Thursday, May 7, 2015

Wildflower Triathlon Festival: A Race Like None Other

This is just a small part of the awesome festival that goes on
during Wildflower. It's an experience like no other race.
Several years ago I made a list of races that I wanted to do at some point in my life. After everything I had read about Wildflower and after learning so much of the history of triathlon, I knew this was a must do event. It has been around since before I was born and is one of the oldest triathlons in the country. It has launched careers with breakthrough performances by many now world class triathletes. It is known as an extremely challenging course that will test your legs on the the bike and run courses. And it is known as one amazing weekend where thousands of people converge in the middle of nowhere in California for this Woodstock-like event.

Tri-California puts on an amazing event. Wildflower certainly lives up to the hype and their employees are all wonderful. The amount of work they put into making sure this is a great experience for everyone is second to none. For the professional field nothing is left unattended to. They help take care of lodging and food for the entire weekend. They promote the athletes and given them plenty of opportunities to represent their sponsors. Their communication leading up to and throughout the event is excellent and greatly appreciated. I can't speak highly enough about their professionalism and courtesy, and I would absolutely say that this is a must do event for any long course triathlete. It is something you have to experience for yourself.

The travel for the race was a long day. We flew from Rochester to San Jose Thursday night after work. We got into San Jose pretty late, so we stayed there and saved the more than two hour drive for Friday morning. We arrived down to the park just before noon on Friday. I unpacked my bike and then took it for a spin. After watching the Southwest baggage handlers throw it around on the tarmac as they loaded the plane I was fortunate to escape with only a broken rear draft box and not a cracked frame or wheel, but that's a story for another time. I rode for about an hour, which felt good after a long day of traveling and sitting in uncomfortable airplane seats. Then I did the normal pre-race registration stuff and went to the athlete meeting. That all wrapped up a little after 5pm, so we headed for dinner and then to our hotel in Paso Robles, which was about half an hour from the race site. Many athletes camp out at Wildflower, and Tri-California offers to put professional athletes up in home-stays or cabins, but since my dad, Jen, and Becky were all there we opted for the comfort of a hotel a little further away.

Race morning we made the drive down to the park without any issues. Getting in to the park was much easier and quicker than we planned for, so we ended up being a little bit early, which was fine by me. I'd rather be early and have time to carefully check everything over than to feel rushed and use nervous energy hurrying around.

Because the area has experienced such a horrible drought, the format of the race has had to be slightly modified. The lake is completely dried up where the swim normally is, so they had to move the swim down to where there is still some remaining water, which is a little over two miles from transition. We got shuttled down to the start after setting up transition. After the swim you then have to run the 2.2 miles from the lake to transition before heading out on your bike. Then you finish with a 10.9 mile run and your two runs are added together for your run split. It is unique but they did a great job of making it work. As you exit the water there is a second transition area set up where you can place a pair of running shoes to have for the first run, which goes through the dried up lake bed. It was crazy to think as we ran through there that there should be water 30 feet above our heads. Hopefully the area gets the rain it needs to restore the lake and end the drought for everyone who lives there. It looks like a wildfire waiting to happen.

The actual race:

Wildflower. The One and Only... 
The race was an 8am start, so a little later than most races. The weather was perfect with light winds, a clear sky, and temperatures starting around 60F. It warmed up throughout the day, but it probably topped out at about 80F. I got in the water for a warm up and then lined up with the other professional men. I tried to put myself right in the middle of the pack so I would have a good opportunity to find some feet to draft on and have a better swim. Unfortunately, I swam like garbage again. It was so frustrating to come out of the water and see that I was on 30 minutes again. I have been stuck there for an entire year, despite having significantly better swims in the pool lately. I just can't seem to crack that barrier and mentally it is taking its toll on me. Obviously I need to make adjustments, but I just don't know what those are right now. Hopefully I can find some answers sooner than later.

The uphill run out of the water. OUCH!
Coming out of the water you had to run up a pretty steep boat launch that really jacked up your heart rate. I got my wetsuit off and put my running shoes on for the run to the other transition. It was mainly through dirt trails where the lake bed was. I beat one professional male out of the water and about three quarters of a mile into the run he came flying by me like I was standing still. He turned out to be Ryan Hall's (the US Olympic marathoner) younger brother. Awesome.

