the Rip It runners blasted up it.  I took a more cautious approach uphill, but when I reached the top, I decided to hit the gas and make the race.  The gap opened up, I found a smooth rhythm, and I maintained it.  Upon finishing, I turned around to see Snapple teammates Matias and Andy rolling in like they owned the place in 2nd and 3rd.  Once Jenny sped through, we knew we had opened up a decent lead in the team event.  Great start to the day!

 

TRI-MANIA 5k Warm Up
Previewing the course
TRI-MANIA leading the way 5k
Team Snapple leading the way
TRI-MANIA 5k 1 mile
Go Time!
TRI-MANIA 5k
Can’t remember what I was more excited about at this point: winning the race, Snapple going 1-2-3, or knowing that I was going to make it 5k in spikes without my calves falling off.

 

The Bonzai Relay Team Swim Challenge

It was my first open swim race since summer swim team in high school, and I could feel that 14 year hiatus as I practiced some block starts.  As the “A” team absolutely smashed the 4x300yd relay, Mindy, Joe, Katie, and I had a hard fought battle to finish on the podium.  Mindy led off strong, I took the second leg with my main goals of:

1.  Not losing my goggles as I jumped off the blocks

2. Finishing within 5 seconds of my seed time of 3:25

I ended up swimming a 3:21, which I was happy with, and Joe and Katie closed really well and netted our team a 3rd place finish overall.

 

Feeling more and more like a fish.
Feeling more and more like a fish.

The Bonzai 10k Computrainer TT

I’ll have to say that I think there is truly a learning curve when it comes to racing on the computrainer.  On power tests, I’m confident that I can find a gear and cadence and just stick it on my fluid trainer.  When riding outside I can anticipate when gear changes are necessary, so I can keep a relatively similar tension on the pedals through the test.  This was different.  I could see a basic outline of the course, but the small undulations took me out of my “uncomfort” zone enough where I couldn’t quite get to a place where I could keep consistent power.

Having said that, I had an absolute blast.  I loved riding the Computrainer, and I know that it must be a powerful training tool.

Matias, Katie, Lucas and I teamed up for this event, and Lucas jumped out to an early lead in the first minute.  I’d say for the next 10 minutes I spent about 75% of my focus on my Garmin and 25% on the Computrainer screen tracking my overall progress.  I stayed about 5-10 seconds behind Lucas throughout, with Matias charging within earshot.  Lucas was riding super, and with a mile to go I put it all out there trying to make up the gap.  About a minute later I received a message “Bridge to Engine Room — We need more power!”.  Unfortunately I was all in, and that was that.  I stopped the clock at 15:01, sandwiched between Lucas who won the heat in 14:50, and Matias who kept the pressure on and ended at 15:15.  Katie sealed our overall title finishing in 16:55.

 

Doing work.
Doing work.

It turned out to be an extremely close battle between Snapple and Rip It, as we won the team title by a scant 25 seconds after almost two and a half hours of racing.  Never take anything for granted!

 

Results:  http://www.tri-mania.com/Assets/Sun+Multisports+Digital+Assets/Team+Challenge+DC+Overall+Results.pdf

 

2013 Colonial Half Marathon

Colonial Half Marathon

Today I was a slave to my schedule.  Today I ignored the signals my body was sending me and raced even though I had been sick with a cold all week long.  Today a valuable lesson was learned.

At some point it becomes more about the process and the determination to get to that finish line and less and less about the time it takes to do so.  A very memorable example of this point was during the 2007 Ironman World Championships.  Professional triathlete Rutger Beke just didn’t have it on the day and walked the entire marathon of the race, finishing amongst soccer moms and bucket listers, some 3 hours slower than his predicted finishing time.  I believe he was quoted as saying that he had too much respect for the age groupers to quit just because he wasn’t having a great day.

After my race this afternoon, I have a much better understanding of that different side of racing.  A race where you have to prove to yourself that you can make it to the finish and complete what you set out to do, no matter the obstacles that are put in your way.  A race where you pass volunteers and their “Great job!” and “You look awesome!” take on a completely different meaning (because you know they’re lying to you, even if they don’t know it).  A race where you know you won’t be rewarded with prize money, a personal record, or admiration from your fiercest competitors, but simply with the knowledge that you persisted under harsh conditions for over an hour and by the end you won’t have anything to show for it but your memories of how tough you were to gut it out.

So I guess I know how Rutger felt.  It definitely ran threw my mind several times to throw in the towel.  That would have been the easy way out.  Once you DNF, then it is too easy to DNF when the little things go wrong.  And let’s be honest, no race is ever perfect.  There is always something that happens unexpectedly, always a challenge that presents itself that you have to overcome.  The true mettle of a racer is dealing with those challenges, limiting the negative impact they have on the outcome of the race, and moving forward.

