Monday, April 21, 2014

Ironman 70.3 Puerto Rico Race Report


My first race of the 2014 season was Ironman 70.3 Puerto Rico. I picked this race because it was an elite qualifying race. I set two goals for myself this year: the first was to qualify for the Ironman 70.3 World Championships again and the other was to earn my pro card. They were big goals, but focusing on them is what got me through the long winter. This race was only allotted 30 Worlds slots, so it made that task a bit more challenging as my age group only ended up getting two slots.

The trip down was a bit disastrous. We booked flights with United because it was the only flight that allowed me to leave after work on Friday. The flight took us through a layover in Newark and then on to Puerto Rico. At the beginning of April, United changed their flight plan, which switched our layover time to 35 minutes. Watching the flights over the course of the week, the flight from Rochester kept missing the connection. If I missed the flight to Puerto Rico, I wouldn’t be able to get there in time to register and there would have been no sense in going. I opted to change my flight with United and drive to Newark early with my dad to eliminate the chance of missing the flight. In hindsight, it was the right choice because the rest of my family took the scheduled flight and they missed the connection, so they spent the night in Newark and didn’t arrive in Puerto Rico until 6:30pm on Saturday. I would’ve missed registration if I hadn’t driven to Newark. It was a long couple of travel days for them, but fortunately they arrived in time for the race. It was a bit stressful having them miss the flight, but Becky was great in telling me not to worry about them and taking care of getting their flight rescheduled. I tried to just put it out of my mind since I had no control over it and focus on the race and what I needed to do.

Saturday I met Joel for a practice swim in the lagoon where we would swim for the race. We just warmed up the arms a little bit and scoped out objects/buildings to sight from and got used to open water swimming again. I hadn’t been in open water since November last year, so it was good to get a practice swim in. I love the buoyancy of salt water and it was warm enough to not be wetsuit legal, so we prepared for that as well.

After the practice swim we took care of registration, which was smooth and quick, and then went to the athlete briefing. Then it was time to go pick up our bikes from TriBike Transport. We got our bikes and I started checking it over to make sure everything was working properly, which of course it wasn’t. It’s never that easy. Again, my power meter wasn’t reading. This happened twice at races last year and is a major source of frustration and anxiety for me, so I wasn’t in a good mood. I messed with it for about 15 minutes before deciding to take it over to the bike mechanics set up at the expo. The reason I get so frustrated is that I wanted to just pick up my bike, spin around on it for 20 minutes, drop it off and then go rest and get out of the sun. Then this happens and it can end up taking a long time and wasting a lot of nervous energy. However, by a stroke of good fortune, on my way over to the expo my power meter all of a sudden started registering. I don’t know what happened, but I decided not to play with it anymore and just hoped that whatever happened stayed that way. I took it to transition and racked it before heading back to the condo for a nap.

After a nice nap I went out and drove the course with my dad before heading to the airport to pick up my mom, sister, and Becky. They arrived around 6:30pm, so we went and grabbed dinner together. Then it was home to get my stuff ready for the race and try to get some sleep.

Sunday morning I woke up before my alarm, just before 4am. The race day nerves were rocking full force. The self applied pressure from the goals I set for myself was at fault. I wasn’t there to finish and enjoy the race. I was there to finish top three amateur and I knew that was not going to be an easy task. I got my stuff together, ate some toast and a banana, and headed down to transition. I got dropped off at a spot that I thought was right near this park next to transition. It turned out that we were one street higher up than I thought, so I started walking through this park that I assumed took me to where I needed to go. In actuality, it took me into the back part of the museum or something. I had my head lamp on, lighting the way in front of me as I walked into the parking lot and entrance of the building. This security guard came out with his hand on his shooter and just stared at me. I asked him if I could get through because I was trying to get down to the stadium, but I got no response. He eventually pointed in the direction I had just come from, so I decided I would turn around and go back and walk the long way around the block. The amusing thing is that on the other side of that museum there is this giant gate and wall. If I can just walk through a park to the back side of the building, that wall isn’t very effective. I didn’t point this out to him though.

Let's do this!
Anyway, I made it to transition in plenty of time, got body marked, and went to set my area up. My power meter was still working, so that was a good sign. As I was finishing up it started to rain. Fortunately I had a plastic bag with me so I put all my running stuff in that to keep it dry in case it kept raining. As it turned out it was just a quick, island shower that only lasted 5-10 minutes and everything dried up quickly. I met up with Joel and then we went to find a place to sit and relax since he was in the second to last wave and I was in the one behind him. We had a long wait from when the pros went off at 6:50am. Right before they went off we walked over to the swim start to catch the action.

After another 45 minutes of waiting, it was Joel’s turn to hit the water. I knew he would be flying in the water, and my goal was to keep his lead to less than 11 minutes out of the water (thanks Jimmy Chase). Then my group got started. I seeded myself toward the front and on the left side of the swim start with the buoys to our right. The plan was to try to get off the front a little bit and avoid some of the congestion that typically happens. My goggles got knocked off once and someone half twisted my Garmin, so I had to stop to straighten that so it didn’t come loose and fall off and fix my goggles. All in all, not really a big deal. I drafted fairly well on the way out. I found some feet and stayed right on them. Once we hit the turn buoys and started making our way back though, I lost the feet on was on and never really linked up with anyone again. Plus we were making our way through a lot of the earlier waves so traffic was pretty tight.

I came out of the water in 31:27, which is a distance best for me. I was hoping to go under 30 minutes, but my Garmin did register 1.31 for the swim. The important thing was not really my time, but my position. I was 12th out of the water in my age group and 64th among males. That is much better than my previous races, so it left me with less ground to make up than before. I also felt comfortable in the water the whole time and didn’t get out feeling exhausted. The six months of swim work with Joel paid off.

The run to transition was long – probably 400-500 meters. It was actually a good thing because it gave me time to peel my speed suit down half way and then get my tri suit on. I was racing in a Pearl Izumi Octane Tri Suit because it has sleeves down to the elbow and would keep the sun off my extremely white, upstate New York winter body. I didn’t want to burn and suffer from the sun, so that was why I went with that suit. Plus there is a fair amount of research that shows the sleeved suits being quite a bit faster on the bike and, although I’ve never done any wind tunnel testing, I’m buying the hype. Since it was a non wetsuit legal swim, I couldn’t have my arms covered at all according to WTC rules. So my tri suit was rolled down to my waist underneath my speed suit. Getting it up over my shoulders when I was wet was a little difficult, but not too bad.

