70.3 Santa Rosa Race Report

What do you know, a long hiatus from posting…typical. My apologies to my three fans :).

I decided to start my tri season with 70.3 Santa Rosa this past weekend. The well-known (in the tri world, anyway) Vineman Triathlon was taken over by Ironman, and this is its replacement. From my understanding, Vineman originally had the swim in the Russian River and was known for its comically shallow swim where people would sometimes get up and walk. It then finished in Windsor, CA after a bike ride through wine country. Ironman has changed the swim to Lake Sonoma and the finish to Santa Rosa, but from what I hear, the bike course is on many of the same roads. Given the great following of the Vineman Tri and the fact that I’d never been to Northern California, I was looking forward to going and checking it out.

The downside to the location changes was that it was a 40 minute drive at best from Santa Rosa/T2 to Lake Sonoma/T1. The company I work for, TriBike Transport, worked with Ironman to provide a bike shuttle to T1 for those who were unable to or didn’t want to deal with taking their bikes to transition the day before the race. Our guys on-site saw more reservations than anticipated and they transported 360+ bikes to T1 the day before the race! As one who has been a driver for the company before, trust me, this is a ton of work – I can attest to how long this took, as my TBT roommate this weekend (who helped with the shuttle service) got back to the hotel 30 minutes before I got up for the race…

It also turns out this is the largest IM or 70.3 event in North America, with around 3,000 entrants. Considering the need to take a 40+ minute shuttle to T1 on race morning, type ‘A’ triathletes wanting to be on the first bus, and me starting in the first wave, I was concerned about getting to the shuttles early enough. Luckily I had a friend racing, Cindy Lacotta, and her friend, Denise, offered to give us a ride to the shuttle on race morning so I could avoid worrying about finding parking. Greatly appreciated! I think we were on the first bus at (no kidding) 3:50am…

I got to T1 plenty early, did the usual routine and a jog, and wondered if I needed to put on some clothes before hopping on the bike post-swim. The temp was in the low 40s. I walked up and down the pro bike rack to see what people were doing, and the vast majority were opting to race as-is with no arm warmers, vests, etc. Last minute, I rolled up arm warmers and put one on each aero bar so I could put them on while riding if needed.

Water temp was 62-64, so wetsuit approved for the abnormally early 6:10am start. It’s hilarious – one of triathlon’s rockstars and Olympian, Andy Potts, is someone I know from us (TBT) transporting his bike so often. People probably thought I must be crazy fast, just by association – I walked down to the swim start with him, with me remarking on how when, at the pro meeting, they said there’d be rubber mats up the long, steep boat ramp (.2mi), they failed to mention they meant 1/4 of the way up it, not the whole way.

Swim

For this swim, I actually wanted to take it down a notch – I had a theory that me trying to swim as hard as I practically can may actually cause me to swim slower due to poor form from falling apart. This thought came from Ironman Arizona last year, where I gave that a shot and swam 1:02 after swimming 70.3s all year around 30-31 minutes…same pace for twice the distance!

I was dropped almost immediately. That’s been close to the norm for this whole pro experience, so I still kept the faith. I thought I was sitting as the last male pro for a while there, but about 1000m in, another dude started to pass me. I got on his feet and swam the rest of the way with him. I came out of the water and saw the time at 31:2X. Well that didn’t work. FML. 

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T1

T1 was a bit rough, literally. My ice cold feet were clumsy on the beat up pavement. It’s also an uncomfortable feeling suddenly going vertical and having to push it up a steep hill and I was breathing like I was at VO2max. After the .2mi ramp, everyone had to loop around transition, presumably to make it the same distance for everyone. Overall, it was .38 miles to my bike after measuring on Google maps, ha. Suit off, helmet and sunglasses on, and I was on the bike 4:11 after getting out of the water.

Bike

The bike course starts with a relatively steep, winding downhill for 3+ miles, and the whole distance, plus some of the relatively flat and safe-seeming next 1+ miles, is a no aero bars zone. This is due to safety concerns, partly due to that descent, and also because you’re on the left side of the road that whole time. After that, it’s down to business through the rolling hills of wine country – it really is remarkable just how many vineyards are out there! The scenery is quite nice and you will not get bored on this course considering that and the relatively frequent turns. I will say road conditions can be poor but don’t last long, so if you’re on a crappy section, it won’t be for long.

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Back to the cold temperatures…I should’ve put on those friggin arm warmers (and probably gloves) in transition. After the descent, my hands had practically zero dexterity. I don’t think I would’ve been able to put them on. I couldn’t squeeze my water bottle for the first hour. I just hoped the sun would hit me and warm me up quickly. I felt disconnected from my legs, like they were numb, and I felt like I couldn’t fully recruit my muscles. I race well in heat, presumably due to my stature, and I should have considered this when I walked T1 – I’m not as “thick” as most triathletes, and throwing on the arm warmers, gloves, and maybe my vest in T1 may have saved me from being miserable for most of the bike.