I did what I could do today.  I held a slower average pace today in the race than in every single one of my long runs leading up to the race.  I was running slower during the last half of this race than my slowest miles in the Ironman World Championships marathon (which was not a brisk 55 deg, but a scorching 90 after swimming and cycling).  So the time doesn’t mean a thing to me.  In fact, I probably won’t ever look at my official time.  Honestly it doesn’t matter.  What matters is that I didn’t give up and I did the best I could given the circumstances.

I have been fortunate over the past 5 years to be incredibly consistent with my racing.  I have taken pride that I can be counted upon to put out a respectable finish.  Ironically, the first race I complete as a member of a team is anything but.

I have to remember that just because I failed once, doesn’t mean that I am a different person or racer.  Not reaching my pre-race goal doesn’t mean I’m not fit or mentally tough.

I’ll be back!

Ironman World Championships 2012 Race Report

Kona 2012 Race Report

 

Ever since my 2009 effort at the Ironman World Championships, I have felt like there was some unfinished business that needed to be tended to.  I desperately wanted to place in my age group and earn a spot in the top 10 for all amateurs.  My physical fitness did not match my ambition, and over the past three years, one of my main sporting goals has been to come back and accomplish what I could not initially.

 

Based on my 2009 experience, I knew the biggest thing that I needed to improve was my cycling.  It is demoralizing for even the best runner to have to overcome 300 places in the run.  I incorporated more intensity into my weekly rides, especially in my long rides.  I purchased a new, more aerodynamic frame, I went to bike fit specialist Dave Luscan to help get my position as efficient as possible, and I incorporated more structured indoor trainer rides into my weekly program.    The hope was that I would not necessarily be the fastest cyclist out on the Queen K, but I would be within reach and ready to run like an animal once I got off the bike.

 

Katie Thomas, a super fast triathlete from Winchester, VA, was racing her third Hawaii Ironman.  I was very fortunate to have a friend racing, and we went into the ocean together and waited for the cannon.  With so many people in the water, and with such a monumental task in front of you, it is comforting to have a friend there with you before it gets going.

 

Swim  1:00:02

 

Oddly enough, the cannon was malfunctioning, so with a less climactic “go go go!” from Rick Reilly, everyone was off.  Of course the first few moments of the swim were hectic, but fortunately for me, they were not nearly as harrowing as what I remembered from my first trip.  I was able to find some space almost instantly and get into a rhythm.  There was some swell in the ocean, and it seemed like it took forever to get to the turnaround boat.  I would move from one pack to another, and almost every time, I would hook up with the back of the pack, and the effort would be way too easy.  I knew that my overall time would not be super, as I was catching groups of swimmers that I could easily break off from and bridge to the next group.  With about half a mile to go, I sighted up to a group about 50 meters in the distance, and I decided to put my head down and close the gap.  I had one other guy to help me in this task, and before we knew it, we were on them.  I worked through about half of the group before we reached the end of the swim and I got on my land legs.  Swim was a bit slower than I was hoping for/expecting, but all in all, I was in ok position.

 

Bike  5:08:42

The bike in Kona is really unlike anything you can try to recreate in Virginia.  The mix of hills, heat, and wind is unique and presents an extremely challenging ride.  I was aiming to ride the first 35 miles with an average 255 watts, then increase to 270-275 on the climb up to Hawi before descending and spinning out going down the climb.  Then I was going to get back on the 255 watt rhythm and finish out.  The first 30 miles out of town was fast with a tailwind, but even though I was just over my goal watts, I was still getting passed by a ton of cyclists.  There is a steady downhill right before the start to the climb, and it just so happened the wind was directly behind us going downhill.  I reached a new personal record for speed on my TT bike, maxing out of my gears and reaching 52 mph.  Scared the you know what out of me.  Props to the cyclists who can go even faster down mountains!

 

However, once the climb started, the tailwind became a thing of the past.  For more than half the climb the winds were something fierce.  I have never been in anyting like it.  It felt like I was riding my bike through a tornado.  Apparently the weather said there were gusts of 35-40 mph, and guys were just sailing across the road, succombing to the pressure of the intense crosswinds.  I ended up averaging 295 watts for 15 minutes in this section, and I averaged 14 mph.  It was a little rough.  Luckily when we turned around, the wind was almost completely at our backs, so the descent was not too sketchy.  I still felt really good, and I was now passing many of the cyclists who had gone out way too fast in the first 40 miles.  Confidence was up, body felt good, everything was going great.