Notice the speed skin on my bottom half...
After I was all situated I took off for the remainder of the run to where my bike was racked. I threw on my sunglasses and helmet, grabbed my bike, and off I went. I had a good flying mount and started riding to get up to speed. This was where I realized mistake number one. I had forgotten to open my shoes up, so the Velcro was closed. It wasn’t a big deal, but it made getting my feet into my shoes a little more difficult. After I got that all settled I started to ride pretty hard. I was excited and wanted to start hammering, but tried really hard to hold myself back. Then I noticed a strange flapping sound. What the heck is that? I looked back and saw my speed suit flapping in the wind. I was in such a hurry when I got to my bike that I had forgotten to take it the rest of the way off. Brilliant. I guess I was a little bit rusty with a few things. I found a spot to pull over and stopped to take the suit off. I had a decision to make: do I chuck it and throw away $200 or do I stuff it in my suit and ride uncomfortably for the next 53 miles? My financially sensible side kicked in and I decided to stuff it down my suit. I shoved in down the back of my suit and got it arranged as best as I could before jumping back on my bike. The whole thing probably cost me around 90 seconds, which didn’t put me in a good mood. Hopefully it didn’t come back to bite me.

Fortunately, the rest of the bike was pretty uneventful. I rode fairly well, it wasn’t as crowded as I thought it would be, and I kept moving my way through the field. I stuck to my nutrition plan and took in as much water as I could, grabbing a new bottle at each aid station because it was hot. Very hot. And I was not used to that kind of heat at all. I rode myself into second place in my age group and third place overall amateur, so if I could hold onto that I would be where I needed to be.

I am not a happy man in this picture.
But this volunteer was super nice.
I had a good dismount and ran into transition to rack my bike. I threw on my running stuff, pulled my speed suit out from my back (it was much more comfortable to not have that back there for the run), and headed out to the run course. My legs felt good and the first few miles ticked by pretty comfortably. Then I’m not really sure what happened. My splits started dropping hard. I don’t know if it was the heat or dehydration or the hills or not enough calories, but I was struggling to hold on. There is usually once in every race where I ask myself “Why am I doing this?” That happened just before the end of the first loop. At this point I was running like garbage and I figured top three had already slipped away. I felt like stepping off the course at the turn around and wallowing in self pity, but I would never let myself do that. So I made the turn and tried to pull myself back together a little bit. I kept taking in water and Coke at each aid station and pouring as much ice as possible down my shirt. The two major climbs on the second loop almost undid me. I tried to run them, but I’m not sure you could call what I was doing running at that point. The heat and the hills were taking their toll. I actually dropped my splits back down a little bit from the second split and numbers three and four were a little bit better. I think it was because I saw Sophie Goos running in towards the finish as I headed back out for my second and I wanted to try to impress her. I did give her a nice clap has she passed and she returned a smile and a thumbs up to me. That must have spurred me on. Anyway… I crossed the line not a moment too soon and got assistance from a nice volunteer. He dumped water on me and got me some water and Gatorade. I had set time goals for myself in each of the sports and hadn’t hit any of them, so I was filled with disappointment. Plus I was sure top three amateur had slipped away during that run.


Joel gets high fives from the kids!
My family came over and my dad started telling me what he thought the case was from Ironman.com tracking. I had finished second in my age group, which meant I was pretty sure I would get a slot for worlds, but he also thought I had slipped to 5th or so. At least I had met that goal, but I was still really disappointed. I really thought I could go top three. Joel came in not long later and we hung around with his family to see him finish. It was great standing there and cheering with Kelly and his kids. Best of all, he set a new PR for the distance. I kept telling him, PR in PR. Awesome race for him.

A little bit later my dad went over and got a print out of the race results from the timing area. The results were not official yet, as we had to wait until the referees came in to make sure I hadn’t been given a penalty and not realized it, but on the print out I was third place overall amateur. Apparently everyone struggled on that run. My disappointment started to fade but I didn’t want to let myself get too excited in case something happened. After claiming my worlds slot and the awards ceremony it was finally official. I finished second place in the M30-34 age group, third overall amateur and 11th overall. I achieved my goals and qualified for my elite triathlon license. I couldn’t have been happier. All of the time and work and sacrifices paid off, even if I didn’t feel like I raced to my full potential.

My plan is to race the majority of this season as an age grouper. I’m signed up for 70.3 Syracuse and 70.3 Timberman and then I’ll race 70.3 Worlds in Mont-Tremblant in September. Then I will apply for my license and begin my racing as a professional. There is a lot of work to be done between now and then so I don’t get it handed to me too hard, so that time will allow me to keep working with my coach and be better prepared for racing with the big boys.

The race chasers.
As always, thanks to my wonderful family for all their support and making the trip to be there cheering me on. Seeing them on the course always lifts my spirits. Thanks to Joel for all the hours and hours of work in the pool and helping me with my swim stroke. Thanks to Doug Bush of Endurance Factor for working with me. He is a great coach who really knows his stuff. He has pushed me hard since January and prepared me extremely well for this race. Thanks to TriSports.com and Towpath Bike Shop for everything they do in supporting me, providing great race and training gear and making sure my bike is running smoothly. Thanks to Michael Hoffman for suffering along next to me on the long and difficult training sessions. The company makes it suck a little bit less (he just went 2:40 at the Boston Marathon by the way). Thanks to all my friends who encourage and inspire me and make sharing the journey with more meaningful. And finally, thanks to Becky for putting up with all the hours I’m gone or in the basement training, money spent on triathlon, meals she has ready when I get home, and everything else she has done to support me over the past three years.

Since I was a little kid I wanted to be a professional athlete. Granted, I wanted to play either soccer or hockey at the time, but it was always a dream. Now, at 30 years old, once I submit my paperwork to USAT and make it official, I will be able to say that I achieved that goal. I may never win a race or earn a dollar from triathlon, but I have reached a level and accomplished something that is pretty difficult to do. I won’t be able to give up my teaching job, but I’m still pretty happy with that. From completing my first triathlon, Musselman half iron, in July 2010 in just over 7 hours and finishing in the bottom five percent to earning my elite license at Ironman 70.3 Puerto Rico in 2014, it has been an awesome journey. Now it’s time to start the next chapter!

Swim – 31:27
Bike – 2:16:19
Run – 1:32:54
Total – 4:25:42

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Race Season is Here


It is finally time to emerge from a brutal winter in upstate New York and get the 2014 race season started. My first race of the year will be Ironman 70.3 San Juan. I’m excited to test my legs and see how the winter training has paid off. I really focused on my swimming and running more this winter than ever before, and I’m hoping to see the results of all that work in this race. There has been a lot of time in the pool with Joel McFarland, making changes in my swim stroke and trying to improve efficiency and speed. In March I had three 50+ mile run weeks in a row, which was exhausting but definitely good for me. I was running more during that build phase than I ran in preparation for Ironman Florida last year. It was nice to have Mike Hoffman keep me company for a lot of those miles as he prepares for the Boston Marathon. Will the extra miles translate into speed on a hot, hilly run course in Puerto Rico? Time will tell.

It’s always nice to share the course with friends, and I’m excited that Joel is racing in Puerto Rico too. It’s a pretty safe bet that he is going to crush the swim, but I’m most excited to see how well he runs in this race. I know he’s been racking up the miles this winter and it’s time for him to see all the fruits of his labor as well.

