Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Barrelman Triathlon

I'm extremely excited to be racing the Barrelman Triathlon in Niagara Falls, Canada this September. The race, put on by Multisport Canada, is in its third year and it has received nothing but great reviews from the first two editions. I haven't raced close to home in a couple of years, so I'm excited to have this nearby. I'm hoping to have a big crew of family and friends either race with me or come up to cheer us on that weekend!

Here are a few things to know about Barrelman, why I'm racing it, and why you should consider it:
  1. Prize money. There is a $5000 cash prize purse split between men and women. The prize money is available to anyone as well, not just for the pro field. So whoever finishes in the top five can claim some cash. Here is the complete payout allocation:
    1st – $1,000
    2nd – $ 750
    3rd – $ 500
    4th – $ 150
    5th – $ 100 
  2. Timing. The race is September 18, 2016, which is the start of the second half of my season. After racing Ironman Whistler in July I plan to take a little down time before the late part of my year. This will be the perfect race to kick off my fall racing as I build toward Ironman Cozumel in November.
  3. The swim venue. It's no secret that swimming isn't my strongest discipline, but I am pumped for the swim venue at Barrelman. The swim takes place in a canal near the Welland International Flatwater Centre (notice the non-American spelling), which looks awesome. Racers are all but guaranteed perfect, wetsuit legal swim conditions. It is a recreational canal with no boat traffic, so it should be great, clean water.
  4. Start time. I'm a morning person, so early starts don't bother me, but sometimes I feel badly making my family roll out of bed at 3:30 or 4am. Not at Barrelman. A 9am start time means everyone will be able to sleep to a pretty reasonable hour.
  5. The course/views. The course will having some stunning scenery, especially the run course, which is a double loop and will take you past the Falls twice. Everyone knows the view of Niagara Falls is better from the Canadian side, so racers will be able to distract themselves with the spectacular views.
  6. The price and the exchange rate. The US dollar is strong right now. Barrelman is a very reasonably priced race, but when you do the conversion to USD, it's a freaking steal. If you register by August 6, the price is $264 CAD, which, with the current exchange rate at the time of writing this, is $205 USD. A half iron distance race for just over $200? You'll save on hotels too.
As you can see, there are plenty of reasons to come race Barrelman this September. Check out the website at www.niagarafallstriathlon.com for more information or to register. I hope to see you there!

Thursday, March 3, 2016

2016 Ironman 70.3 Panama

My season opener did not go the way I had hoped or planned. Leading into the race I had a solid block of training and was feeling great. I had been doing big volume in the pool, was putting up great numbers on the bike, despite not riding a ton, and had had some strong runs. I was excited to put the training to the test and see where I landed in a competitive field at the 70.3 Latin America Pro Championship.

The day before the race we were told that there would be a change to the bike course because of some permitting/safety issues. Originally it was intended to be a double loop course, but not it would become a triple loop course. That means all the athletes would be on an 18 mile stretch of road. But really it was even tighter than that, because the road was closed to car traffic, but bike traffic was both ways on parts of it. More on that later...

As always on the trip down, there was some nervousness. Flights were delayed and we barely made connections. I think we were in the Miami airport for less than 18 minutes total. Fortunately we did make all our connections and so did our luggage.

Race morning I woke up early and got ready. Joel and I caught an early shuttle to the race site because I don't like to be rushed and I'm an early riser anyway. It turned out to be a good thing that we did, because when we got there Joel realized he had forgotten his tri top at the hotel (#amateurhour). He ended up having to run back to get it, but made it in plenty of time (especially considering the race started about 45 minutes late).

The race was scheduled for a 6:30am start in the Panama Canal. I was hoping for a strong current. Two years ago, which was the last time this race was held, it was a super fast current and guys were out of the water in 16 minutes. We didn't quite get that strong of a current this year, but there was definitely a bit of a push. As noted earlier, the race was really late to get started. We went out on the pier at about 6:20am, ready for an on time start. And then we waited. And we waited some more. And then we kept waiting. We never really were given a reason why the delay, but there was nothing we could do about it. It wasn't ideal to have to stand around waiting in the heat with no food or liquid, but at least everyone was in the same boat.

Finally we were told we could get in the water. At the prerace meeting the day before there was a big debate about where to keep the buoys and when you could make the turn toward the swim exit. It was finally decided that it would be too difficult to police people, so we were told "A to B". The buoys are there to guide you, but pick any line you want. I don't think I picked a great line. I also had the wrong goggles on. It was slightly overcast and the sun hadn't come up yet when we were supposed to start. After 45 minutes of waiting, however, we were swimming dead into the rising sun. I couldn't see much of anything and wished I had been wearing tinted goggles. I had a decent swim, but still came out of the water about six minutes back. I was hoping to be more in the 3-4 minute range. I still have a long way to go in the water.

Out of the water there was a 300 meter or so run to transition, which I hustled through as I pulled up my race kit and took off my swim skin. I wasn't the last guy out of the water, so I guess there's that... Onto the bike and I felt good. My coach and I had talked numbers and we had targeted 320 as a good goal that should let me run fairly well. The biggest question mark was the heat, but we had done some tricks to try to acclimate back home in Rochester. If I saw my heart rate rising, I would back off on the power. As I rode the first loop I felt great. With the course u-turning so many times it was easy to watch the race unfold and see what the time gaps were and how I was riding compared to everyone else. I was riding very well and was closing the gap to the main groups up front. Through the second lap and I still felt great. My power was slightly above target but my heart rate was low. I was fueling well and I didn't feel like heat was going to cause me to explode. On the second loop the traffic had picked up was there were lots of people on the course now. By the third loop it was extremely busy and even congested at spots. I hit the far turn around of the last loop and started to head back. This section was slightly downhill before going up through a no passing zone. As I passed the final couple of age groupers before heading into the no pass zone a woman, out of the blue and for no apparent reason, swerved hard to the left. I don't know if she was eating/drinking, trying to avoid a bad patch of road, of just was not paying attention, but I had to swerve hard to the left to avoid her. I lost control and the next thing I knew I was on the pavement. My bike was 20-30 meters down the road.