 

Then I got my first ever penalty.  A rider passed me going down the climb, and it is my responsibility to drop back four bike lengths after being passed.  So once the rider overtook me, I stopped pedaling and sat up, got a bottle to drink and stretched out for a bit.  Next thing I know, a motorcycle pulls up to me and the course marshall tells me it took me too long to fall back to the legal distance, so I got a red card and had to stop at the penalty tent for 4:00.  While I agree it was a fairly applied penalty, I do think it’s silly that in order to not break the drafting rule, I would have had to apply my brakes.  Lesson learned, I guess.  As it turned out, I was able to use the penalty effectively, stocking up on fluid at an aid station right before the tent, drinking two bottles of fluid and stretching while I was in there.  Once my time was up, I was feeling refreshed and ready to go.  For the remainder of the ride, I stuck to my race plan, averaged right at 255 watts, and finished the bike feeling strong, ready to start running.

 

Run  2:58:28

 

 

After a swim that I felt was a bit lackluster and a bike that saw me on the receiving end of my first penalty, my competitive spirit was tinkering on the edge.  It’s a bit intimidating when you have high goals for yourself, and with only the run portion left, you have over 140 people in front of you.  Fortunately, there are 26 miles to run, so there was plenty of time to get over feeling sorry for myself and move on to reeling people in.

 

Usually the first few miles of an Ironman feel downright miserable, and I can loosen up and get into a rhythm after 10-15 minutes.  This time around, I felt great pretty much out of transition.  My first mile was 6:22 followed by a 6:08.  I decided I’d rather not walk the last 10 miles, so the next 3 were done at a more manageable 19:56, followed by 3 more at 19:44.  It was certainly encouaging to be passing so many athletes who were struggling in the heat.

When I got to Palani, I braced myself for what was to come – a long stretch of hot, desolate road with few spectators.  Surprisingly when I got up there, there was a nice breeze coming off the ocean that I hadn’t felt down on Ali’i Drive.

 

Around mile 13 I started cramping up a bit, and as I was running and working out a side stitch with my right arm, a competitor who I was passing offered me two salt tabs.  Though he spoke limited English, he could obviously tell through my body language that I was hurting.  I thought it was a great show of sportsmanship, and I wish I could have talked to him after the race.

 

After about a mile, the cramps subsided, and I got back to it and continued to gain time on the field in front of me.  At the turnaround at the Energy Lab, I counted that I was the 18th amateur, so I knew I was close!  I still felt good and continued running steady and as effortlessly as I could.  Back up on the Queen K, I had moved to 15th with a couple guys in the distance.  So at mile 23, I decided to commit to the end, and I changed my cadence and started a long kick to Ali’i Drive.  I actually felt great after doing this.  I felt strong, and I started really catching guys in front of me.  I was making up huge time, and by the time I hit the top of Palani, I was 10th amateur with 9th in sight.  I caught him at the bottom, put in a huge surge to make sure he wouldn’t get any crazy ideas of coming with me, and then I carried it all the way to the end.

 

 

I am very pleased with my race, but my one regret is that I didn’t start racing to the finish earlier.  I have seen tremendous progression in my IM runs.  In my first in 2007, I bonked around mile 17 and walked/jogged to the end.  In 2008, I ran the entire way but slowed considerably in the last third.  In 2009 in Kona, I had a nice race where I was able to run without slowing in the last 10k.  This year in Texas, I PR’d and averaged sub 7:00/mile for the marathon.  My recent race in Kona was the first IM run where I have maintained sub 7:00/mi pace, then was able to race in the last 10k.  I finished strong and knew I had left something out on the course.  I know now that I should have gone at least 3 or 4 miles earlier.  So that is disappointing, but I know I can do it now, and next time out, I’ll have the confidence to go earlier, knowing I won’t blow up.

 

I finished 38th overall in 9:12:38.  I placed 3rd in the 30-34 age group, and I was the 9th amatuer overall.  So when all was said and done, I accomplished the goals I had for myself.  I no longer feel that I have unfinished business on the Big Island, and I am ready to move on to some new challenges.  I will apply to race as a professional triathlete in 2013, and I will hopefully continue to progress and grow as an athlete, a teacher and a husband with this new opportunity.

 

Big thanks to my wife Tori, my parents, 3Sports, CORE Fitness, First Endurance, Richmond Multisports, SetUp Events-VTS, Bikes Unlimited, Dan Ballin, the swim group at the JCC Rec center, Richmond Velosport, and all of my friends and family who continue to support my athletic journey.