I have a few concerns/unknowns going into this race that help increase the already torturous pre-race anxiety that I inflict on myself. 1) I have ridden outside a total of 65 miles this calendar year. With the winter being as cold as it was and with all the snow we got, I wasn’t able to get outside nearly as much as I did the last two years. We were spoiled with two mild winters in a row and this year made up for that. 2) Acclimating to the heat will be tough. Coming from 30 degree weather to race in 80 degree weather is no easy task. I’ve done my best to prepare for it by leaving the fan turned off for my trainer rides and letting the sweat flow freely. Maybe I’ll get lucky and we will have some cloud cover… 3) Starting in the back. I’m the very last wave to go off on Sunday (minus the relays), which I’m really not a fan of. Hopefully the roads won’t be too crowded and people will ride to the right so it doesn’t get too congested. At the end of the day though, I have things I can control and things I can’t. I’ll do my best to focus on what I can control and maximize those things and not waste energy worrying about the rest.

Despite those things, I have had some really great training sessions during the past several weeks. My coach, Doug Bush, has pushed me and given me better structure than I’ve ever had before. Having seen the results he has produced in other athletes, it was easy to put my faith in him and simply do what workouts he gave me. The accountability factor definitely pushed me to not quit on any session and to hit my target numbers on big workouts. As I come into prime taper time these last few days before the race and I definitely feel the “springiness” coming back to my legs and my body is starting to feel fresh and rested. I’m excited to see what this race and the rest of the season have in store. 

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Memorable Training Sessions of 2013

People in triathlon will often tell you, "Make sure you enjoy the journey." It can be easy to get sucked into the training and to let it become a grind because you are so focused on the races you have planned. It's sort of like having tunnel vision where you ignore everything that is going on around you because you're too busy staring ahead at your next race. I try to mix up my training once in a while to keep things interesting and exciting. I also have a great group of people who I train with who help keep it fun.

I just got home from my last training session of 2013. I uploaded my Garmin file and then tallied up my numbers for the year. This year I swam 204.4 miles, biked 7,028.6 miles, and ran 1,517.2 miles. The majority of those miles are training miles, not racing miles, so you can see why it is important to make it fun once in a while. To that end, I reflected on my year and picked a favorite/most memorable training session from each sport. Here they are in chronological order:

Run:
I can't remember the exact date, but I know it was sometime in the late winter or early spring. If I had to guess it was the end of February or early March. I met Steve and Mike at Genesee Valley Park for our usual weekend run. The plan was to run the first ten miles at a comfortable pace, which is what we usually do on our long runs on the weekend. The kicker was that we would then go straight into fives miles hard, all at a sub-6 minute mile pace. We went out East River Road from the park, and then turned around half way and headed back, so it was 2.5 miles out and back. Steve and Mike are both stronger runners than me, so I knew I was going to suffer. I did. I remember hoping the entire time that Mike would crack so that I could stop and slow down with him while Steve finished the set. It didn't happen. There are a couple of little hills on East River Road that, as we climbed them, I thought I was going to pop and have to stop. To top it off, Steve was chatting the whole time like he was barely breathing hard! I think the best I could offer in response was an occasional grunt. At the end of the day, I survived the run and it was a huge confidence booster for me on the running front.

Bike:
We rode our bikes up a mountain!
This was a bit of a tough choice between two really great rides that I can remember, but when it comes down to choosing, it has to be my ride with Mike up Whiteface. We were up in Lake Placid to watch our friend, James Cronkwright, race IMLP and we made a training weekend out of it for ourselves. Friday morning before the race we left Lake Placid on our road bikes and headed towards Wilmington, which is about a 12 mile ride. Then we made the left hand turn and headed up Whiteface. It is just over eight miles to ascend on the road, which took us just under an hour. The majority of the climb is at about eight percent gradient. We took turns pulling on the front for a quarter of a mile at a time to help break the climb up mentally. Whiteface tops at at just over 4,000 feet above sea level. After reaching the top of the climb on our bikes we hiked on the rocks to the actual top in our bare feet figuring if we made it that far we should get to the actual peak. After that we descended back down (which is quite scary) though we didn't take any risks and we really burned out our brakes and then rode the rest of the way back to Lake Placid. All in all it was just over 40 miles, but it was an absolutely awesome ride. Making it to the top of Whiteface was extremely rewarding and the view was spectacular. I strongly recommend this ride to any cyclist.

Swim:
This workout happened yesterday, so it's still fresh in my mind, but it is easily the most memorable of any swim workout I did this year. My swim partner/coach, Joel McFarland, texted me on Sunday afternoon and said he was going to go for the 100 x 100 the next day because it was his birthday. This was something I had always wanted to do at some point, but I wasn't sure if I was up for it. I thought about it for a few hours, going back and forth on whether I wanted to try it or not. Finally I texted him back and said I was in and would go as far as I could. The farthest I had ever one in the pool was 4,000 yards when Ironman training, so I had no clue how far I could make it.

Monday morning I met Joel at the pool at 5am. He explained how we would break it down and the intervals and off we went. At the half way point we took a 5-10 minute break to fuel up and get a little rest. The worst part for me was the 6,000-8,000 yard section. I knew there was still a long way to go and the shoulder and back soreness was starting to become pretty noticeable. Once we crossed 8K I knew I would be able to finish. When all was said and done it took us about 3 hours and 15 minutes to do the entire 10,000 yards. He was nice and kept on the intervals with me. It was an awesome sense of accomplishment when we finished. When we were almost finished I told him I would never complain about an Olympic distance swim again. Workouts like that can change your perspective on things.

So there are my three most memorable training sessions of the 2013 year. I'm looking forward to 2014 with many more miles finding new ways to keep it interesting. Happy New Year!

Monday, November 18, 2013

Progression - Looking Back as I Look Forward


Over the past couple of weeks I’ve started planning my 2014 race season. I also looked at some pictures from some races that I’ve done. It actually happened by accident as I scrolled through my old Facebook profile pictures. Apparently I made a habit of only updating my profile picture after races, because since 2010 my picture has always been an action shot from a race. I think it reflects pride in my accomplishments at each race that I wanted to share those pictures, but as I flipped through I thought, “Wow, I can clearly see my progression as a triathlete in the shape of my body, my form while running or cycling, and even what I’m wearing.”

I did my first triathlon in 2010 - Musselman half iron in Geneva, NY. I was in way over my head and ended up in the hospital that day and coming down with Bells Palsy a week later as a result, but I was bitten by the triathlon bug and my lifestyle took a turn for the better. Since then I’ve competed in 19 more triathlons, three duathlons, and a few scattered running races. It made me smile to reminisce of all the races I’ve done, people I’ve met, and places I’ve traveled because of this great sport. I thought it would be fun to share a small story about each of those profile pictures (along with the picture itself) and what might have been going through my head at that point. There are better pictures from each of these races, but I thought it was most appropriate to use the actual pictures I had posted.