So I ended up being the last professional male to head out on the bike, which is a place I've been before and am not fond of. It actually took me a while to reel anyone in, but eventually I started picking a few guys off. This bike course is no joke. There are some serious climbs and the first one comes about two miles into the ride. Patience is important. I made sure not to blow my legs up too early. There was also a really bad patch of road around a mile in where I hit a bunch of potholes, causing my front water bottle to explode out of its cage. Perfect. By mile 20 I had caught five guys and was feeling pretty good. And then the worst part of my day occurred... An official on a motorcycle pulled up next to me and told me to "stand down." I knew I was receiving a penalty, but I had no idea what for. I pulled over, stopped, and waited for him to come back to me. I asked him what the penalty was for and he told me it was for not being staggered enough as I passed the last person. Basically, I needed to be wider when I went by him than I was. I could not believe it. The pass took place as we made a right hand turn, so I thought the penalty was a bit harsh, but there was nothing I could do about it so I stood there and waited as he counted down the time until I could resume riding. As I stood there, four of the guys I had passed went back by me. It was so disheartening to have that happen and it sort of broke my spirit for the race for a while. I wanted to quit in frustration. Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, my time was served and I could resume. It was a long, straight road, so I could see a long way ahead. I could see three of the guys way out in front of me and the frustration got worse. "I should be up ahead of them," I kept telling myself angrily. After a lot of self talk I finally pushed it out of my mind and let myself accept it for what it was. I learned from my mistake and will be careful to not let that happen again.

Done with a difficult and frustrating ride.
I kept riding and re-passed each of those guys again. Around mile 40 I was in for another surprise. This is the first course ever that I have not driven ahead of time to give myself an idea of what it is like and do some recon so I know what to expect. There simply wasn't time for me to do that with the travel for this race. As I rounded a left hand bend in the road I came abruptly to a steel deck bridge. I locked up my brakes and froze in place. I haven't ridden over a steel deck bridge since my crash in October of 2012. I had flashbacks and a bit of an anxiety attack. I debated getting off my bike and walking across, but it was a pretty long bridge and walking across it with bike shoes on would have been a nightmare. Slowly, I started riding over it. I think my knuckles were white from how tightly I was gripping my handlebars. I made it over without incident. When they are dry and not icy, they really aren't that bad to ride across, but I still don't like it. Immediately after the bridge you start the climb called "Nasty Grade." It was a long climb (a little over three miles) with parts that were quite steep. After reaching the top you get to do some nice descending, but with not knowing the roads that well I held back a little more than I probably needed to. If I ever do this race again I will know that and be able to ride differently. A few more hills and it was back into transition. With the penalty I rode a 2:30:43 bike split on 286 Normalized Power. I'm definitely pleased with being able to put out those kind of watts for that long. All the riding and hard trainer sessions are clearly paying off.

After a quick transition I headed out on the run course. It was kind of nice knowing we already had a little over two miles in the bank and the run would be a bit shorter. It was a good thing, too, because this run course was brutal. Probably 60-70 percent of it was on dirt trails, and it was soft dirt trails. Parts of it were almost like running on a beach. It sucked the life out of your legs. And there were hills that were so steep up and down I think I would rather have had someone kick me in the teeth repeatedly than try to run up or down them. My average pace for the run was 6:54 per mile, which isn't great, but for this course it was respectable and I was decently pleased with it. There was one mile of the course that took me 9:02 to cover. Ouch! The course finished with a downhill section that tore my quads to shreds. It was by far the most demanding run course I have ever raced on and it is one that I will never forget, which is what Wildflower is all about.

The finishing chute was awesome.
I crossed the line in 4:36:25 and was the 23rd professional male out of 32. Not exactly where I wanted to be, but in looking at the results the penalty cost me about three spots. I might have been able to sneak up one or two more if I had known the course and didn't waste free speed in a few spots and stop at the bridge, but that's all speculation. At the end of the day, I ended where I did and that's what I have to continue to work from.

Here is a link to my Garmin file from the race: Wildflower Bike Course

All in all, Wildflower was an awesome experience. It was a bucket list race for me and the energy and atmosphere there was unlike any other race I have ever done. I would absolutely recommend it to every triathlete. It really is like the Woodstock of triathlon and will be an experience you'll always remember. Despite my frustration from another poor swim and receiving a penalty on the bike, I am glad I picked that race and got to experience it. Plus it was my first ever trip to California.

Awesome support from my family, as always.
After the race we headed back to the hotel to clean up and then out for dinner. We decided to make the drive over to the Pacific Ocean and I'm really glad we did. The coast was beautiful and is so much different than the Atlantic. We were even able to stick our feet in the (really cold) water. It was nice to spend time there watching the sun start to set with Becky, my dad, and Jen. As we were getting ready to leave we even saw a whale breaching out in the water. It came up above the surface a few times and was really awesome to see. We enjoyed a nice dinner in a quiet little restaurant in the town of Cambria and then called it a night. Sunday morning it was time to pack up and head back to New York.

A whale!

I get to marry this girl this summer!

Thursday, March 19, 2015

2015 Ironman 70.3 Puerto Rico

My first race of the 2015 season was back in Puerto Rico for the 70.3 race there. It was great to go back to the race where I earned my pro card last year to race my first professional 70.3 event. They moved the event up a month earlier on the calendar this year, so it was a pretty early season test in mid March. Having this race to look forward to helped get me through the long winter months and all the indoor training this year.