I was in shock for a moment and didn't know what to do. I knew I needed to get out of the way as there were lots of cyclists going in both directions. Some spectators grabbed my bike for me and we got off to the side of the road. I got my bike and looked it over: flat front tire, banged up base bar on the right side, damage to the rear derailleur, and the right pedal was broken with about a third of it missing. I took inventory of my injuries: bloody hand, bloody leg, really bloody shoulder, ripped race kit with road rash on my butt, but nothing felt broken. Someone had called medical and they showed up. Decision time. If medical touches you, your race is over. Could I finish? Should I finish? I decided to fix my flat to give myself some time. In the midst of changing the tube, my spare exploded. I was too hasty and it had been pinched against the rim. I didn't have another spare with a long enough valve. I waited for a bit and saw Joel go by. I waited for him to hit the turn around and on his way back flagged him down to see if he had a spare I could use. He didn't. I kept waiting, hoping eventually tech support would go by. After a long wait, they did and I flagged them down. We had to swap some valve extenders, but eventually we got something just long enough to work with my front wheel. At this point I had decided I was going to finish up. I was sore, but I was functional. I didn't think I would hurt myself any worse by carrying on. I had tried to call my dad and Becky using a spectators phone, but I hadn't been able to get ahold of them. I knew they would be worried because by now I was way behind when I should have arrived. The whole incident took about 40 minutes. I had about 12 miles to go after the crash, but I didn't push hard. I just rode it out nice and easy. My watch time when I finished read 2:03. It had stopped when I crashed, obviously. I had averaged 328 watts up until the crash and was probably going to have the third or fourth fastest split of the day. Sadly, it wasn't to be.

I racked my bike when I made it to transition and walked over to see my dad and Becky. I talked to them about what happened and then looked for a race official. They had told me they heard I had DNFed. I wanted to make sure with an official that that wasn't the case before heading out to run. He did some checking around and eventually told me I hadn't been DQ'ed or DNFed, so I started out on the run course. I wasn't going to run hard, but I felt like I needed to finish. I'm not really sure why I felt that way. I knew I was going to be the last male pro to finish, but it didn't seem to matter to me.

Out on the run course I saw one of the men who had helped me when I crashed. He had ridden his bike over to the run course and found me. He had done all of the interpreting between me and medical and tech support. We talked for a little as I ran. I ended up seeing him a few more times throughout the run. He was an awesome guy and kept cheering me on for finishing up. I also saw Joel as I passed back by transition. He was just coming in off the bike, so I stopped to talk to him for a minute as well. He had an awesome ride, so that was good for him. Considering the circumstances, I still ran a 1:27 in the heat, without really pushing myself, and with some sore and bloody body parts. That's not too bad.

To top off the day, after Joel finished we caught a shuttle back to the hotel. We were 2-3 miles from the hotel and something went wrong with the bus. The engine died. We all had to get off. Joel and I rode our bikes the rest of the way and my dad and Becky caught a cab. I had to work up some courage to get in the shower because I knew how badly the road rash was going to hurt. I took my coach's advice and bit a towel when I got in to get through the initial sting. Then Becky bandaged me up before we grabbed some dinner and packed up to leave the next morning.

Despite not having the race I wanted to have, there were still a few positive take-aways from the day. I had a solid ride leading up to the crash and I felt like I could have had a strong run if things had gone differently. Fortunately, the only training I missed when I returned home was a week of swimming. I managed to get through everything else as my body healed up. I'm feeling well again and am just over two weeks out from 70.3 Puerto Rico on March 20. I love that race and hopefully will be able to go get a little redemption by having a solid day there.

Monday, January 25, 2016

2016 Season Preview

The 2016 race season is getting an early start, with my first race in less than a week at Ironman 70.3 Panama. Starting so early will likely make for a long season, but I'm ready for it. I took a bit of a break after Chattanooga before starting to ramp things back up, and at this point I feel recharged and have been working hard for the past two months preparing for Panama. Training through the holidays was a bit of a challenge, not just for me but for Becky as well, but she was great and put up with my healthy food requests and time training. At the end of this season I'm going to plan for a nice break for all of December so I can really enjoy the holidays.

So how did I spend my winter training? I spent it working on my deficiencies - swimming and running. For the past seven to eight weeks my time spent swimming, biking, and running has been almost exactly evenly split. Generally triathletes spend the most amount of time riding because the biggest percentage of races is spent on the bike. My riding has always been my strength, so I am working to try to bring my swimming and running up to speed. I also spent quite a bit of time focusing on strength and flexibility. My coach had me doing a strength program twice a week and performing functional movement exercises five days a week in an attempt to correct some muscle imbalances. Hopefully that all translates to more power on the bike and run and increased muscular endurance.

I was in the water generally four days each week, swimming 4-5,500 yards each time and averaging between 18-21,000 yards. That was quite a substantial increase in volume for me, and I saw it pay some dividends. I dropped my 1000TT time by about 25 seconds over the course of the winter. That still leaves me with a long way to go, but seeing the improvement was motivating and kept me wanting to put in the yards each week. Mike was home from Boston for two weeks in December, so swimming with him and Joel for those two weeks were a great opportunity for me. They beat me up pretty good, but swimming with guys like that is only going to help me in the long run. I did finish up a few workouts with tears in my eyes I think though.