July 2010 - This is the only documentation of me doing my first race - Musselman half iron. My good friend, Pat, came down to cheer me on that day and snapped this picture just before the finish line. I could see the clock and I was sprinting to try to come in just under…. 7 hours. I didn’t make it. Finishing time: 7:00:08. I have a lot of memories from this race. I wanted to quit about five minutes into the swim because my wetsuit was too tight and I felt claustrophobic. The only reason I didn’t was because my dad and Pat were there and I would’ve felt bad making them drive out there just to quit. I had only open water swam once before the race and it was for about five minutes. I tried Heed for the first time ever and learned my stomach doesn’t like it. After the race I threw up continuously, took multiple IV bags because I was so dehydrated, and ended up having to go to the Geneva Hospital. In this picture I was likely thinking, “Salvage some dignity and push to finish under 7! Come on! Faster!” I didn't even have the mental capacity to zip up my top before I finished so I at least looked somewhat good for the finisher photo. Basically, I look dreadful. I’ve since learned that in triathlon you wear Lycra more often than regular clothes, you cover yourself in most of your own bodily fluids at one point or another, you wear funny looking, pointy helmets on your bike, and you can generally check your dignity at the door.

June 2011 - This was my second Olympic distance race of the year - Tri Oswego. I had done the Keuka Lake Triathlon earlier that month after deciding that I should backpedal and practice with some shorter distance races before attempting another 70.3 distance race since my first two were such nightmares. At Tri Oswego, which was a really small race, I put together my first ever somewhat decent performance. I ended up 4th overall (again, small field) with a time of 2:21:51. In this photo I'm actually pretty happy (despite the look on my face). Running was never my strongest sport and it has taken some serious work to not slide backwards in races after coming off the bike, and that shows in this picture. It was another "grind it to the finish line moment" but I'm not suffering anywhere near the amount I was in the picture above. I still look like I'm carrying some extra weight from the weightlifting days and still haven't figured out the "zip up the top" thing, but it was a step in the right direction.

July 2011 - This is a picture taken by Kate McKallagat of me coming out of the water in Ironman 70.3 Rhode Island. I was smiling because I was out of the water and am done swimming for the day. I also swam around 42 minutes (without a wetsuit), which was significantly better than my 55 minute effort at Musselman the year before. I flashed my "smile big so you have a nice, new profile picture" smile during the run to transition and Kate captured the moment brilliantly. I think in this picture I look like I'm trimming down to a reasonable weight (I was probably in the 180lbs. range, down from around 195lbs. at peak weight lifting era). This race saw me take just over two hours off my effort the year before, finishing just under five hours in 4:58. I learned a lot during the off season that year as I spent a lot of time reading and studying the sport. It was an exciting day, and it was made even better because I got to share the course with my friends Pat McKallagat and Kurt Dawley, who both completed their first ever 70.3 race that day.


November 2011 - My first Ironman. I think that up to this point in my life, this day, and the moment in this picture, was probably the best moment/feeling of my life. I started triathlon because I wanted to complete an Ironman. That was always my goal. I may have been premature when I signed up for Ironman Cozumel, (At the time I signed up, my best 70.3 distance time was over 7 hours. I completed Rhode Island the summer between signing up and racing Cozumel, so I had confidence from that and knew I'd be able to finish.) but I believed I could get better and I worked hard at it. Crossing that finish line is something that is difficult for me to put into words. It's something you can feel, but is hard to express. There were a couple times during the run that my eyes teared up because I knew that I would make it. The emotions of the journey built up and I had to really fight to keep them in check. I'm pretty sure I'm not the only person to feel this way. When convincing my mother she needed to come to the race, I told her that this was my wedding. I was single at the time and told her I didn't know if I'd ever get married. I said this was going to be the most important day of my life. I was lucky to have her, along with my father, sister, Kathy Same, and Becky (who snapped this picture) there that day. This picture stayed up a long time. (Notice I'm zipped up in this one. I made sure I was ready for this finish line photo.)

September 2012 - In this picture at Ironman 70.3 Pocono Mountains, I had really trimmed down. I was probably in the low 170lbs. range by now, and I think it's pretty noticeable from the photos. I also have a team race kit from Towpath Bike Shop, which really helps in making me look the part. It's well known by anyone who I've spoken about triathlon with that cycling is my favorite and strongest sport. The bike course at this race was fun too. I'm in my glory here. I hammered out a 2:20 bike split (which in hindsight was probably overcooking it a bit), but I was having fun. The climate was great and the roads were a little hilly and twisting, making it a bit of a technical course. I ended up finishing in 4:29:22, which was a 12 second 70.3 PR over my second Musselman attempt earlier that summer. 


November 2013 - If there is ever a feeling to top the one at Cozumel, it is captured in this picture. Derek DeMass texted this to me that night after the race, snapped from the live feed on the Ironman website. The feeling here, after putting together the race I knew I was capable of, was incredible. I committed so completely to this race in my training and made a lot of sacrifices to get here. To say this was rewarding is an understatement. I opted for the sleeved triathlon top to keep the sun off me, had my TriSports.com team shorts on, made sure I zipped up my shirt about a mile out, and just let emotion take over as I crossed the line. I was down to about my ideal race weight, weighing in at 165lbs. before I left that week for Florida. The feeling of crossing that line never gets old and the emotion of this moment is something I will never forget. 

So there is my brief look in the rearview mirror and the visual progression of my short career as a triathlete. I'm not done and hopefully I will continue to develop and grow. I've set new goals for myself and am committed to continuing the hard work. I've got some great races planned for next year and am looking forward to 2014!

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Ironman Florida Race Report


The last race on my 2013 calendar was Ironman Florida. The race was the day before my 30th birthday, so I signed up figuring it would be a great way to finish out my 20s. I’d had a pretty successful season leading up to the 70.3 World Championship in Las Vegas, but it is funny how one disappointing race can overshadow all the others. So I went to Florida looking for a solid performance and a little redemption so I could close out the year on a good note. I felt like I had a great training block leading into Florida after Vegas, so I was excited to see if the hard work would pay off.

I got to Florida Tuesday night with my parents and our friend Kathy. She was at my first Ironman in Cozumel as well, so it was nice she was able to come with us again. Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday consisted of the normal pre-race stuff: registering, practice swims in the ocean, a couple easy rides to spin the legs out, fine tuning the bike, getting my race gear ready, catching up with some friends, and of course getting good meals and plenty of rest. Becky and my sister arrived Friday morning, so it was really nice to see them and have them there as well.

As usual, I didn’t sleep all that well the night before the race. I woke up on my own accord a little before 4am. I went through my normal routine, got my stuff together that I hadn’t dropped off the day before, and had some breakfast, which was peanut butter toast and a banana. I then headed over to transition to get my stuff set up. Since it had rained the day before, I kept a lot of my stuff out of my bags that I didn’t want to be wet for race day (shoes, socks, my race shirt, etc…). I put that stuff in my transition bags, checked over my bike, set my nutrition up, and went to find a seat until the race was ready to start. About 50 minutes before the race I had my customary blueberry muffin. That has been a superstition of mine for three years, and I don’t see if changing any time soon.