The trip down was uneventful, which was appreciated. In fact, all of the days leading up to the race were pretty low key with no overly stressful incidents. I traveled with my bike to this race, which is the first time I've flown with it, but the Scicon Triathlon travel bag was fantastic. The packing process was quick and easy and there is almost no disassembling of the bike required. I would definitely recommend looking into this bag for people who need to fly to races.

This was not a priority race for me, so going in I wondered how my body would respond. I had trained hard through Monday and had a couple harder efforts during the week, so there wasn't complete recovery. On the other hand there wasn't as much pressure from myself either because I knew I wasn't fully tapered. It was just an opportunity to test myself out, gauge where I was at from the winter training, and get some experience racing in the pro field at a 70.3 event.

In the two days before the race I went through my normal routines, checking out the swim course, running a loop of the run course, and spinning my legs on the bike to make sure it was running smoothly. This was my first opportunity to ride my new Trek Speed Concept outside, so I was really looking forward to that. Friday night I got to have dinner with Steve and Karen, my friends who I met last year, at a great restaurant in Old San Juan called Al Dente. I hadn't seen them since Ironman Cozumel last year, so it was nice to have an opportunity to catch up with them.

Race morning I went to transition to rack my bike and set up my gear. Being on the pro rack is really nice because there is a lot of space and it was really close to bike out and bike in. The little stuff like that can be nice perks. After setting everything up we walked over to the swim start, which is about a 10-15 minute walk. Once we got over there I actually warmed up! I've never done any kind of actual warm up for a race before, but I did some running and dynamic stretching this time. I definitely felt warm and ready to go when we hit the water.

We were allowed in the water about ten minutes before the race start, so I got some swimming in to loosen up my arms. I worked really hard in the pool over the winter and was motivated to have a good swim. I lined up near a big group and was hoping I could hop on the back of the group and get a good draft to help me out. It didn't work. My goggles got kicked off in the first 50 meters and then I just had a crap swim. I don't know what went wrong. I do know I was not swimming very straight, which was the first issue. I could see at big group ahead of me up until the first turn, which was at 700 meters, and they weren't that far away. After the second turn to head back I was all over the place and I ended up losing a lot of time there I think. I didn't wear my watch in the water, so I don't have the map to see what it looked like, but I'm fairly certain I swam way wide a few times. I opted to leave my watch on my bike synced up to my power meter already to avoid any issues like what happened to Cozumel last year.

They used new timing straps at this race that were disposable. They were awful. Mine came off in the water before the first turn buoy, so in less than 700 meters. Apparently about half of the pro field lost them in the water. It was kind of funny because when someone asked about them in the meeting the day before the organizers kind of came off rude about it saying "Of course we have tested them and they work great. Do you think we would use something that we didn't try out first?" Not so much...

Anyway... I came out of the water in 31:07 according to my father's watch since I didn't have mine and I lost my timing chip. Good enough to be about 20 seconds faster than last year...ugh. Fortunately, I wasn't last out of the water, so at least there's that. It's still not nearly good enough and is really frustrating because in the pool I felt like I was making good progress. I had even cracked 14 minutes in a timed 1000 yard TT the week before, which was by far the best swim I'd ever had. Clearly I need to keep working in the pool though. I can't be giving that kind of time away right off the bat. It is just too much to come back from.

When I came out of the water there was a volunteer standing nearby with extra timing chips. Apparently since so many people had lost them before me they were well prepared. I was handed a new one as I ran by and I continued the long run to T1. The new strap didn't have Velcro like the first one, so I wasn't sure how it was supposed to go on. After grabbing my bike I stopped at another volunteer and she gave me a different strap. Apparently on the new ones you had to peel off the back and then they were like a big sticker. It was a bit of a cluster, but eventually it got sorted out and I was on my way. (This year I remembered to take my swim skin off in transition rather than riding away with it still half on. That was good progress...)

Once on the bike I got pretty dialed in to the power number I was targeting. I started taking in nutrition and fluids early since I knew it was going to be a lot warmer than the temperatures I was used to. All in all it was a pretty uneventful ride for me. I was all alone for almost all of the first loop. I caught a couple guys on the way out to the first turn around. Having the turn arounds was nice because it let me see how far ahead people were and let me gauge where I was in relation to the field. On the second loop the roads got a little more crowded with age groupers, but I pretty much just stayed to the left and didn't have any issues. The biggest issue I had was at the one aid station the volunteers were handing out water bottles with no tops. They didn't have sport tops or regular tops. How is that supposed to be useful? All the water just spilled right out. It forced me to drink my second bottle of Nuun earlier than I had planned. The second time past that aid station I had to grab two bottles of Gatorade to make sure I had enough hydration to get me back all the way to transition. Fortunately it all worked out.

Coming back into the city I caught a group of three guys and rode with them into transition. No point in trying to push hard past them with only a couple of miles left to go. We cruised into T2 and I knew I had PRed the bike split. I had gone through 25 miles in about 58:40 and then through 50 miles in 1:57. I ended up with a 2:11:24 split, averaging 273 watts. My new LG Course tri suit and Kask Bambino helmet, along with my new bike of course, made for a very fast and comfortable ride. I am definitely going to enjoy racing in that gear this year. It let me focus and racing and never distracted me with discomfort.