My running has been predominantly done on the treadmill, which honestly I don't mind. I like the controlled workouts and the consistency from session to session. I also like having the ability to push myself and not let myself slow down during intervals even when I feel fatigued. I averaged 45-50 miles per week, with a solid mix of intervals and tempo work included. I am feel good about my run right now and am confident I am going to see improvements on the course in that discipline this year.

Despite my "lack" of time on the bike, I am still really excited about how well I'm riding right now. The volume has been lower, but the intensity has been high. There has been a lot of riding at 85 percent or higher of my FTP, and I tested twice over the winter and saw that number increase each time. In my last 20 minute test I was able to maintain 396 watts, putting my FTP somewhere in the 375 watt range (see file here: http://tpks.ws/PErB). Again, riding the trainer and controlling the workouts as I have been doing appears to be paying off. There is no time wasted on the trainer and there is no coasting, so every minute you spend there is productive.

It is hard to say what to expect in Panama this week. There are some unknowns, like how I will fare in the heat and humidity since all of my training has been indoors due to the Rochester winter, but I've been doing a few things recommended by my coach to try to help prepare for the heat and I will be sure to keep on top of my nutrition and hydration during the race. Since this is the 70.3 Pan America Championship race there is a solid field of professionals on the start list. It will be a solid test for me to see how I stack up early in the season against some of the strongest guys in the sport.

I wouldn't quite consider 2016 to be a "make or break it" year, but it is definitely going to be a year where I want to see some solid growth in the professional field if I'm going to continue to race up there. Last year was a good starting point to see what racing in the pro field was like, and I was able to have a few decent results, with my best finish being a 10th place at 70.3 Raleigh. This year I feel like I need to some growth and improvement, breaking into some top 6-8 spots. If I can do that, I will definitely keep my license and race up there for a few more years. If not, I'll have to consider the idea of returning to age group racing. The biggest allure of that being the 70.3 World Championship returning to the USA in 2017 and I'd love to battle for AG World Champion. I would also love to race Kona some day, and making it to the top 50 in the world as a professional is pretty unlikely for me.

There is plenty to consider down the road, but for now the focus is 70.3 Panama and going as fast as I can. Being a championship race I would imagine there will be live GPS tracking like what we had in Chattanooga last year. If not, there will at least be the Athlete Tracker to give splits during the day. Follow along Sunday morning starting at 6:30am!

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

2015 Ironman Chattanooga Race Report

My last race on my 2015 schedule was Ironman Chattanooga. I had heard great things about the race after its first year and I was excited to race a course that sounded like it suited me quite well. With a down current swim and a rolling bike course that has an extra four miles on it, Chattanooga was right up my alley. I had convinced Joel to race with me and Steve Rosinski hopped into the race last minute. It's always fun to share the course with friends.

The weather in the days before the race was less than stellar. Basically it rained all day Friday and Saturday. I didn't do any practice swimming, which was abnormal for me. I was able to get out for about a 30 minute ride on Saturday afternoon to give my bike a quick run through after the flight. Friday I drove the bike course in the morning and then did the standard registration/meeting stuff in the afternoon. I was excited for the bike course with the small, rolling hills and winding roads. It was just the type of course I like. While we were driving the course my friend, Steve Ruffin, sent me a message inviting us to dinner that night. Steve lives in Chattanooga so he gave us the inside scoop on things. We ended up going to a great little Italian restaurant and, besides being joined by Steve and Karen, were also joined by Bree Wee and Neilia Bliss. Bree is a multiple time Ironman champion, so getting the opportunity to talk with her was really awesome.

Race morning I headed down to transition early to drop my gear bags off and set up my bike. Ironman was having us carry GPS for tracking information during the race, so I had to pick that up as well. My friends and family who were tracking the race online said having that was really great. It gave real time data from the course and showed them exactly what our progress was. Hopefully Ironman continues to develop the technology to help with the spectator end of the sport. After everything was ready I hopped on a bus to go up to the swim start. I was there pretty early, so I found a spot to lay down and try to rest for a bit.

The start of the race was a little chaotic. It was dark in the morning, so we were delayed getting in to the water. Then we were told we would have a little bit of time to warm up, but no one gave an exact time. Some of the guys were swimming back up the river (since we had to stay behind the start line). I stayed pretty close to the boat and held the rope so I would be right on the line. There was no count down or warning at all. They just fired the air horn to send us off. Some of the guys hadn't even made it back to the line yet. It was all a bit of a cluster. I immediately tried to get into a comfortable rhythm and stay relaxed. I've noticed that my best swims this year have come when I have done that. When I try to swim really hard and stay on feet I tense up and it's almost like I'm fighting the water. I kept telling myself to stay relaxed, roll, and keep a nice, long stroke. I swam by myself for most of the swim, which was pretty standard for the year. I never get comfortable finding feet and following them. I could tell I was having a pretty good swim, though, because I didn't get caught by any of the female pros until after the buoys had changed color, which meant I was over half way. For me, that was improvement. I didn't see the clock as I exited the water and I didn't wear my watch for the swim, but I did see a clock on my way out of T1 and noticed it was 54:xx. Even with the current I was a little surprised at my time. Best of all I wasn't the last male pro out like in Cozumel last year. I ended up swimming a 51:52. There is still plenty of room for improvement, but it was a good confidence builder for me for the day.