I got in the water for a little warm up around 6:40am. I had a quick swim to get used to the water and then headed over to swim start. Ironman Florida still has a mass start at 7am, which I think is great. As chaotic as the first 500 meters of the swim are, it is an experience like nothing else. They did have self seeding for people to group themselves when lining up for the start, which is kind of a new thing. I lined up in the 60-70 minute predicted swim time group. My two previous Ironman swim times were 1:08 and 1:12, and I have been working really hard on my swimming since Vegas, so I set my goal at going under 1:05.

The gun went off and 2800 people charged toward the open water in the Gulf of Mexico. Despite my anxiety with swimming, it really is an incredible sight and an awesome feeling when you are in the middle of it. The swim course was a large rectangle where you swam straight out, turned left, swam about 100 meters, and then turned back to swim towards the beach. There were a few waves breaking near the beach that caused a little difficulty going out, but once you were a couple hundred meters out the water flattened pretty nicely and wasn’t too bad. The swim was very physical until after the first turn buoy. I was mixed up with a lot of people and there was plenty of hitting, smacking, and feet grabbing. When we turned to head back to shore people started spreading out and it got a little better. My strategy (given to me by my swim coach for the last two months, Joel McFarland) was to break down the swim into four small pieces and build into each section. I came out of the water after my first loop in 30 minutes even. What a confidence boost that was! I had just bested my 1.2 mile swim PR by over two minutes. I ran across the beach and dove back into the ocean for the second loop. This loop was much less physical as people had spread out, and I was even able to find some feet for a little bit and draft. I got back to the beach and looked down at my watch to see 1:03. That put me in a great place mentally heading out on the bike. (It should also be mentioned that Mike Hoffman had the 4th fastest age group swim of the day, going 53:53, which is blazing fast.)

I rolled through transition quickly, but didn’t rush. I figured it would be best to take my time and make sure I would be comfortable for the bike ride. I had opted to go with a short sleeve DeSoto tri top for this race rather than a traditional tri top. It had big pockets on the back so I could carry some solid food, which was a new part of my nutrition plan, and stick the rest of my gels back there too. This way I had nothing taped to my bike and the set up was really clean and aero. Complete bike set up: Trek Speed Concept, Shimano Ultegra components, SRAM S975 power meter crank, Bontrager top tube bento box and rear draft box, three water bottle holders (Speedfill Z4 between the arms, Bontrager cage on the seat tube, and an X-lab gorilla cage behind the seat), Zipp 808/Super 9 carbon clinchers and Continental GP4000s tires.

As I hit the mount like I went to jump on my bike and my leg hit the water bottle behind my seat. Snap. The clamp to the seat post for my cage behind the seat broke. I said several bad words. It was only the top half that cracked, so it was still holding the bottle and didn’t completely fall off. I figured the tension would crack the bottom half on the ride, but left it on the off chance it didn’t. It actually ended up holding on for the whole ride, so I was able to use it thankfully.

The bike course was really flat. The biggest climb was a bridge that we crossed twice, once at mile 10 and again around mile 102 heading back to transition. Other than that it was pretty much just try to stay in the aero bars and pace your effort. My legs felt good and I was moving right along, being careful not to overcook my legs so I could have a decent run. Louisville left a strong impression on me last year and I did not want to experience that again and end up walking through a lot of the marathon. There was a slight wind out on the course and it picked up as the day went on. Fortunately, it was blowing in a direction that it would push us home on the last 20 miles or so. I went through the first 56 miles in 2:23, setting myself up pretty well for my goal of a 4:50 bike split. It was right about this point that I entered a bit of a bad patch mentally and my legs felt a little cruddy. My family, Becky, and Kathy were out on the course at the first turn around section though, so I saw them around mile 50 and 60. It was nice to see them and have them cheer me on. That stretch of road was the only bad road on the entire course, but it was really bumpy. Everything on my bike and body rattled for those ten miles. The bike special needs area was also located on this stretch of road and I planned to use it. The volunteers were great and had my bag ready as I rolled through on my way back from the turn around. I grabbed it and kept riding, taking on my two bottles of Coke and a Snickers bar from the bag.

I came back from the out and back section and saw everyone again. I was happy to be back on smooth roads. My legs still didn’t feel great, but at least I wasn’t bouncing all over the place. The other issue that was happening at this point was I was getting eaten up by a few of the draft packs. Ironman Florida is notorious for bad drafting on the bike and it was easy to see why. A few of the groups I had ridden through and broken away from on the first half of the bike I just didn’t have the power to stay away from on the back half. I was annoyed knowing that they would all have fresher legs than me, but I can honestly say I rode clean and didn’t cheat at all. In fact, when the packs came by I just sat up and let them go rather than get mixed up with them and risk potentially getting a penalty.

Around mile 80 my legs started to feel better again. It was also at mile 80 that I rode up behind Miranda Carfrae, the 2013 Ironman World Champion. She was just validating and punching her ticket for Kona next year, so she wasn’t racing hard at all, but it was really cool to see her out on the course. When I turned south to head back towards transition I picked it up a little bit. There was one more out and back section that was about eight miles total. I counted the packs ahead of me and there were three pretty good size groups. Again I just told myself to race my pace and not get frustrated with what I couldn’t control. I pulled into transition with a bike split of 4:48:43, which included two stops to pee and my issue with the water bottle holder. I had nailed my bike plan and was again in good spirits heading into the run. Normalized power – 207. Variability index – 1.04. Average heart rate – 149. Average speed – 23.2mph.

I changed into my running shoes and headed out to the run course. The first part of the run was all about pacing. I could have definitely pushed harder, but my goal was to keep the pace comfortable and save myself a bit for the second lap. I ran conservative 7:30-7:40 minute miles for the first few miles to try to get into a rhythm. It was difficult to not push the pace because the crowd support was awesome. There were so many people lined up along the course cheering and screaming. It made you want to really go after it, but 26 miles is a long way to run and you need to make good decisions early in the run or you could very easily give all that time back and more in the later stages. I went through the first loop of the run without any walking in about one hour and forty minutes. My pacing was pretty consistent, but the legs were starting to hurt. I grabbed another Snickers and a sugar free Red Bull from my special needs bag. The Snickers tasted great. The Red Bull on the other hand, was really warm which made it taste awful. I would have loved to have been able to drink it because the caffeine would have done wonders for me, but it was just too warm to choke down. I stopped for my last bathroom break at the start of the second loop and headed out for the final 13 miles of the day. On this loop I started walking just the aid stations so I could make sure I got enough water, ice, and Coke at each one. My pace slowed a little bit, but not terribly. I had seen my friends Dave and Mike after the 6.5 mile turnaround and was looking for them again when I got back out to the park for the turnaround at mile 19.5. I was running a bit scared, trying to stay away from them at this point. We were actually in the park for about two miles, so I figured if I could get out of the park without seeing them I would be able to stay away until the finish. I saw both of them again on my way back in and we gave each other some encouragement. With about three miles to go I knew I was going to be really close to 9:30, which was the goal I had set for myself coming to the race. I gave my final push to try to get there with everything I had left in my legs at that point. I could hear the crowd get louder and louder as I approached the final turn and could see down the finishing chute. (Run time – 3:30:51)

All the time, miles, and sacrifices flashed through my mind as I went down this last stretch. The emotions of this moment are something I find very difficult to put into words, but it’s a feeling that doesn’t get old.  I crossed the finish line with an official time of 9:31:02. I had put together the race that I knew I was capable of, but was scared I wouldn’t achieve. My biggest fear going into the race was not getting my nutrition right and ending up sick like I had in Louisville. Fortunately, I had practiced my plan enough and gotten some good advice from some people to make the right changes to this important part of the race.