On to the run and I had thoughts of last year. I melted on the run course last year. I was hoping to have a much better experience this time around. I remembered the course very well and had actually run almost the entire loop once on Friday, so that was helpful. I exited transition with the guys I had come off the bike with. One of them took off, one got dropped really quickly, and I ran with the other guy for a bit. We kind of went back and forth until I ended up pulling away from him. I could see another guy well up the road, so I set him as my target to try to reel him in. By the turn around I caught him, we had a brief conversation, and then he took off again. I knew I couldn't go with him, so I held my pace. At the end of the first loop I had almost caught back up to him. Then, on the way back out to the run turn around, we went back and forth a couple of times. Finally I put in a solid surge and moved well past. He must have really cracked because by the time we made the final turn I was over half a mile ahead of him. During all that though another guy came flying past both of us, so I ended up not moving forward but not moving backward either. Heading back to the finish I knew I couldn't catch anybody and there was no one closing in on me, so I just held my pace consistently to the finish line. I ran a 1:27:55, which was 23 seconds per mile fast than last year. I still have some work to do on my running, but given that run course and the heat I was pleased with it.

After crossing the finish line I got some water and met up with Becky and my dad. I was happy with my performance and had taken ten minutes off of last year's time on this course and set a new 70.3 PR, finishing in 4:15:24. There was not a ton of time to relax though, as our flight left for home at 3:45pm. I went right to transition to grab my bike and gear and we headed back to the hotel. I packed my bike back up in my case, cleaned up, and we headed for the airport. It was kind of strange to not stick around at all after the race. This is the only time this year I have to catch a flight the day of the race, so fortunately I won't have to do that again.

Thanks to Nuun to keeping me hydrated in the heat, Honey Stinger for fueling me with their delicious bars, HUUB for the extremely comfortable swim skin, for my training gear, Towpath Bike for taking care of me in Rochester and doing all my bike maintenance, and Trek for making an awesome bike. And of course thanks to my dad and Becky for traveling with me and all their support, even though it was such a quick trip without a ton of time to enjoy the beautiful island. (They both did manage to get some sun though). Time to get back to work and prepare for Wildflower!

Swim - 31:07
Bike - 2:11:24
Run - 1:27:55

Finish Time - 4:15:24

Monday, January 12, 2015

2015 Schedule

After some needed downtime to rest, recover and enjoy the holiday season, it is time to start gearing back up for the 2015 race season. I am excited about the schedule I have put together for the year. It is a good mix of races that have different purposes. Some will be meant as long, hard training days as practice for the bigger races. Others will be preparation for other races. Lastly, some will be my priority races that I really try to target and do well at.

March 15 - Ironman 70.3 Puerto Rico
This will be my first race of the season and my first 70.3 as a professional. I picked this race because I know the course from racing here last year and because it will likely have a smaller professional field due to its travel logistics, being a smaller point/prize purse race, and there being a bigger race the same day that I assume more professionals will be drawn to. The goal for this race is to test my early season base fitness, knock off the winter rust, and get a 70.3 under my belt as a professional.

April 25 - Flower City Duathlon
I crashed in spectacular fashion at this race last year and ended up coming in second. I plan to go back and reclaim the title this year in a fun, local race that I need a little redemption at. This race will also serve as a great opportunity for some speed work prep for the following weekend.

May 2 - Wildflower Long Course
I am really excited to do this race as it is a race that has been on my bucket list for a while. To have the opportunity to race it this year is awesome. It is known as a really challenging bike course, which I'm looking forward to. I won't have much outdoor biking in by this point most likely, but it will be a good early test for my legs. It is also known as a really competitive field, so it will be my first big test against a big group of solid professionals at the 70.3 distance.

June 7 - Challenge Quassy
Another course that is extremely challenging. This one brings a very tough bike and run course. My plan for this race is to train right into it and use it to gain some fitness and as a test run for my next race, which will be only two weeks later.

June 21 - Ironman 70.3 Mont Tremblant
Who wouldn't want to go back here? After racing in Tremblant last year I immediately decided that I would be going back in 2015. The venue is amazing and the course is about as good as they get. I feel like I under performed there last year as it is a course that suits me very well so I want to go back and see what I'm capable of. This is an "A-priority" race for me and I plan to be tapered, rested, and ready to go at this one.

July 19 - NYC Triathlon
A shorter race that will be a good speed work opportunity on a course with a current aided swim. Hopefully I can come out of the water not too far back since we will have that strong current with us and I can get a good workout from the threshold biking and running. Plus the race is done by 8am so I will have the rest of the day to enjoy the city.

July 26 - Ironman 70.3 Calgary
This is another race that I expect to have a smaller professional field. The points/prize money are on the smaller side and Calgary isn't really close to too much. It is another race that I have targeted to hopefully do well at because of that.