2012 Ironman Texas

On Saturday, May 19th, I participated in and Ironman Triathlon in The Woodlands, Texas.  The triathlon consisted of a 2.4 mile swim followed by a 112 mile bike ride and a 26.2 mile run.  This was my 4th Ironman Triathlon, and my goals going into the race were to win my age group and to finish the race in under nine hours.

 

 

Swim 56:49

 

My plan for the swim was to get up in the first row or two, put myself in a good position after half a mile or so, and then find a small group to work with for the remainder of the swim.  With 2200 athletes starting at the same time, you expect to get pushed around a bit.  When the cannon went off, I made it out of the chaos well, with very little contact, but I couldn’t quite find a solid group to work with until I hit the buoy at about a mile into the swim.  Here I was passed by two swimmers who were absolutely rolling.  So I told myself that I would try to stick with them as long as I could comfortably.  It actually turned out perfect for me, as they were moving fast enough where if I lost focus for more than a couple of strokes, I would lose their feet and the subsequent draft they were providing for me.  So several times I had to put out a decent effort to gain back up to them.  By this time there were very few swimmers around us, so I knew I was having a good swim.  When I got out, I was pleasantly surprised to see a big 56 on the clock.  I was thinking a 58 minute non-wetsuit swim would have been great for me.  I was extremely happy that I raced the swim intelligently and made good decisions that led me to a time that was probably a couple of minutes faster than I could have swam on my own.

 

Transition 1

The changing tent was not too busy, so that was definitely a perk.  The volunteers are absolutely fantastic in Ironman races.  After forgetting to put on sunscreen in Kona in 2009, I made sure to spend a little time getting sunscreen before I headed out on my bike.

 

Bike 4:48:43

 

This may shed some light on my ineptness as a bike geek (hey I just like to ride my bike), but I knew that in the morning that when I was getting my bike all set that I couldn’t calibrate my power meter.  There were too many other signals, and my Garmin couldn’t isolate just mine.  So I figured I would calibrate once I headed out on the bike course.  As I mounted my bike and got settled, I tried twice to calibrate the power meter, but both times calibration failed.  So instead of continuing to mess around with it, I decided to just ride old school and forego power feedback.  I felt really smooth on the way out, and with a nice tailwind I was averaging just over 24.5 mph for the first 25 miles of the course.  Fortunately for me, the bike course was eerily similar to riding on two “staple” loops back in Williamsburg.  So I felt right at home, powering away on the small rollers and long, sweeping flatlands.  Around mile 40, I entered Sam Houston National Park, which provided ample shade and some nice forest scenery for about eight miles.  The roads were narrow and twisting, and it was a blast flying through them with that constant tailwind.  I would say that over the first 45 miles there were no real challenges that presented themselves to me.  My nutrition was spot on, I was staying cool, I was keeping a steady cadence, and I was passing those faster swimmers steadily.  It was about at mile 45 that the bike course entered Grimes County.  For the first time, I had to pay attention to the road surface and monitor my efforts on a couple decent climbs.  There was a fair amount of chip seal, which all in all isn’t the worst thing in the world, but the roads were strewn with pothole patches and cracks, and I had to stay mentally alert.  At one point it became clearly evident that I was racing in Texas, as I passed a man standing in the middle of the road creating a barrier between the right side of the lane and a rattlesnake that was chilling out in the middle of the road.

This was also the time where there were fewer and fewer riders up the road to chase down.  I started passing many of the female professionals who had started 10 minutes before me, and even a couple of the male professionals.  At this point, I knew I had to be close to the lead of the amateur race.

I was able to catch up to Robbie Wade, a friend racing in the pro division right around mile 50, and we traded the lead several times over the next 50 miles.  With very few people out on the course, it was very helpful to have someone else of similar ability helping keep the pace honest (especially with no reliable power readings).  We continued to pass other riders up the road every five or six miles, and to my surprise, just about all of them were in my age group.  So even at mile 80 or 90, I was still very unsure about my age group position in the race.

The stretch of road from mile 70 to mile 90 was pretty brutal.  No shade, a decently stiff headwind, and I was still far enough away from the end of the bike that I wasn’t quite getting excited about starting the run yet.  Instead of focusing on negativity during those miles, I tried to focus on those things that I could control.  I kept taking in fluid and stayed right on my nutrition plan.  I got out of the saddle when I could and stretched my legs.  I talked to God.  Once I turned the corner and gained a little cover from the headwind, my legs came around again, and I started feeling much better overall.  Robbie Wade was still within 20 seconds of me, and my average speed hadn’t fallen terribly, so I knew I would be coming off the bike with a new PR assuming I could maintain my effort for the last hour.