Onto the bike course and I was mentally in a very good place. I moved to the front of the guys I exited the swim with and rode away from them pretty quickly. The bike course takes you out of Chattanooga and into Georgia, where you complete two loops before returning back to transition. It is rolling hills on twisty, narrow roads. I really liked the course as it keeps your attention and is set up well for how I ride. At dinner the night before I told Bree I would cheer her on when I passed her on the bike because I knew she would outswim me. I caught her just as we went over a set of railroad tracks and lost one of my bottles. I decided to stop and pick it up because it had First Endurance in it and was a pretty good chunk of calories. I didn't want to lose that in the first five miles of the bike. Once I was moving again I passed Bree and gave her a loud cheer. The plan for the bike was to take it easy and stay comfortable so I would have a good run. I was averaging around 275 watts and felt very good. I caught a group of four guys at about the 35 mile mark. Steve was in this group, so I rode to the front and told him that we should try to ride away from the other guys. We put in a little surge and dropped them, eventually catching two other guys, one of whom was Doug MacLean. I rode on the front of this group for quite a while, until we went through Chickamauga. I made my biggest mistake of the day here, as I missed special needs. I was planning to stop to grab two bottles of First Endurance and a couple Honey Stinger Waffles that I had packed, but because of traffic and one of the guys in our group deciding to ride past me at this point, I was so focused on riding that I completely didn't see where special needs was set up. As we turned left to start the second loop I skipped an aid station thinking that special needs must be just up the road. As we rode a few miles and didn't hit it I started to get nervous. I was completely out of all food and nutrition at this point. Steve and I had ridden away from the other two guys by now, so I dropped back to ask him where special needs was. He told me we had already passed it. It was like getting punched in the stomach. "I'm f----ed." That was the only thing I could think to myself. I knew where the next aid station was, and it was still 10-12 miles. That meant it would be 25-30 minutes before I could get any more nutrition. That's not good in an Ironman. I did what I could do to stay calm and try to dial myself back a bit. When I did finally hit that aid station and I had completely stop to reload my supplies. I grabbed a couple bottles of Gatorade for some liquid calories, a Clif Bar, and a couple of GU gels. Basically the plan was to grab whatever I could quickly and then figure out what my stomach would handle best once I was moving again. I got separated from Steve a bit here since I had to stop. I rode to try to bridge back up to him, but at each aid station I would have to either slow way down or stop to make sure I got enough nutrition now. They were pretty crowded with age group athletes on the second lap, so I had to be careful not to get tangled up with anyone. I almost got wiped out at one aid station and then going up a small climb a woman fell over right in front of me as I was passing her. As I went to go by her on the left she just stopped moving and fell to her left. It was a close call. I decided to stop in Chickamauga the second time through to pick up one of my bottles and a couple Honey Stinger Waffles for the final miles back into transition. It was another complete stop while the volunteers got my bag for me, but it was worth the time. The ride back into Chattanooga for the final 20 miles or so after that was uneventful as I spent the time trying to eat and drink what I could without overdoing it. The nutrition mishap was certainly a big mistake on my part and it definitely cost me some time on the bike. I'm sure the lack of calories hurt me later in the day during the run as well, but incidents like that are bound happen in long course racing. Fortunately it wasn't any worse than it was and I was able to get some stuff on course.

Heading out on the run course I really tried to pace myself. My run at Cozumel was a PR for me, but I still felt like I should have been able to do much better. I had raced conservatively on the bike intentionally so that I could have a good run here. The run course in Chattanooga is tough. It is a double loop and the back half of each loop has some good hills on it. It is definitely the most difficult run course I've ever done. The miles ticked off one by one without much incident for the first loop. I walked a few aid stations to make sure I got enough water and nutrition and held a rather consistent pace. I felt decent heading into loop two, but around mile 15 I started to fade a bit. My legs were certainly feeling the fatigue from the day and I was having trouble making myself take in food. Nothing seemed appealing to my stomach anymore so I went to my go to items in that situation - water, Coke, and bananas. I drank as much water and Coke as I could at each aid station and grabbed half a banana to eat as I ran. I'm not sure what it is about bananas, but I always seem to tolerate them well late in a race. Somewhere around the 23-24 mile mark I finally saw Joel for the first time. He was having an awesome race as well and it was great to share the course with him. The support on the run course was great and I like loop courses and being able to see my family and Becky several times. I ended up running a 3:17:52, which took ten minutes off my Cozumel run. I was pleased with the improvement, but I still know I'm capable of better. My goal for next year will be to get that under 3:10. I did not do much run mileage leading up to Chattanooga, so I know that I need to find some ways to work more miles in next year to build up my running endurance. It is something my coach and I will have to discuss and plan out.

Overall I was pleased with my performance. I set a new Ironman distance PR by about 29 minutes. I think the current assisted swim and long bike course basically cancel each other out as far as time goes on this course. If anything I'd say you lose a couple more minutes from the extra four miles on the bike than you gain from the current on the swim. I wanted to break 9 hours very badly and am a little disappointed at how close I came but ultimately ended up falling short. I'll keep working and next year I'll give it another shot, although the plan is to do Ironman Canada in 2016, which is a very challenging course that is not designed for setting PRs.

That wraps up the 2015 triathlon season. My family, Becky, and friends have been amazingly supportive and I can't thank them enough for everything they do to help me. It was a very successful first year with my new coach, Peter. I'm excited to continue our work together for next season and hopefully we can keep progressing. A huge thanks to TriSports.com, Honey Stinger, Towpath Bikes, and Nuun for their support this season as well. The 2016 season is going to start early, but some time off for a few weeks will be very enjoyable.