August 1 - I am getting married! Triathlon season takes a time out while I get married to an amazing girl.

August 30 - Challenge Maine
I've always heard that Maine is beautiful, so I figured that for my last weekend before returning to school in September I'd go check it out. This is a preparation race for my Ironman in a month, so I'll be using it as a solid training day.

September 27 - Ironman Chattanooga
Another current aided swim! I wish they were all like this. In all seriousness though, I am really looking forward to this race. It got great reviews after its inaugural race in 2014 and it sounds like it is a course that suits me well with rolling hills and a bike course that is actually four miles long.

November 22 - Philadelphia Marathon
After going to this race last year to cheer on my sister, we decided to both go back and run it this year. The course was great and the city seemed to really embrace the race. I've always wanted to run Boston, so I'm going to with intention of earning a qualifying time for that. It will be fun to share the course with my sister as well!

It is definitely going to be a busy year, but hopefully a fun one as well. I didn't race much in 2014 and this year I wanted to give myself a few extra chances to gain some experience in the pro field. I know I have a lot of work to do if I want to mix it up with these world class athletes, but the only way to get better is to put yourself up against them. Hopefully it will be a year of learning and growth.

Friday, December 12, 2014

2014 Ironman Cozumel

My debut professional race at Ironman Cozumel is in the books. It was a great experience, despite not quite having the swim or run I was planning to have. I finished the day as the 18th professional male and 29th overall, which considering the size of the field is a pretty good result. Here is my race recap…

On race morning I woke up at 3:30am. I had gone to bed early and slept pretty well for the first part of the night, but after 1:30am or so I was tossing and turning. The pre-race nerves were definitely in full force. I got up and had breakfast - a bagel with peanut butter, a banana, and half of a very large blueberry muffin. Then I showered to wake myself up and started to get dressed. I ran into a bit of a problem here. I had taken two options for race kits, not knowing whether I’d want to go with a one piece tri suit or with a top and shorts for easier bathroom access. I decided to go with the one piece suit I had worn all season and committed to just letting the bathroom stuff fly as I raced without stopping. However, when I put the suit on, it was entirely too loose to race in. I came into this race about ten pounds lighter than I raced at the rest of the season, and it was very evident when I got dressed. The sleeves, which are supposed to be skin tight, were loose and flopping around. I had to wear the other suit. Alright, not a big deal. Except that this tri top was also pretty loose in the arms and shoulders. There was nothing that could be done about it now, so I had to just live with it. 

I walked down from our condo to the nearest host hotel to catch a bus to transition. My timing was pretty good and I got there just before a bus was leaving, so there wasn’t much standing around. We got to transition, I got body marked with my race number, and I headed to my bike to pump the tires and prepare my nutrition. It was a fairly smooth morning with no real hiccups. The professional section of the transition area at Cozumel is great. The bikes are located right by the exit and each person gets their own individual rack with their name on it.

Since the swim was a point to point swim, we had to then catch a bus up to the swim start area. I headed to that bus and again was fortunate with my timing, getting on a bus right as it was about to leave. I got to the swim start area just after 6am. I found my family and Becky and talked to them for a bit as I put on my sunscreen and had a little pre-race snack. Then it was time to get lined up with the group and get in the water. They let us into the water only a couple of minutes before the race start, so we didn’t have a chance to warm up at all. I like to get in and swim around for five or ten minutes, but it is what it is and it’s the same for everyone.

A smile to start the day.
We lined up and at 6:40am the horn sounded and off we went. I knew I was going to be at the back end of the swim field, but I went out hard at the beginning to see if I could find some feet to draft off and maybe save myself a little time and a lot of energy. We got spread out pretty quickly, but I found myself with one or two other guys. Eventually with sighting and people taking different lines, we got spread out and I found myself all alone. As I was swimming I was waiting for the inevitable catch from the lead swim females who started only two minutes behind us. I knew it was coming, but it was still a bit demoralizing when it happened. It was a group of three girls who went by so fast I had no chance at all of jumping on their feet. When the second group came by I did manage to jump on the back of that pack for a little while, but ended up getting separate from them as well. Finally I made the one left turn on the swim course and headed to the exit. I got out and saw my watch read one hour exactly. I was disappointed as I had hoped for a better swim, but I tried not focus on it. I just needed to focus on what I could control from that point forward, not what had already happened. I grabbed my stuff, threw on my top, and ran to my bike. It was the only professional male bike still at the rack. That was probably the worst part of the day. “Oh well”, I thought. “Control what you can from this point forward.”