The next turning point in the race came around mile 95.  This was the first time I had been passed by a rider all day.  Patrick Schuster, last year’s overall amateur winner at this race, came through and was looking smooth.  Immediately I recognized him, and having done my homework I knew that his strengths were the bike and run.  If I wanted a chance to win the race I needed to stay with him through the end of the bike.  So for the next 10 miles, Wade, Schuster and I traded pacing duties (all legally).  I was able to share a couple of words with him, as he was wondering if there were any other age groupers up ahead as well.  It seemed that both of us were in the dark.

The last part of the course winded through some of the Woodlands neighborhoods, so the crowd support really picked up and helped get the riders through the last five miles.  Schuster and I finished within 10 seconds of one another and entered T2 ready to battle.  My bike time was about 11 minutes faster than my fastest IM bike split, which is a super result that I am very pleased with.  I knew three years ago that I needed to work on my bike, and this showed great progress.

 

Transition 2

Initially my legs felt a bit rough coming off the bike.  My right toe had swollen a little bit in the heat, and had been aggravated by my cycling shoe, so it was a bit tender.  It has happened before in summer training, so I knew I could push through it and run ok.  Other than that, the only other feature I can remember about T2 is that I found out for the first time that we were the first and second amateurs coming in from the bike.  It was on.

 

Run 3:00:29

 

Even though Schuster entered T2 before me, I exited about 10 seconds before he did.  This actually was really crucial for me as it turned out.  I had a tough decision to make.  Do I wait for him to catch up and run with him to help make the first lap or two of the run a bit easier mentally, or do I maintain my own pace and force him to catch up with me?  I decided to find my own pace and go.  If he caught me, then that would be an extra effort he would have to make.  Honestly, the first two miles did not feel good at all.  I was tight from the ride, my right toe was sore, and it was getting hot out.  Very hot.   The run provided a nice mix of shaded trails and open roads, and the open roads were punishing.  The sun was just merciless on those stretches.  So for the first two miles, I tried the sponges and water, but the relief from those cooling sources lasted about five seconds after I passed the aid station.  So starting at mile three, I started pouring ice into my kit and that was much more helpful.  My first mile was 6:38, then 6:49, and 6:46.  I was happy at this pace, and I was staying relaxed and smooth.  The next couple of miles were 6:52, 6:35, 6:42, 6:44.  At the end of each loop there was a nice long out and back, where I was able to get a time gap between me and Schuster.  After the first lap I had 1:10 on him.  So that was comforting that even though I was running smooth and relaxed I was still able to get some breathing room on him.  I stayed pretty consistent through the second lap at 6:50 pace.  I started harboring thoughts that achieving my goals were a realistic possibility at this point.  Even though I didn’t feel stellar, I was receiving positive feedback from people all over the course telling me I looked good and strong.  I guess I have a good poker face!  The second loop was a bit of a blur, I just kept talking to myself between aid stations, and during the aid stations I took as much ice/sponges/Coke/water as I could.  Then I would go back to talking to myself.

At the same turnaround I now had 2:30 on Schuster.

Towards the end of the second loop I started feeling some spasms in my calves.  I wasn’t sure if they were cramp-like spasms, so I started making a better effort of getting in salt.  I dropped off of Coke at the aid stations and focused on getting Perform as much as I could.  I also knew my special needs bag had a flask of EFS drink and a flask of EFS Liquid Shot, which has a massive amount of electrolytes, so I was really looking forward to making it to mile 19 to pick that up.

There’s really no way of getting around it:  the third lap was hell.  I was stuck in my own personal purgatory for about an hour, just praying that the miles would somehow go by faster than they had on the previous two laps.  Running from the front in an Ironman was something I had never experienced before, and it was hard to convince myself that the guys behind me may have been suffering just as much as I was.  The calf twitching was still there from time to time, but the electrolytes seemed to be helping with their frequency.  My overall pace slowed during this lap, but that was mainly due to the fact that I was stopping a bit more at each aid station to make sure that I was keeping cool and hydrated.  I figured at that point, losing an extra 10-15 seconds every mile would be well worth it if I could keep running 6:50-7:00 miles between them.  It seemed much better than blowing up and losing what I had built up.  It was also easier for me mentally to run for a mile and then treat myself to some glorious ice, Coke, and water.  It was like Christmas came six times that lap!