Swim - 51:52
Bike - 4:47:36
Run - 3:17:52
Total - 9:02:31

Thursday, September 17, 2015

2015 Toughman NY Championship

Thanks for all your help
this year coach!
Last weekend I raced the Toughman NY Championship just north of New York City in Croton-on-Hudson, NY. It was my first time racing in the Toughman series, and I think they did a pretty good job. It was certainly a challenging course. I had hopes of landing on the podium and earning some prize money since this is a smaller race that doesn't draw big name pros, but I knew there were going to be a few solid guys there racing. I would need to have a good day. As a nice bonus I got to meet my coach this weekend, as his wife was racing the aquabike. This race served as the USAT Aquabike National Championship. I had never met Peter before, so it was good to get to spend some time with him and talk about my season and training. I feel that he has done a great job with me this year and brought me some substantial improvements and am looking forward to a good winter of solid work to keep the momentum moving forward.

My dad, Becky, and I drove down Friday evening after work, arriving to our hotel around 10pm. There was no practice swim on Saturday and registration wasn't until 1:30pm, so I slept in a bit and tried to get some rest. Not knowing what the road situation would be that close to the City, I took my trainer and got a quick 30 minute ride in Saturday morning to spin my legs out and then did a quick 15 minute run. On my run I noticed that there were no flat roads anywhere. You were always going up or down,  which would be the case in the race on Sunday. After registration we drove the bike course and then went back to the hotel to rest for a bit. Then we had dinner with Mike and Rachel before turning in for the night.

Sunday morning, after a terrible night of not sleeping very well, I woke up at 4am and got myself ready. We needed to be to the park early if we wanted to be able to park close and not have to get shuttled in. We arrived at the park around 5am, which gave me plenty of time to set up my gear in transition and get a bit of a warm up in. After that I headed over to the start line with Mike to line up for the swim.

The swim start was a bit confusing. The information that was being announced didn't match what the athlete guide we had been given said. The folks in charge weren't quite sure who was supposed to be starting in the 6:45am wave. This would definitely be an organizational area I would suggest they try to improve in the future. Getting the waves lined up properly makes the start a lot smoother. Eventually it got sorted out and the elite wave, along with several of the male age group waves, all gathered on the start line on the beach. The timing wire was under a mat on the beach, so we had to run over it to get "chipped in" at the start. It made the start a little congested, but fortunately I was right up on the front of the line so it wasn't too bad.

Always glad to be out of the water.
The water temperature was measured at 77 degrees, making the race wetsuit legal in this circumstance. The Ironman professional cut off is much lower (70.5 degrees), but since this race wasn't a WTC race it follows USAT rules. I wish they could all agree on consistent rules throughout the sport. It would make things less confusing for everyone. In hindsight, it was way too warm for a full sleeve suit. I had just gotten my new Roka Maverick Pro full sleeve wetsuit from TriSports, so I decided to give it a try for the first time in this race. I had been using one they lent me, so I knew the suit was comfortable. I have the sleeveless version as well, and I really should have used that instead, but I was trying to get the little extra speed from the full suit. I became uncomfortably hot less than half way into the swim though. My plan was to stay comfortable, focus on a good roll and finishing my stroke, and not waste energy trying to save a few seconds. On the entry to the water I had my goggle knocked, causing it to fill up with water. Fortunately the water was very shallow for a long ways, so I was able to stand up and walk as I fixed it. A few dolphin dives and I was back swimming again. Once the chaos got sorted out I found myself on the back of a group of about five people. I decided to try to stay right there and get some experience swimming on some feet. I haven't been good at keeping on feet in my previous races, so this was a good opportunity for me. I hung on pretty much through the entire swim. Our group broke up a little bit toward the end because people swam in different directions. They had told us at the briefing that morning to sight off the ambulance because it would be parked at the swim exit. However, they ended up moving it over to the swim start during our swim. Some people didn't realize that and swam a bit to the left. Fortunately, I noticed pretty quickly and stayed on the buoy line. I didn't wear my watch since I was using the full sleeve suit, so I don't know if the course was accurate or not. I swam 31:08, which I think is a bit slow, but I came out of the water 16th overall. That is good for where my swim has been.

Fastest bike split of the day.
I had a quick transition and headed to the bike course. On my way out my dad let me know I was about 6:30 back on the leader, John Kenny. I knew he would be the first out of the water, but I also know I'm a much strong cyclist than him. There were a few other guys out in front that I knew would be a challenge, but I would give it my best. The bike course was completely closed to traffic, which was awesome. It was a double loop ride on a nice highway road. Overall the course was very smooth and in great condition. After the first mile and a half there was a long, difficult climb out to the first turn around. Then you came screaming back down the hill past where you entered the highway and went out to the other turn around. You then made your way back past the start before doing the loop again. In the first climb and descent I made up about 3.5 minutes on the front guy. My dad passed the information along as I rode past. I was pumped to hear that news. That was a huge chunk of time. I kept pushing hard to the second turn around, where I was able to gauge that I was about 2 minutes back. I had taken more time off the front. However, I noticed the front group had come together. I was in 5th place now and the front four were riding close. Very close. In my opinion, too close. And since I didn't see a single official during the entire ride... Draw your own conclusions.