I hopped on my bike and started riding. I looked down at my computer and my power meter was reading around 900 watts. Something was clearly not working. I stopped pedaling and tried recalibrating as I coasted along. The same thing happened. I tried a second time. And then a third time. Now it just stopped reading anything - 0 watts. Well, it looked like I was going to be racing this off of heart rate and perceived exertion. It wasn’t the end of the world, but when you spend hours and hours staring at a power number as you train and have a plan tailored to certain zones and percentages, it kind of sucks when it doesn’t work on race day. Again, there was nothing I could do about it at that point, so I just rode my bike as best I could. It wasn’t long before I picked off a couple of guys on the bike; I’d say within the first ten miles before we made the turn at Punta Sur to head up the east side of the island. I also caught the chase pack of female riders and quickly went by them. It was a bit of a confidence booster to know that I wasn’t at the very back of the male race anymore and I was moving back through the female field. As I headed up the east side of the island the wind was brutal. Typically it is more of a cross wind during that stretch, but it was much more of a head wind during the race.

It was a welcome relief to turn west and head back across the island, getting a break from the headwind for a while. I rolled into town, where the support from locals and spectators was great. Two more loops and I’d be done. The second and third loops were pretty uneventful. I continued riding at a steady pace. Just after passing Chankanaab Park I passed the lead group of women. One of them, I figured out later it was Michelle Vesterby, went with me as I rode by. She was now leading the women’s race and was pacing behind me. It took me a while to figure this out and I wondered why I was being accompanied so closely by a race official for basically the entire second loop. He was making sure she kept the legal distance and not drafting. I lost Michelle on the third and final loop on the windy stretch from Punta Sur to Mexcalito’s Restaurant, which is the left hand turn back across the island. It was nice to know I wouldn’t have to ride into that headwind anymore. I took in my final nutrition on the bike during this last ten mile stretch and started to think about the run. 

I rolled into T2 and was happy to be off my bike. My time was quite a bit slower than I anticipated it being, but the conditions were certainly not ideal for a fast bike split. Even with my slower bike time I had the 17th fastest bike split out of all competitors and had moved myself back into the race a bit from my horrific swim. 

In T2 I put on socks and my running shoes while some volunteers loaded me up with sunscreen. I grabbed a little bit of nutrition to carry with me to help keep me going headed out to the run course. Just over 26 miles to go for the day.

The goal of the first loop was to try to get into a rhythm and not overdo it. I went through my first mile a little quick, but then I settled in to a consistent pace for the remainder of the loop, which was 14.1km (or 8.7 miles). My first loop took about 1 hour and 3 minutes, which was right about where I wanted to be. Unfortunately the wheels kind of came off on the second loop. My pace going out was fine. Michelle Vesterby caught back up to me here so I ran with her to have someone to pace myself off and it was less lonely than running entirely alone like I did on the first loop. After the turn around things got ugly. ****GRAPHIC DEPICTION AHEAD. If you want to skip the details continue on to the next paragraph. If you want to know what can actually happen to your body during Ironman racing, go ahead and proceed.**** I hadn’t gone to the bathroom all day, and I was at a point where I really felt like I needed to. I stopped at an aid station about halfway back on the second loop to quickly go into the porta potty. I urinated what felt like glass shards and it was pink, clearly containing blood. It was agony. I stood there in severe pain for several minutes, contemplating what I should do. The pain slowly subsided, so I decided the only thing to do was to keep running. I only had 9-10 miles left at this point. Hopefully I wouldn’t have to go to the bathroom again for the rest of the race. (I have since determined that I probably had mineral calcification buildup from all the salt and electrolyte loading I did in the days leading to the race. My body and kidneys were likely not accustomed to processing all of that, so it lead to some issues.)

My third loop went somewhat better than the second. I didn’t have to relieve myself anymore, so I avoided going through that pain again. My pace picked up a little bit, and I caught a couple guys who had blown up on the run. I took in Coke and water at almost every aid station and kept dumping ice down my shirt and shorts to keep cool. I PR’ed the run, but I still was about 15 minutes slower than I think I am capable of running. I feel like I need to revamp my nutrition strategy for Ironman racing because I’m not reaching my running potential. That will be a primary focus next year.

The last few steps of a hard day's work.
I ended up crossing the line in 9:34:13. It wasn’t a PR, but it was a decent race through some adverse conditions. I never let any of the bad stuff get me down too much and mentally felt like I handled those situations well. I was the 18th professional male and 29th overall finisher, which is by far the highest I have ever placed in an Ironman.

After the race I threw up quite a bit, so I headed to the medical tent and got an IV. I took a liter of fluid and felt like a champ afterwards. I met up with my family and Becky and we headed back to the condo so I could clean up. Having the condo so close to the finish area was awesome and made getting around so easy. After showering and cleaning up we headed back down to the finish line and I was able to see Dave, Joel and Steve all come across the line, which was awesome. Congrats to all of them on making it through such a tough day, especially Dave who had done Ironman Arizona two weeks earlier. Crazy!!