I remember quite a bit from the last mile, primarily because I was re-passed by Caitlin Snow, the 2nd overall female.  I had passed her way back around mile 40 or 45 of the bike ride, and finally she had caught me at mile 25+ on the marathon.  She was absolutely flying.  Having not seen Schuster by the turnaround, I knew I had the amateur title wrapped up.  I also knew I had a sub 9-hour Ironman wrapped up by quite a bit.  So for the last quarter mile, I enjoyed myself, gave a couple high fives to spectators, put a smile on my face, and soaked it in.  I saw my good friend Nick Mathews right at the finish, gave him a huge high five, then crossed the line in a massive 21 minute PR, 8:51:45.  Top amateur, 1st age group 30-34, fastest amateur marathon of the day, and a slot to the Ironman World Championships in Kona, Hawaii.  Couldn’t have been happier.

 

Post-race

I was pretty smashed after this race.  I got a post-race massage and hobbled back to my hotel room. I think I was able to go deeper in this Ironman than in any previously.  Hopefully I’ll be able to take that mental strength and take it to Hawaii in October!

 

Thank you to 3Sports, CORE Fitness, First Endurance, Tori, my family, and all of my friends and training partners for their constant support.

2008 Ironman Arizona

For those of you that have followed my season closely, you know that
it hasn’t been the most productive year.  First it was a crash in the
USAT Duathlon Nationals where I sprained my right thumb and had to
wear a hard cast for 2 and a half weeks.  Then it was a severely
sprained right ankle during a pickup basketball game (read: dumb) that
effectively ended anything I had planned for the Summer and early
Fall.  I was to do no swimming, cycling, or running for 4 weeks, and
then even after I could start swimming and cycling on an indoor
trainer, it was another 6 weeks until I could start running again.
So that put me at the beginning of September with 11 weeks til IM AZ
and no running base over the past 2 and a half months.  There were
many days in that time span that I was pretty down on myself, just
laying down all day with my foot propped up, completing Sudoku puzzles
and sleeping, knowing that my fellow competitors were out and about,
building up their base, improving their technique, getting race
experience.

So once my physical therapist gave me the green light to start
running, I made sure that everything I did from waking up til going to
bed helped me to get to the starting line on IM AZ ready to go.  I
normally don’t watch what I eat too much, but over the past 11 weeks,
I cut out refined sugars and ate organic and fresh foods.  I started
getting massage therapy once per week, and I did a much better job of
listening to my body when it needed time to rest.

Somehow I did manage to survive the gauntlet of training from
basically nothing to IM form in 11 weeks.  I traveled with my friends
Brad Smith and Connie Glueck, who were also racing and did all the
normal pre-race check-ins.

Really my only goal for this race was to get a Kona slot.  Pretty much
whatever that took was what I was going to try to accomplish.
Anything else would be icing on the cake.

Swim  55:31

Swim Start

This was my first mass swim start ever, so I didn’t really know what
exactly it was going to be like, but I seeded myself up in the first 3
rows, and when the race started, I got jostled for about 5:00, but
after that I was able to find some space and open up a bit.  I was
hoping to swim right about an hour, and I tried to find fast feet to
hang on to for a majority of the swim.  I found a couple on the way
out, but realized that they were a little too slow and that if I was
going to swim an hour, I needed to move up a bit more.  So I took off
solo for a bit, and at the turnaround, I really lucked out and found 2
swimmers that were absolutely flying.  So I tagged on and they took me
all the way back in.  Coming out of the water and looking at the clock
was a huge confidence booster.  I was 8th in my AG.

Bike  4:59:55
Since I had such a great swim, there weren’t too many people ahead of
me on the bike.  So I set out smooth and relaxed.  The bike course was
pretty much flat, with the exception of a 2 mile incline at the end of
the out and back loop.  The tougher part was the head wind going out,
which wasn’t horrible, but enough to be noticeable.  There were 3
loops on the bike course, and on the second loop, a guy named Chris
Ganter passed me.  I had raced him a couple times before, and I knew
he was a strong cyclist, so I increased my cadence just a bit and
stayed within range of him.  By this time we were passing lapped
riders, so I couldn’t always tell if I was moving up in the overall
standings.  I did know, however, that I was riding just about spot on
to my goal time of 5 hours flat.  The hardest part of the ride was
judging how many electrolytes I needed to take in.  It was so dry out
there that I couldn’t tell how much I was sweating.  My hamstrings
started cramping around mile 85, but once I drank some more Gatorade
and took a shot of EFS liquid those went away fairly quickly.  I came
into transition just under my goal time and 3rd in my AG.

Run 3:11:29
I was very fortunate to have finished within a minute of Ganter on the
bike.  We came out of T2 in virtually the same time, and started the
marathon right there.