At the start of the second loop the gap to the front was 1:15 seconds. After the climb and descent the gap held steady. At the final turn around I checked my clock to see how far back I was.... still 1:15. And the group was still all together. As I came back after the turn around one of the guys was on the side of the road with a flat. I generally don't like knowing I moved up because of someone's misfortune, but maybe karma for riding too close caught up to him. Now I was in 4th. A few miles down the road I came up behind John Kenny. He had fallen off the group and looked like he was struggling. I went by and then had a look back to see that he had tried to lift his pace to stay with me. I put a huge surge in and the next time I looked back I couldn't even see him. He was dropped. The final two miles of the course was super sketchy. They took us on this extremely narrow bike path with sharp 90 degree turns and walls and fences on either side of the path. Add in the broken up asphalt from tree roots breaking through and you had a recipe for disaster. Fortunately I was all alone on this section so I didn't have to worry about other riders. I did go into one right hand turn way too hot and almost smashed into a wall, but luckily I was able to hang on. I came into transition right as the two leaders were heading out, so I knew they were just over a minute ahead of me. But would I be able to chase them down? I had the fastest bike split of the day. I went 2:18:31 (Normalized Power of 306 watts), which honestly I think I should have been a couple minutes faster, but it was a very tough course with lots of climbing, some steady headwind, and four complete 180 degree turns. Another piece of constructive criticism for the race would come on the bike course. I saw zero officials during the entire ride, and I was right near the front of the race the entire time.

Third place finish. 
On to the run course my dad and coach both let me know I was less than a minute back. Peter told me not to try to bridge the gap too fast, but to remember it was a long run. It ended up not being an issue, because I couldn't run with those two that day anyway. My legs just didn't have it. I wasn't uncomfortable or feeling fried from the bike, but I just didn't have the leg turnover I needed. The first half of the run was essentially uphill to the turnaround, and then we turned back and had a nice downward slope to come home. There was one tough, short climb at mile 9, but it was nothing compared to the long climb from mile 5-6. That was a complete grind. We also ran on every type of surface imaginable. There was some road, some dirt, some grassy paths, some crushed gravel, some rocky paths... That made the footing interesting in a few spots. At the turnaround I could tell I was about 4.5 minutes back. The two guys out front had crushed the first half of that run. I knew there was no way I was bridging the gap. I could also tell that 4th place was over four minutes behind me. I was in no man's land. There was no reason to push to try to catch the front and there was no reason to run scared from a challenge behind me. It was probably for the best because it let me just cruise in the for second half of the run and save my legs for Chattanooga in two weeks. I ended up running a 1:27:20, which was the third fastest run split of the day. Only the two guys who beat me had better runs.

Men's podium.
I ended up 3rd overall, which meant my first prize money from racing. I was hoping for 2nd or better, but unfortunately that didn't quite work out. I would have been really disappointed if I didn't come away from the race with anything. I'll take a third with a decent swim (for me) and a solid bike for the day.

Always fun to race
with Mike!
After the race I met up with Mike and we had some lunch. The race did provide good food for the athletes. We talked our races over and hung out a bit before gathering our gear from transition. After the awards ceremony we headed back to the hotel, showered up quick and headed for home.

Overall, I thought Toughman did a good job at putting on a very good event. The few issues I do think could be fixed to improve the race are relatively simple - organize the swim start a bit more, put a few more officials out on the bike course, and, if it were up to me, I'd say take the bike path section out and just bring the bike course in on the road to the park that we left on. It might make the course half a mile short, but I think that's a better option than the craziness of that path. I'd like to thank Rich Izzo for extending the invitation to me and allowing me to race with Toughman. I'd definitely be interested in coming back and trying to improve my spot on the podium in the future. Less than two weeks until Ironman Chattanooga!

Swim - 31:08
Bike - 2:18:31
Run - 1:27:20
Total Time - 4:19:32 (3rd overall)

Friday, September 11, 2015

2015 Ironman 70.3 Calgary

I'm way behind on my race reports, so in an attempt to get caught up before my next race (which is this weekend) this one is going to be pretty quick. I raced Ironman 70.3 Calgary on the last weekend in July. It was the week after the NYC Triathlon and a week before my wedding. Needless to say it was a hectic few weeks.

My dad and I flew out to Calgary on Friday before the race. Becky didn't go because with all the wedding stuff going on we figured it would be best if she was home to avoid the stress of feeling rushed when we got home. The trip out was another crazy one, with our flight being delayed by over four hours out of Rochester. We ended up getting a flight out of Buffalo instead, but the airline paid for our taxi to get to the Buffalo airport so we didn't have to leave a car there like the Raleigh trip.

Saturday morning I did registration and the typical pre-race stuff. Sadly, Friday night there was a drowning in the lake where the swim was to be held. It was a young boy from the community that surrounded the lake. Rightfully, the lake was closed on Saturday, so there was no practice swim. I went for a quick 30 minute ride to get my legs moving and then dropped my bike off at transition.

Becky usually does all the restaurant research and finds us great places to eat. Without her there I had to try to fill that role. I think I did an alright job two of the three nights, but Saturday night for the pre-race meal I failed miserably. I don't even remember the name of the place, but it was not the best chicken parmesan I've ever had. Becky is not allowed to miss any more races! After dinner we headed back to the hotel and it was early to bed.