I had one thing left planned for the day, and I felt like the time was right for that. Cozumel in 2011 was the first trip Becky and I took together after we started dating. That was my first Ironman, and she came along to support me for that. I don’t think she had even met my mother before that trip. Since then she has supported me through all this triathlon craziness, traveling all over the country and putting up with my being gone to train for countless hours. I know that I couldn’t do all of this without her help and support, and over the past three years I’ve realized how lucky I really am. We went for a walk down by the ocean and, after a little discussion and telling her how important she is to my life, I proposed. I even got down on one knee! And managed to stand back up on my own. Cozumel has always been a special place to me since my first race there in 2011. Now it is also the place of my first race as a professional. But most importantly it is the place where I asked Becky to spend her life with me and she said yes. What a great little island...

Sunday, November 9, 2014

All in a Week's Work

Occasionally people ask me what training for an Ironman is like. As a new professional triathlete who also has to work a full time job, it is difficult task that requires good time management, some sacrifices, and the support of some wonderful people. Here is a very close look into the third week of my final three week build in preparation for Ironman Cozumel. Hopefully it provides some idea of the time and commitment required to achieve even slight success in this grueling sport.

Monday, November 3:
4:15am:  Out of bed to get ready for the day
5:00am:  3000 yard swim. Spent some time recovering in the hot tub. This was basically a recovery day from a very difficult weekend.
7:30am - 3pm:  Work
4:00pm:  Enjoyed the afternoon off. Took the dog for a walk with Becky.
6:00pm:  Since it was my birthday, Becky took me out for wood fired pizzas at La Bella Vita. It was delicious.
7:30pm:  Fell asleep on the couch watching TV
8:30pm:  Woke up and relocated to bed

Tuesday, November 4:
4:15am:  Woke up
4:45am:  Out the door for a morning run. The run ended up being 9.6 miles (1 hour 8 minutes), which included some drills/form work. Overall it wasn't an extremely taxing workout.
6:15am:  Breakfast and get ready for work
7:30am - 3pm:  Work
4:00pm:  On the trainer for a 3 hour bike session. This was a very hard tempo workout.
7:15pm:  Shower and dinner (Turkey burgers with sweet potatoes)
8:30pm:  Bed

Wednesday, November 5
4:15am:  Out of bed to get ready for the day
5:00am:  3300 yard swim. This was a hard workout with some good threshold swimming.
7:30am - 3pm:  Work
4:00pm:  Took the dog for a walk with Becky since I had the afternoon off again.
6:00pm:  Dinner (Chicken stir fry). Watched some of the Rangers game.
9:15pm:  Bed (late night...)

Thursday, November 6
4:00am:  Woke up
4:40am:  Out the door for another morning run. This run was 12.4 miles (1 hour 20 minutes) with the first 50 minutes easy and the last 30 minutes hard. The average pace for the entire run was 6:30 per mile.
6:15am:  Breakfast and get ready for work
7:30am - 3pm:  Work
4:00pm:  On the trainer for another 3 hour bike session. This was a brutal session with the beginning having tempo work and then doing 4 x 15 minute intervals. My legs were definitely still sore from Tuesday and the morning run.
7:15pm:  Ice bath
7:45pm:  Dinner (Buffalo chicken salad)
8:45pm:  Bed

Friday, November 7
4:15am:  Out of bed to get ready for the day
5:00am:  4200 yard swim. My body was really fatigued from last night's bike session. I struggled to get through this swim, but fortunately I didn't make the lifeguards earn their pay.
7:30am - 3pm: Work
4:00pm:  On the trainer for an easy hour spin. Kept the power and heart rate in the easy zone 2 range for the entire ride.
5:30pm:  Dinner (Chicken parmesan). This was the start of practicing race weekend nutrition.
6:30pm:  Watched a movie on the couch
9:00pm:  Bed

Saturday, November 8
5:00am:  Out of bed to start the day
6:00am:  Swam 2800 yards. It was a pretty good swim with a mix of form work and decently hard efforts.
7:30am:  Took a nap
10:15am:  Ran 21.2 miles. (Total time of 2:22 which is 6:42 minutes per mile)
1:00pm:  Lunch (Quinoa with spinach, squash, onions, and turkey meat)
3:00pm:  Went to the bike shop and ran a few errands
5:00pm:  Watched another movie while eating dinner (Chicken parmesan again)
7:00pm:  Went out with Becky and Jen to meet some friends for dinner. I had a yogurt parfait since we had already eaten.
9:30pm:  Bed

Sunday, November 9
5:00am:  Woke up to eat breakfast. This was dress rehearsal for race day (Yogurt, whole wheat bagel with peanut butter, rice cakes with Nutella, and a banana)
6:00am:  Back to sleep for a little bit
8:00am:  Woke back up and prepared nutrition and hydration for my last long workout
8:45am-1:45pm:  Five hour trainer ride. I made it through without getting off my bike once. I opted not to stop to change movies, so I ended up only watching one and then I listened to Pandora the rest of the time (Normalized Power - 253 watts).
1:55pm:  I changed as quickly as possible (tough to be really fast when you have to bundle up because of the weather) and headed out for an hour run (8.8 miles at 6:50 minutes per mile).
2:55pm:  DONE!!! I survived the final week of hard prep for Cozumel.
3:15pm:  Ate left over Quinoa and a bunch of other stuff I found in the fridge and then cleaned up/showered.
4:00pm:  Nap
7:00pm:  Sunday supper with Jen and Becky
9:00pm:  Bed

Totals for the week:
13,300 yards in the pool
12 hours on the trainer
52 miles running
22 hours of actual training time

There are no shortcuts in this sport and there is no secret formula. The key is consistency and paying attention to the details. It's doing all the little things, like recovering and fueling your body properly. It's not skipping a workout because you don't feel like it or because you want to go do something more fun. Hopefully the hard work will pay off three weeks from today.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

The Good Days...