After the race I sat down and Becky came running over and found me. It was great to see her and she was just as happy as I was. As the rest of my family arrived, I got that feeling in my stomach and I knew what was coming next – time to throw up. I got sick in some bushes and then headed over to medical. I went in, got hooked up to and IV, and passed out. I took two bags of fluid and woke up feeling much better. Then I had one of the most entertaining moments of my day – I looked over to my right and there, laying down two cots over was my good friend, Dave. I gave a big smile and said “hey buddy!” The look on his face was absolutely priceless and he just gave me a shake of his head.

I headed out of the medical tent feeling quite a bit better and I found my family. I also ran into Mike and his family as well. We chatted about our races a bit and then decided we would go eat before meeting back at the finish line to watch the last hour and a half and cheer the final races in. That is my favorite part of an Ironman and those are the people who truly inspire me.

This season had a lot of ‘ups’ and a few ‘downs’ as well. There were some great races and a couple that weren’t what I was hoping for, but the experiences are all ones that I can learn and hopefully grow from to keep moving in the right direction. I’ve said it before, but I don’t think I can say it enough – I can’t do this without the support of so many people in my life. They help me get through the rough times and are there to celebrate the good times with.

A few special thank you’s:

I am lucky to have the support of two great companies that help me out with the things I need to train and race. Thank you James Cronkwright and all the guys at Towpath Bike Shop for everything you do for me and everyone else on the multisport team. You guys are awesome and great at what you do. Thank you Debbie Claggett and all the folks at TriSports.com for all your support this season. It has been an honor to be a part of the team and represent Trisports this year.

A huge thank you to my family for being so supportive and coming to these races to cheer me on. They wake up at 4am and travel to these races all over the place. They give up a lot of their time to help support me and cheer me on. It means a whole lot more to me to have them there to celebrate with.

I am fortunate to have a great group of friends to train with and talk about racing with to help me learn and grow in the sport – Mike Hoffman, Dave Christen, Steve Rosinski, Carl Johnston, James Chase, Derek DeMass, Becky Bader – you guys are awesome.

I give Joel McFarland all the credit for my 1:03 swim. I can’t thank Joel enough for meeting me at the pool every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday morning at 5:30am for two months to fix my messed up swim stroke and help me learn how to swim. He took minutes off my time and I came out of the water fresher than ever before. I definitely owe him some beers.

Doug Bush of Endurance Factor coaching worked with me the last few weeks of training to help put the final touches on my preparation. He gave me some great advice for power numbers, target heart rate, and nutrition that really helped bring my race together. Thanks for all the help, Doug.

Becky put up with a lot this year. She traveled all over the place and gave up so much time with her friends and family. She dealt with me when I was exhausted all the time or frustrated after a bad session. She cooked a lot of food when I was going through big training blocks. She never complained when I would go off for 6+ hour training days on the weekend. There were weeks at a time where I would leave the house at 5am, go straight to work, come home and go right on my bike for another 2-3 hours, get home, eat, and go right to bed. I might have seen her 30 minutes a day during those times. She was so supportive and understanding and I couldn’t keep going during those times without her help. Thank you for everything!

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Coping With Injury and Racing


In early August I raced 70.3 Boulder. The race went quite well and I was really pleased with my result, especially considering I had never done anything at elevation before. The timing of Boulder was good because it left me about five weeks to prepare for the 70.3 World Championship after I got home. I figured I would get home, put in a solid three week block, taper, and head to Vegas ready to race. Sadly, my best laid plans quickly came undone.

After getting home from Boulder I headed up to the Adirondacks with Becky to spend some time with my family. I was excited to be able to get some good training in up there, swimming in open water, and having relatively untraveled roads to ride and run on. In between training sessions I would be able to just relax and rest. The first two days went as planned and things were going well. Tuesday morning I went for a hard interval run and ended up putting in just over 11 miles. That afternoon my right ankle started bothering me. It was a weird soreness, but nothing excruciating, so that afternoon I hopped on my bike and went out for a 40 mile ride, hitting some hills and pushing the pace pretty hard.

Wednesday morning I woke up and my ankle was still sore, maybe a little worse than the day before. It was raining pretty hard, so we decided to pack up and head home early in the day. That way I could swim in the pool and ride the trainer if I needed to. By the time we got home to Rochester, though, it was clear skies so I went out for a couple hours on my bike to do some interval work. My ankle was still hurting, but on the bike it didn’t bother me so much. Afterwards I headed to the pool and got a swim in.

This is where things started to go badly. Thursday morning I took my sore ankle out for a 10k. It hurt. Then I went to work and hoped it would feel better by the afternoon. I told myself maybe this was just something that needed to work itself out. I hadn’t done anything specific to hurt it: no rolled ankle or falls. I hadn’t really increased my run mileage that much recently. So that afternoon I went out for my second run of the day. I figured I would get in 12-13 miles and hopefully by the end of that my soreness would start to feel better. Bad idea. I got about three miles in and I was in agony. It felt like someone was stabbing a knife into my ankle with every step I took. I knew I couldn’t finish the run, so turned and headed home. I iced my ankle immediately and took some Ibuprofen. This was not in my plans.

Finally, on Friday I decided I better stop acting like an idiot and rest my ankle a bit, so I went to the pool. That afternoon I was heading to Keuka Lake to visit my friends Bob and Pam. Bob is a Physician’s Assistant and Pam is an Orthopedic NP, so I figured I would ask them what they thought about my ankle. When I got to their place I told them what was going on and showed them my ankle. The response was not good. By this point I had done enough online research to realize it was Achilles tendinitis, but it was now really, really severe (way to keep running on it, Scott). No more training. They said I was so swollen that if I did anything, even walk up the stairs wrong, I could rupture it. I was crushed. I knew it was going to take a while to heal and I was going to miss a lot of training.

That weekend I barely left the couch and I was on a strict icing and Ibuprofen program. I was absolutely miserable and grouchy. To top it off, it was beautiful all weekend. It was sunny and in the 70s. If I had to be locked up inside, couldn’t it at least have rained? I honestly don’t know how Becky put up with me that weekend. If I was her I would have punched me in the face and left the house for the weekend, leaving me in my own self pity. She was so patient and supportive though. I’m a pretty lucky guy.

Monday I drove out to see Bob and Pam again and have them check my ankle. The swelling had gone down significantly over the weekend (thanks to my strict adherence to the not doing anything active plan and lots of icing), but the pain was still there when I brought my toes up. No running or biking allowed still, but they said if I wanted to swim and it didn’t hurt when I did, I could. Since I’m the crappiest swimmer ever, I figured the extra time in the water would be good for me, and at least I would feel like I’m doing something active and get the endorphin release. I went to Canandaigua Lake every day so I could swim without having to push off the walls at the pool. Pointing my toes and pushing like that still hurt, so I figured I would be safer not doing that yet.