Sunday I woke up at 4am as usual and got my stuff together. The drive to transition was about 20 minutes. The bike course was point to point, and T2 was only about a mile from our hotel, so that was nice for after the race. Once arriving at transition I got my bike set up with nutrition and did a quick check over to make sure everything was good to go. After that I headed to the water to check out the swim course since I hadn't seen it yet. Everything about the swim in this race was a complete cluster. I completely understand how the incident on Friday could complicate things for the race. There was even talk of cancelling the swim and making it just a bike-run. I would've been fine with that. What I didn't like was the complete lack of organization in the swim and start of the race. They were behind schedule but were still trying to start the race on time, rushing people around. With five minutes to go until the scheduled race start time, they were still towing buoys out into the water. We were asking the organizers to explain the swim and the turns to us because it was an odd shaped swim due to the size of the lake. From where we stood at the start you couldn't see all of the buoys because there was land in the way. There were red, white, blue, and yellow buoys, with no rhyme or reason to how they were placed. It was a disaster. So with everyone feeling confused and not understanding the course, they hurried us onto the beach and got the race started at 6:45am.

The gun went off and we headed out. The first stretch was straight to the other side of the lake, where we would make a right turn. That part was simple. After that the land jutted in and you had to swim inward to avoid it. Once you got around the land you could see the buoys you couldn't see from the start, except you were staring dead straight into the rising sun. I could tell there was confusion from the other guys around me. I was actually able to follow some feet up to this point. However, in all the stopping and looking around I ended up losing most of the group I was with. I finally made it around the farthest buoy and made the turn. At this point we had to swim back into the middle of the lake around another buoy and then keep the rest of them on our left shoulder all the way to the finish. I stopped at one point, not being able to tell which buoy I needed to go to, and a volunteer in a kayak pointed me in a direction (not the right direction, just a direction). I started heading that way, but then was eventually stopped by a different volunteer on a paddle board who told me I needed to go out around a different buoy farther out. So I had to turn back out and head to that buoy to make the turn. It was confusing and frustrating. I never wear my Garmin during the swim if it is wetsuit legal because getting my wetsuit off over the watch is a pain, so I wasn't wearing it. I have no idea how far I swam or what my course looked like. I do know that in looking at the swim times of everyone else, I was not that only person who had problems. In fact, I would say a number of guys were thrown off course more than me.

I was happy to be out of the water and have that disaster of a swim course behind me. I grabbed my bike from transition and headed out on the course. As I mentioned before, the bike course was point to point. We headed west to start, which had rolling hills that generally trended upwards. Then we turned north for maybe five miles or so before turning east and heading back toward the city, which was almost all slightly downhill, making it a very fast second half. I picked a few guys off early on the bike and when I saw my dad I think I was somewhere around 9th place (I had come out of the water 12th). I caught one more guy around mile 15 and then I stayed in 8th for a really long time. I was motivated because I could see a group of four guys way up the road (probably between 1.5.-2 miles), and I was working my tail off trying to pull them in. I could tell I was closing the gap, but it wasn't by much. My legs weren't feeling great and I was slightly under my target wattage, so I had to decide whether I should chase that number or ride based on how I felt. I decided to back off and ride based on how my legs were feeling. I was still motivated to close the gap to the group, but I wasn't going to blow myself up in order to do so. Around mile 45 I moved into 7th place as Chris Leiferman punctured and had to stop. I ended up having the third fastest bike split of the day, behind Ben Hoffman and Andy Potts. That's not a bad pair to get out split by.

I never would complete the catch of the group I was chasing, but I came into transition while those guys were still there, so less than a minute back. I racked my bike, threw on my running shoes, and made my way to the run course. I had dropped some nutrition on the bike, so I didn't take in as many calories as I typically do. This came back to bite me on the run.

I was maybe 20-30 seconds down on 6th place running out of transition. By mile three I had made the catch and moved into 6th. That was about when things started to fall apart for me though. I could feel myself running out of steam and starting to slow. My first few miles I ticked off at a 6 min/mile pace like clockwork. Now I was starting to slow. I dropped back to 7th. I continued to slow. By the time I hit the turnaround (it was a straight out and back course) I had fallen back to 10th. I was disappointed to be in such a good position but not be able to hold it. With about two miles to go I was passed by one more person and fell out of the top ten to 11th, which is where I would ultimately end up. The couple punchy hills on the run really took their toll on me as I was already fading. The lack of nutrition certainly didn't help either. I ran a 1:25:52, which last year I would have been excited with. This year I have proven that I'm capable of running better than that though, and I expect more from myself. It was a PR for the distance for me (though the bike was about a mile and a half short).

After the race I met up with my dad. When I grabbed my stuff from transition I told him I would just ride back to the hotel since it was so close to save having to put my bike in the car. However, when I got on my bike I realized my rear tire was completely flat. I have no idea when it went flat or if it happened after I racked it, but that was the first time I've ever had a flat on my race bike (knock on wood). It was a good time to have it I guess, since I never noticed it during the race. When I took the tube out  to replace it I noticed the hole was right by the valve stem on the inner side of the tube. I hadn't picked up road debris or anything . Maybe I had a slow leak all day and didn't realize it. Either way, let's hope for no more punctures!

That night my dad and I had dinner together (it was much better than the night before) and went to the casino attached to the hotel to play some blackjack. We both lost, but there were some entertaining people down there. On Monday it was time to head back to New York and get ready for my wedding! The trip home had zero travel issues. It never does. It's always on the way to the race. Why is that?

Swim - 28:32
Bike - 2:06:25
Run - 1:25: 52
Total - 4:04:52

Saturday, August 8, 2015

2015 NYC Triathlon

It has been a very busy few weeks, causing me to fall behind on my race reports. I'll try to get myself caught up before my next race, which is 70.3 Timberman on August 16...

On July 19 I raced the NYC Triathlon. I hadn't raced an Olympic distance triathlon since I did this race in 2013, so it would be a bit of a different test for me. I'm used to grinding it out over longer distances. It's pretty rare that I race at or near threshold like Olympic distance racing requires. It is good for me to mix it up occasionally and the speed work was part of the plan for the build up to 70.3 Calgary the following week.