Out of T2

 

Since we were acquainted with one another, and
since we were in different age groups (he is 30), we decided to work
together and try to hit 7:15 pace for the first 15 miles and then go
from there.  That didn’t work too well, as we were both running
extremely well.  Effortlessly were rolled through the first 11 miles
in just under 7:00 pace despite really trying to hit 7:10-7:15’s.
Having someone there really helped out.  Eventually those effortless
7:00 miles turned into effort-laden 7:30-7:45 miles, and by mile 20, I
was just trying to hold things together for the last 10k.  We both
know at that point that Kona was a reality.  I was now 2nd in my age
group, and down by 20:00 to the first guy (who had a ridiculously great race),
and Ganter was 3rd in his age group.  At that point, we both decided
that if one of us felt good we could go, otherwise we’d work together
to the end.  At mile 25, we made more or less of a gentleman’s
agreement to finish together since we had basically been racing
together since about mile 50 of the bike, and that’s what we did.

We pulled each other to massive IM PR’s, his was about 30 minutes, mine was 36 minutes.

Overall:  9:12:45
Place:  31st
6th Amateur
2nd Age Group

I took my Kona slot and realized a goal that I’ve had since I saw the
race on NBC back as a teenager.  It has been a long journey in 2008,
and honestly I’m very glad it’s done.  I am really looking forward to
starting fresh, giving my ankle some additional time to heal up this
winter, and starting with a new mental outlook on the season.

This race report would not have been possible without the following:
My family, who cared for me when I was hurt and supported my passions

Ben, Jennifer, Tom and everyone else at 3Sports

Sasha Digges at PEAK Physical Therapy for helping me rehabilitate, get to the starting line in one piece, and for motivating me on those “bad” days.

My roommates for respecting my 9pm bedtime.

Dr. Michael Potter for being honest with me and helping me do what was best in terms of my recovery.

Brad Smith for meeting on those late nights to swim.  Those extra sessions helped out a lot.

I missed a lot of other people, but basically if you know I did the IM, and you’re receiving this email, then you played a big part in
this result.  Thank you.

Ironman Louisville 2007

So I’ve had two days to think about my race, and encapsulate a year-long journey and a day-long experience in a couple paragraphs for your reading enjoyment. 

Louisville is a wonderful city, one of the best I’ve ever been to, and I would highly recommend this race to anyone, partly because of the city, and partly because of such a great course. 

 

I traveled across to Louisville on Friday with Matt Wolak, and we were able to split the driving and keep each other company on the 8 hour trip.  Once we got there, I was overwhelmed at how many incredibly fit people there were in one spot.  For 6 months I trained with an awesome Master’s group at the JCC rec center three times a week, ran with the Colonial Road Runners group Tuesday and Thursday mornings, and biked with the Bikes Unlimited group Wednesdays and whenever I could with the 3Sports guys up in Richmond.  Other than that I was pretty much training solo.  It’s cool to think that there are so many people that are going through this journey across the world and they’re all converging on one place at one time! 

 

A huge thank you to everyone that pushed me day in and day out and provided encouragement along the way!  Without you, this would not have been possible. 

 

Swim:  1:03:48 

The swim took place in the Ohio River, and due to stronger-than-expected currents, they had to change the course at the last minute from an up and back to a J hook.  Since the starting spot was only about 30 yards wide, they could not start everyone at once.  Instead, they implemented a time trial start (for the first time in IM history I believe), where the pros started at 6:50am, and then at 7:00am, they started the age groupers, one per second.  They said it would be first come first serve in terms of where people would start in the swim, and by the time I got to the start line at 6:15am, just about everyone was staked out in line.  So I started the race right around 7:31am and had roughly 2000 competitors strung out in the water ahead of me.  The first .8 mi. of the swim was against the current at about .4-.5 knots, so it took a while to get to the turn around, but once I turned the corner, it was all downhill from there.  I decided to swim a little bit further out into the middle of the Ohioto catch a stronger current, and every once in a while I would pass someone, but there weren’t too many people out where I was swimming.  I’m still not sure if that was the best idea, because I don’t know how much stronger the current was out there, but my finishing time was 63:48, less than 20:00 after the first swimmer, so I was REALLY excited about that split.  I figure the current helped some, but there were no wetsuits because the water temp was 85 degrees, so I figure they cancelled each other out.  I was 217th after the swim.

 

T1:  4:19

 

Not too exciting, just got my bag and my bike, and headed out.  There was close to 200 m of running with the bike from the racks to the mount line, so times for T1 were pretty slow all around.  Plus I’m an idiot when it comes to running with my bike, so I took my time so I wouldn’t spill any of my food, drink, or God forbid, fall in front of the hundreds of spectators lining the transition area.