By the end of the week I decided to try riding again. I didn’t want to rush back too soon, but I was starting to lose my mind. I went for an easy spin and it felt so-so. The pain wasn’t like it had been, but I definitely noticed it. I decided to give it a couple more days before going again. During that time I was talking to my sister’s housemate, Beth, about it and she told me about this place she had been going to get her knee worked on. Beth had knee surgery over the summer and part of her rehab included trips to Pittsford Performance, where they do ART and electro-neuromuscular treatment. At this point I was less than two weeks out from Vegas, I was still having pain, and I hadn’t run in almost two weeks. I was ready to try anything. I made an appointment for the next day.

I knew a little about ART and had heard good things about its effectiveness. I had also heard it hurts. The neuromuscular treatments I did not know much about, but that was what they determined would be best for my situation. It also hurts. A lot. Basically they test for weak areas using electric current, find the weak spots, hook up to pads and turn up the juice as much as you can tolerate. While that’s going on you do exercises to strengthen the area that is injured, so I mainly did toe raises and heal drops. As you do that they keep turning the intensity up. You say a lot of four letter words during these treatments. I did two six minute sessions of that my first visit.

When I walked out after my first session my ankle felt the best it had since it got injured. It wasn’t perfect by any stretch, but I didn’t have the pain during dorsiflexion that I had been having, so that was hopefully a positive sign. I went home and rode my bike for a couple of hours. The first half hour felt great. Then the soreness started to creep back in. It didn’t get as bad as it had been, so I continued the ride. Two days later I went back for another treatment and asked if I should refrain from riding. The doctor told me I could ride and he actually wanted me to try running then next day.

The next day I went out for an easy four mile run. It was exactly nine days until Vegas. The first two miles weren’t too bad, but on the way home it started to hurt a bit. I was now debating whether or not I should even make the trip to Vegas. I seriously considered just packing it in at that point. My next appointment to see the doctor was Tuesday, so I thought I would try one more run before seeing him. Maybe it would take some time for the treatment to be effective. Sunday morning I went to the gym and ran on the treadmill. I figured this way if it started to hurt I could just step off and stop rather than have to run home if I was outside somewhere. Plus the treadmill is quite a bit more forgiving on the body than the road. I started running and felt much better than Friday. In fact, rather than the 4-5 miles I was going to run, I ended up staying on the treadmill for 10k. That run gave me such a confidence boost and I believed I would at least be able to go to Vegas, race, and finish.

Tuesday I went for another treatment. Wednesday I went for another four mile run, but outside this time. I was going to be running outside on the roads on Sunday in Vegas, so I figured I might as well try it out first. That run felt much better than the first outside run did. I started to feel a bit of relief and the stress of potentially having a DNF attached to my name was melting away. Now the question became how would I hold up over 13 miles in the heat of Vegas after a tough bike course after missing so much training over those three weeks? Time would tell.

I went to Vegas and raced in the 70.3 World Championship with some of the best triathletes in the world. Perhaps I’ll write up the race report another time, but to keep this from getting too lengthy, I’ll just say that it wasn’t my best race. I had a bad swim and left T1 frustrated already. I never felt like I could get into a rhythm and get my legs going on the bike. My legs could tell they hadn’t run anything close to 13 miles in a month. But I finished and my ankle never bothered me once. I made it through the injury and was able to experience the World Championship, which if you had asked me two weeks ago if I thought I would make it through, I would have said “no”.

So, get to the point already, right? Fair enough… Here it is:

1.      Injuries happen and they suck. We never plan for them and they never come at a good time. It is part of the process and to be able to overcome them we need to adapt and adjust. 

2.   Listen to your body. When things start to hurt, maybe you need to give it a rest. We can’t push through everything like we like to think we can. Overdoing it can lead to longer lasting injuries. If I had ruptured my Achilles, I would have been out for 4-6 months. I’m fortunate that didn’t happen.

3.     Listen to those who are helping you. I firmly believe that without the help of Bob and Pam and the doctors at Pittsford Performance, I would not have made it to the finish line. I might not have even made it to the start line. I am extremely grateful for all of their help and treatment to get me back and functional for race day. It was important that I followed their advice and did what they told me to. These individuals are professionals in the medical field and if I had turned my head to what they told me, I could have ended up severely damaging my ankle.

4.     I am extremely lucky to have the support of close friends and family. During those few weeks I had many talks with people and they provided support to help me get through the tough times when I didn’t know if I’d be able to race. I was struggling during that time because I worked so hard to earn qualification to this race. It had been my goal from October of last year and I worked hard from then until May when I qualified. The thought of not being able to see that through was a really tough pill for me to swallow. Specifically I have to thank Mike, Steve, Derek, Jimmy, my parents, and the guys at the bike shop for their advice and encouragement.

5.     Becky gets her own space here. She has been incredible through everything and is probably the most patient person ever. She put up with me when I was miserable when I couldn’t train. She dealt with my frustration when I didn’t think I’d be able to race. She supported me however she could and never said a word about how difficult I was to live with for basically the entire month of August.

After the race I really struggled with my performance. I did not race to my capabilities and I was disappointed with my result. Now, a few days later, I’m coming to grips with it and I realize that at the end of the day, it’s just triathlon and it’s just a hobby for me. It’s hard to see that when you commit so much time and effort to something though. So after the race when we’re sitting there and I’m disappointed with my performance she says “It just means you’ll have to qualify again and do better next year.” Knowing that I have her support means everything. She makes just as many sacrifices as me to allow me to do this. The time she gives up with me, with friends, and with family is not small. But she gets that it is part of who I am and knows how important triathlon is to me. For that I can’t thank her enough.

6.     It’s time to set new goals. I have less than two months until Ironman Florida. I can sit around disappointed in this race, or I can set new goals and make sure I’m as prepared as possible for Florida. It’s time to get back to work...

Friday, August 16, 2013

Ironman 70.3 Boulder Race Report


Ironman 70.3 Boulder was a race I put on my calendar this year when my friend, Dave Christen, invited me out to Colorado. Dave and I went to college together for two years and played soccer at Roberts Wesleyan before he transferred to Liberty University. Dave now works for Ironman and is the race director for the Boulder Tri Series, which includes 70.3 Boulder and next year will include the first ever Ironman Boulder.

My dad, sister, Becky and I flew out to Boulder on Wednesday for the Sunday race. I wanted a chance to at least acclimate a little bit to the elevation. I had never even been to elevation like this before, let alone trained or raced in it. The closest thing I’d done was ride up Whiteface with my friend, Mike, but that was only nine days prior to the race and it was only up to about 4200 feet at the top. To say I was nervous about racing at elevation was a massive understatement.