I headed down to NYC with my family and Becky on Friday before the race. It was a pretty uneventful trip down. Saturday morning I went for an easy run in Central Park because there is no opportunity to get in the swim venue (because it's the Hudson River) and I didn't want to ride in the Park with it being as busy as it always is. I don't love running the day before a race, but I don't like doing nothing even less. So a run it was. After running I really just spent the day with my feet up and trying to relax. At 4pm I had to go to the required pro athlete meeting where we got briefed on the course and rules. After that we went out for an early dinner and then it was an early bedtime because it was a very, very early start Sunday morning.

Race morning I rode my bike over to transition from the hotel. It was strange to ride through the dark streets in what was essentially still the middle of the night (somewhere around 4:30am), but I made it safely and it was easier than getting shuttled over. As I racked my bike and got my gear set up I was a bit frustrated because in the giant, grassy lawn that was transition, my spot landed right in the only dirt spot where there wasn't any grass. I've had bad experiences in the past with dirt being on my the bottom of my feet while riding and didn't want that to happen again. There wasn't much I could do about it, so I hoped for the best. After setting everything up I started the long walk down to swim start. Since it's a point to point swim in the Hudson River, you have to walk over a mile to get up to the start. Once I got there I hung out in the tent for pros until it was time to hit the water.

This race uses a gender equalizer where there is additional prize money for the overall first place finisher between the males and females, so the women started first. The equalizer was 11:36, so the women were spotted that much time before the men started. There was a slight delay before the start as the organizers needed some extra time getting water safety personnel in position. The women ended up starting at roughly 6am, with us following after. I was hoping to have a solid swim since my pool sessions had been improving and with the aid of the current I hoped to come out not too far behind the leaders. Unfortunately, it didn't go that way and I had another crap swim. I didn't feel comfortable and I don't think I swam straight. My pool speed has not been transferring to the open water. (After reflecting on this race I decided that I needed to get to Kershaw Park in Canandaigua and get more open water practice in, which I have done.) I came out of the water about four minutes back to the lead males. More frustration.

As I made the long run to transition I decided I was going to take that frustration out on the pedals of my bike. I threw on my helmet, grabbed my bike, and headed out. I made a quick pass of one guy before we hit the West Side Highway. Immediately I could feel the dirt on the bottom of my feet and in my cycling shoes though. That didn't bode well. Since I figured the ride would be about an hour, I decided to push towards my threshold and hope I would be able to run off the bike. I knew there was potential for cracking hard on the run with this strategy, but figured I'd gamble. When I did this race two years ago the highway was in terrible condition. It was concrete that was falling apart. This year, though, about 85 percent of it had been resurfaced and was asphalt, so the ride was much less bumpy. I kept picking guys off on bike and slowly moved up to 9th place by the end of the ride. I averaged 334 watts and rode a 59:29. Only six people broke an hour on the day, so I had a solid ride, especially considering that course is a mile long. The hope was that I could run well for 10K. I should mention that after the turnaround in the Bronx my toes had had enough of the dirt in my shoes. As I descended down a hill I took my left foot out of my shoe and could feel that the blister had already ripped open from the rubbing. I ripped the skin off, brushed off the dirt as best I could, put my shoe back on, and got back to riding. That was going to feel great for the rest of the day.

In T2 I made a poor choice. My coach and I had talked about ways to save time in transition since they tend to make more of a difference in short course racing. I decided to run without socks for the first time ever. It turned out to be an awful decision.

My poor toes...
Anyway... exiting T2 I was quickly passed by the last guy I had passed on the bike. I could immediately tell he had a running background and knew there was no way I could stay with him. At about mile 2, once we were in Central Park, another guy came up and passed me, which put me out of the top 10. I tried to hang with him for a while, but the pace was a bit too much. However, as I climbed the last big hill in the northeast part of the park I was able to make a pass and move back into 10th, which is where I would ultimately end up, posting a run split of 35:31, which is 5:42 per mile. I was pleased with that. The last three miles were killer on my feet though. Every step I took I could feel blisters forming on the outside of my little toes. When I finally crossed the finish line, the first thing I did was take my shoes off. There was blood from the blisters all over my toes. It was pretty bad. I ended up heading into the medical tent to have them cleaned up and bandaged.

After that I met up with my family. I finished in 10th place with a time of 1:55:25, which I was generally happy with. Being a minute or two faster in the water is the only thing that could have really made me happier with the day. That and not having blisters all over my feet. The 11th place guy finished only 12 seconds behind me though, so I think the time saved from not putting socks on kept me in the top 10. Was it worth it? If you asked me the afternoon after the race I would've said "no way." If you asked me today, now that the blisters are mostly healed up, I'd probably say "I'm not sure."

That afternoon I was able to have lunch with one of my former students, Ryan, who is now living in New York City and working at the Lincoln Center for The King and I. It was great to get to catch up with him and hear about how well he has done since moving to NYC and pursuing his passion. It's not often that I have gotten to see such a wonderful success story and as a teacher it reminded me why our profession is important. I wish him the best of luck as he keeps working and I know that he will continue to achieve great things.

That night we went to see Something Rotten on Broadway. It was hysterical! Despite it being a long day and a late show (maybe 7:30pm isn't late to most people, but in my world it is), I had no trouble staying awake. I would definitely recommend it to anyone who has the chance to see it.

Swim - 15:55
Bike - 59:29
Run - 35:31
Total Time - 1:55:25 (10th overall)

We recreated the picture we took two years ago. Two weeks
until the wedding!