Every once in a while you have those days of training that, for whatever reason,  things just go your way. Yesterday was one of those days for me. I woke up early to go for my run with the mindset that I was going to take it a bit easy and save myself for a pretty hard bike session later in the day. The plan was to run eight miles at a comfortable, "cruise" pace and then do some strides and form drills at the end before cooling down.

It took my legs a couple of miles to wake up (I started the run around 4:45am), but once I got going I felt really good. I never pushed the pace hard and kept my heart rate in the low to mid zone 2 range. I ended up going through the eight miles at 6:38 minutes per mile pace. After that I went through some drills making sure to really focus on good form before a brief cool down.

Check out the file here - Tuesday morning run and drills

My afternoon workout was a relatively challenging bike tempo session. The plan was to warm up, then ride in heart rate zone 2 for 90 minutes, and finally ride another 60-70 minutes in power zone 3. I was nervous about how my legs would feel considering I am in week three of this build phase. It turned out that I felt way better than I could have imagined. Here is the breakdown of the workout:

Warm up (15 minutes) - 215 watts, average HR 123
90 minute tempo - 295 watts, average HR 148
Recovery (5 minutes) - 235 watts, average HR 135
70 minute tempo - 306 watts, average HR 150

Overall workout (3 hours) - 294 watts, average HR 146

Check out the file here - Tuesday afternoon bike tempo

The 70 minute tempo actually ended up being above what my zone 3 is supposed to be, but my heart rate kept dropping below zone 2, so I pushed a little harder. I figured that since I was feeling well I could push it a bit as long as I was still comfortable. This workout was a huge confidence boost for me and is one I will remember and think about during race day. Part of improvement is simply believing in yourself and knowing what your body is capable of. If you had asked me a week ago if I thought I could push 294 watts for three hours I would have said "no way." Now I know that I can and that information is useful going forward because it will give me belief in myself.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Baseline Test Results

Last week I did some baseline testing before my final build into Ironman Cozumel. I was amazed at how much these hurt and how sore I was after these short workouts. My body is accustomed to going longer distances and a relatively lower intensity. This was a complete shock to my system. Regardless, I was relatively pleased with most of the test results and, as I mentioned earlier, decided to share them. So here we go...

Test #1 (Thursday afternoon): 5 minute bike maximum power test

This test was performed on the trainer in my basement. I warmed up for 30 minutes and then went as hard as possible for five minutes. My average power for the five minutes was 420 watts and my average heart rate was 182 beats per minute. I felt like I was on the verge of exploding at the end of it, and I think that's because I was pretty close to it.

Test #2 (Friday morning): 1000 yard TT

This test was performed in the pool on Friday morning. I didn't wear my watch, so I don't have a file for it. I swam a 14:40, which averages to 1:28 per 100 yards. It is not even close to where I need to be, but is about what I expected. Lots of pool work will be done over the winter.

Test #3 (Friday afternoon): 6 minute VO2 max run test

This test was done on the track after work on Friday. I warmed up for 15 minutes and then ran six minutes as hard as I could. I averaged a 5 minute mile pace for the run with an average heart rate of 181. This was a completely different type of effort for me and is not my strength. Overall, I don't think it was a bad result.

Test #4 (Saturday morning): Functional Threshold Power test on the bike (20 minutes)

I did this test on the trainer in my basement as well. I warmed up for 25 minutes and then went as hard as I could hold for 20 minutes. I felt like I cracked pretty badly around 11 or 12 minutes in. I pulled it back together at the end, but overall I was not pleased with the result of this test. According to my five minute test I should be able to hold more watts than I did. I ended up averaging 343 watts, which puts my FTP around 325 watts, which means it hasn't moved since the last time I tested a long time ago. I know I need to ride at or above threshold more often in my training now.

Test #5 (Sunday morning): Lactate Threshold Test (30 minute run)

I did this test at Brighton High School track Sunday morning. I warmed up for 20 minutes and then ran as hard as possible for 30 minutes. I averaged 5 minutes 40 seconds per mile for those 30 minutes. It was pretty painful, but I was actually quite happy with how well I did on this test. I have been putting some good work into my run over the past month and have lost a few pounds, and I think both paid off here.

I included the files for anyone who is interested. Feel free to click the links and check out the data. Time to get back to work in my final build for Ironman Cozumel...