The trip out was without incident. We arrived late Wednesday morning, which is also when my bike arrived. I had sent it via FedEx the week before rather than fly with it. I don’t like having it taken apart and packed up, but there was no other option in this case. I picked up the bike box from Dave and took it over to Colorado Multisport to have them build it up. While I was there I saw Miranda Carfrae’s bike on the stand getting worked on. This shop works on all the top level pro bikes. It was pretty cool.

Thursday morning I went for an easy 10K run and then for an easy swim up at the Boulder Reservoir, where we would be swimming on Sunday. I could definitely notice a difference from running and swimming at home, but it wasn’t as terrible as I thought it would be. That was a little confidence booster for me and made me a bit more comfortable.

Thursday afternoon we drove up to Estes Park and went to the Rocky Mountain National Park. The mountains were beautiful and the views were stunning. We didn’t have time to make it all the way up to the top because we got up there a bit late and it was getting dark. However, we did end up going back on Monday and we did get up to the top. It was absolutely worth it. We saw elk and bighorn sheep, and were able to hike up a ways to the top of a peak. It was awesome.

Friday was a relaxing day. I picked up my bike at Colorado Multisport and then went over to registration. When I picked my bike up they told me that my brake fairing had been cracked during shipment. They had glued it back together and made it functional, but it still sucks having that happen. At least it would work for the race and I will replace it later. After registration we drove down to Idaho Springs to meet Amber, a friend from high school. We had dinner in this little town that looked like it was out of the Wild West and then went for my first hot springs experience. Let’s just say that was an experience and leave it at that…

Saturday was pre-race day as usual. I went up to the reservoir early to get an easy spin in. My power meter was working, so that was a plus. Everything seemed to be in order with my bike so I put it back in the car and headed back to the hotel to shower and relax. At 1pm we went back over to the reservoir to watch the pro panel and attend the athlete briefing. The panel was great as this race is full of top level pros because it is where so many of them live and train. Joe Gambles (I think he wins almost every 70.3 there is…), Ben Hoffman (3 or 4 time Ironman champion), Greg Bennett (former Olympian), Melissa Hauschildt (70.3 World Champion and Olympic qualifier), and Leanda Cave (70.3 and Ironman World Champion) were all at the panel. Not too shabby…

After that was done we went out for dinner. Guess what I had? If you guessed chicken parmigiana you are catching on. After that we headed back to the hotel so I could head to bed early.

The night before the race I slept better than I normally do. I even made it all the way to my alarm before waking up. That rarely happens. I got up just after 4am, had a quick shower, and ate half a bagel with peanut butter and a banana. Then we headed over to the reservoir. It was a little chilly in the morning, which was welcome relief to the earlier heat of the week. It had stormed the night before which brought in some cooler temperatures. The storm brought a ton of hail with it, which had also brought the water temperature down to 72 from around 76, which meant it was definitely a wetsuit legal swim. Once my transition area was set up I headed over to the water to relax before jumping in for a short pre-race swim.

This race used the new swim start format, where people lined themselves up by time for the swim rather than starting in age group waves. The first wave was 30 minutes and under. I went in the second group, which was 30-32 minutes. That was a little bit optimistic for me given my results in the past, but I figured I’d see how it went. This swim start format is definitely tailored to the weaker swimmers. I ended up swimming a 32:12 with a beach start, which is a PR swim for me, but it was the hardest swim I’ve ever had in terms of fighting for space and contact. I have never been kicked and hit as much as I was in this swim. My goggles were knocked off once to the point where I had to completely stop to get the water out and fix them. I kept trying to get to the outside to find clean water but it was pretty hopeless. After the second turn I finally managed to get on the back of a group and just tried to conserve as much energy as possible. When I came out of the water and saw my time I was very pleased, but it was a frustrating swim.

The run to transition was padded with nice mats to save our feet, which was great. I got my wetsuit off pretty easily, grabbed my bike, and off I went.

The first 8-9 miles of the bike were a grind up a false flat. I had ridden some of this stretch the day before when I went out for my ride, so I knew what to expect, but it was tough. Plus my legs didn’t feel great and I could find a comfortable rhythm. The best part of the ride was how much space there was on the road. I’m used to starting in a late wave from my 70.3 races earlier this year, so being out of the water and only having a couple hundred of people in front of me was great. I was moving through traffic pretty well and by mile 12 or so I started to feel a bit better. The course was pretty fast (it was a new bike course this year) and the roads were in great condition. Around mile five I noticed that the cage I put on behind my seat was not holding my water bottle and it was almost falling out. That was my bottle of coke for the end of the ride, so I couldn’t lose it this early. Instead of fighting with it to try to get it to stay I took the bottle and stuck it down the front of my shirt and rode the last 50ish miles with it there. It beat losing it. I was careful to never push too hard and ride conservatively. I was still nervous about being at elevation and that I would suffer at some point. I still biked my way to a 2:15:09, which is a bike PR for me.

I hopped off the bike and was out onto the run course. I felt like I had asthma. The first mile or so I was breathing really hard. I was running next to a guy in my age group, and not knowing where he started I wanted to hang with him and at least not get dropped. After my breathing settled down I was able to pass him and start moving along. It was sunny and hot. There was zero shade on the run course, which circled the reservoir on a dirt road. Joe Gambles and Greg Bennett went flying by be on their second loop a couple miles into my run. It’s somewhat disheartening to see how fast they go past when you still have 11 miles to run. Anyway, on the first climb of the run course I caught another guy in my age group and moved past. Both guys I passed must have started in the first swim group though because the timing from the race showed I was second in my age group off the bike. My stomach hadn’t been feeling great since about mile 45 on the bike. I haven’t really had GI issues when racing before, and I’m still not sure what caused it, but right in front of the third aid station at mile 3 it came to a head. I puked. There were four successive dry heaves and I could feel it coming. Then just like that, boom, puke everywhere. I stopped for about 20-30 seconds to let it all out, and then moved forward. The timing was pretty fortunate because I was able to grab water immediately from the aid station and wash my face and mouth off. I returned to a jog and noticed that I actually felt better than I did before. My only concern now was whether or not that would deplete my energy before I finished. I returned to my normal pattern of coke, water, and ice at each station and the miles were ticking off. By the time I started the second loop I was feeling steady and much better than I had been. I had my eyes on a female pro up the road from me from mile one of the run and my goal was to reel her in. I picked up my pace the last couple of miles and passed her about half a mile from the finish. I ran a 1:33:05, which isn’t my best run, but it only dropped me to third place in the male 30-34 group, so it meant my third podium finish in three 70.3 races this year. Final time: 4:23:23, only about three minutes slower than my PR I set in Florida earlier this year. I raced conservatively and smart so as not to blow up too badly on the run and overall am really happy with the day.

Overall this was a great race with an outstanding pro and amateur field. The venue was beautiful with the mountains just off to the west of the course. Finally, I can’t thank Dave Christen enough for having me out to race and for everything he did for my family. He got them access to everything and got them as close to the race as possible. He went out of his way to make sure they had a great day as well. Dave knows how to put on a phenomenal race, keep the athletes safe and meet their needs, and make sure they have a fantastic experience.