Bike:  5:14:17

Well I had a mishap right when I tried getting on my bike.  The T1 area was muddy from the T-storm that hit the day before, and I got mud stuck up all in my cleats.  When I tried clicking in, I couldn’t so I had to dismount about 50 yards later, pick all the mud out of my shoes, and then get back on.  The course was extremely honest, with a flat 20 mile section into a slight headwind to start, then a couple decent climbs, then 2 30 mile looks of almost all rolling hills, then a 30 mile flat to downhill to finish.  I took it very easy for the first 20 miles, averaged just under 20mph.  The second (and thankfully last) mishap was a dropped chain when I got to the top of the hardest climb on the course right around 27 miles.  It took me a minute or so to get it back on, and then I was rolling again.  Did I mention I started out behind about 2000 people?  I was passing people nonstop the entire way, and it really did a good job of building my confidence.  I felt great on my Orbea.  At around mile 50 I started having stomach issues, and I realized my body was not digesting some of the solid bars I had eaten earlier on the course, so I threw the rest of those away and started taking in only gels.  That helped my stomach out a lot. 

Other than that, the bike provided me with a wonderful continuous line of competitors to hunt down and catch.  With 30 miles to go I was feeling great, so I threw the hammer down a little and finished the bike strong.  I was 55th after the bike.

 

T2:  5:08

 

Again, long ways to run with bike, and then I had to visit the restrooms.  At least I was hydrated.

 

RUN:  3:20:33

 

I was really excited about the run.  Obviously this has been my bread and butter, and I was hoping to take some good chunks of time out of the guys in front of me.  I started off so strong that I had to calm down after the first mile in 5:58.  It was starting to really get hot outside, and during that time of the day, there was little shade along 3rd Street where the run course went up and back on twice.  I coveted every little piece of shade I could run under, and at every aid station started packing ice in my hat, down my back, in my shorts, sponges everywhere, it didn’t really matter.  It was hot.  I lucked out on my first loop, as I caught up to Craig McKenzie, the second place overall.  He was already on his second loop, but he and I were able to work together from about mile 6 to mile 11.  Once he started getting closer to the finish he took off and I let him go.  I continued to run about 6-50-7:30ish pace depending on the terrain until mile 16 or 17, then I started having some problems, the biggest being that I didn’t eat nearly as much as I needed to earlier on the run.  I was still passing loads of people, but now my pace had slowed to a meager 8:30ish, and I was in a world of pain.  I caught Nina Kraft who was also on her second loop, and worked with her from about mile 17-23, but it was about mile 23 when the wheels just fell completely off, and I was reduced to a disgusting realization that I was bonking and there wasn’t a whole lot I could do about it but try to keep moving from aid station to aid station.  So Nina took off en route to finishing second overall and I started walk jogging the rest of the way in. 

It was about this time that a couple of the aid stations ran out of ice, and I don’t think I’ve ever been so upset at people I didn’t even know.  Besides the fast that the last 5k of my run seemed infinitely harder than the previous 137 miles of the race, I persevered and finally made it to 4th street live, which was an awesome finishing area.  I don’t think I’ve ever been happier to have accomplished something in my entire life.  I know why people do these IM races every year, because that last 100 yards is unbelievable.

I finished and was ok enough where I was able to stagger over to the side where my parents were waiting for me.  Because of the TT start I wasn’t quite sure how I had done, even though I knew I had passed just about the entire field throughout the course of the day.

As it turned out, I finished in 25th place, the 8th amateur and 2nd in my age group with a finishing time of 9:48:03.  I earned a slot for the 2007 Kona IM, but decided to let my slot rolldown to the 3rd place finisher for a couple reasons.  First, I am excited to compete in my hometown in the World Long Course Duathlon Championships in October.  Secondly, I’m not sure if I can recover and put forth another great IM in 6 weeks.  I certainly want to race in Kona, but I need to schedule my races so that I can qualify and then peak to have my best race inHawaii.  I just didn’t think that would be possible after how my race went on Sunday. 

 

I was extremely happy with how the day went for my first IM, and now I have a gauge for future races.  I know what things I need to do differently and I know things that worked well for me.  Obviously if I had eaten more on the bike and the beginning of the run, I wouldn’t have bonked quite so hard and may have saved myself upwards of 15-20:00 on my run split.  I also was too conservative on the bike I think, and I took the run out too hard in the first 4 miles, which may have cost me several minutes in the last couple miles. 

 

Sorry for the mass email, but I figured this would be the best way to put this out.  If you are receiving this, then it’s pretty much my way of saying thank you for everything you’ve done for me over the past year (or 2 or 3 or more) to get me to the point I’m at right now.  I’m looking forward to representing the USAwell in Richmondon October 22nd.