Anyway, I didn’t pass anyone on the bike with the exception of two pro women who beat me out of the swim. Luckily, the last hour I was comfortably warm and I felt better. I’d say the hills in the second half of this course are longer and you’re less likely to hold momentum over them – definitely a consideration pacing-wise. I expected a bike split of 2:15-2:20 with the 2k’ or so of gain (although net downhill, point to point), and passed through 56mi in the 2:18s, and with the slightly long course, my split was 2:20:36.

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T2

Given the number of entrants and the transition being on a downtown city street (narrow), this is one of the longest straight-shot transitions I’ve encountered. It’s quite a site to behold with all the bikes in it. One of the perks of the pro thing is they usually place you close to the entrance to T2 and you don’t have to run very far with the bike. I was at my spot within several seconds of dismount; helmet and sunnies off, shoes on, hat on and gels grabbed, and I threw on the number belt while running through transition. The legs felt pretty good, and I was surprised to be leaving transition not far behind Jozsef Major and Jarrod Shoemaker.

Run

Even though I traveled to this race solo, it was great to immediately see a great friend of mine when I started the run – Andy, and his wife, Amy. I’ve known Andy since kindergarten, he was even in my wedding, and he’s a model human being. Love ya, bro!

First mile – 5:59. Alright, solid. Second mile – 5:59. Nice, steady. Third mile – 6:01. Okay, really steady. Haha – it seemed I was able to hold this effort quite well, but had a difficult time going any faster. My best 70.3 run splits are around 5:50 pace (= high 1:16s run split), but I was happy with this for my current fitness. Solid running weather helped. I thought I might be able to reel in Jozsef but didn’t seem to be getting any closer. This is a pretty flat, two lap course with the first lap being 8.X miles and the second 4.X miles. I appreciate this – something sucks about having to go back out the same distance for the second lap after getting close to finish at the end of the first lap.

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May have run faster if I had opened my eyes

Upon finishing the first lap and seeing Andy and Amy, I remarked on how I was averaging 6 minute pace but hadn’t passed a single person yet and that I was in [expletive] no man’s land. The pace was still holding steady though and I was confident some people would come back to me. It was also a bit more engaging to now have more racers on the course so I didn’t feel like I was out there completely solo. Sure enough, I passed two fading pros in the last 2 miles or so, meaning I passed 2 pro males the entire race…haha! This was the most evenly paced 70.3 run I’ve ever had – splits below: (“pace” is actual mile split, “GAP” is grade adjusted for any gain or loss):

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Evaluation

My run split ended up being 1:18:14 (13.07 miles on the ol’ Garmin) and a 4:16 total finish time for 25th overall. Considering the number of racers, this sounds like a solid result, but it is fairly distant from what I’m capable of. This is a “current fitness” thing, and the result is about what I deserve for where I am. I don’t believe I deserved that poor swim split, as I’m swimming around my fastest ever in the pool (despite being at 5,000′ elevation), but I have raced in the 29s before. The bike was about what I expected, and the run was a little bit better than expected.

Overall, it was just nice to shake off some rust since IMAZ was my most recent tri nearly 6 months ago. The fact this run felt *relatively* comfortable indicates to me that I may have been able to push a little harder, but I was just a bit out of practice/familiarity with that intensity and/or I’m still in “Ironman mode.” I’ve also taken on more responsibility at work, by my own choice, and there’s been an adjustment period. I can get carried away addressing various things, and it has left lower motivation or less time for training. However, I’m grateful to have a job where I can get carried away like that, and I appreciate the opportunity. This is simply something I need to get used to, but I do know that this race has brought back the fire! I’m now looking forward to racing 70.3 Victoria in two weeks, and hopefully 70.3 Coeur d’Alene three weeks after that!

Holla fo’ ma peeps

A big shout out to Cindy and Denise for the ride to the shuttles and company on the way to T1! Also to Racelab and Bettina for top notch coaching and support; TriBike Transport for allowing me to take the reigns with my new position, for being wonderful people to work for/with, and for taking my bike out to the race; First Endurance for the best sports nutrition out there; Pactimo for an incredibly comfortable one-of-a-kind tri suit; Rocky Mountain Multisport/Patrick Ray for being my go-to shop for bike work and feedback; and Rudy Project, purveyor of great helmets and sunnies!

 

 

 

Pics From Training and Racing 2016

Our first full calendar year in Colorado is coming to a close and it has been a great one! It was exciting to be able to get out and explore the more scenic areas as the weather warmed up and the rides got longer. One of my favorite rides now is the route up Big Thompson Canyon, then through Glen Haven to get to Estes Park, the gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park. One of my favorite runs is the Thursday evening Towers Road Time Trial with Fort Collins Trail Runners. It’s a brutal but rewarding 3.4 mile climb from 5,600′ elevation to a little over 7,000′. Fort Collins is feeling a little bit more like a home now and I’m beginning to know the roads well.

The racing year was great and I saw improvement in all three sports. I raced five half iron distance races and one full Ironman: 70.3 Texas, 70.3 Boulder, 70.3 Coeur d’Alene, Wildlife Loop Triathlon in South Dakota, 70.3 Austin, and Ironman Arizona. I lowered my personal best 70.3 time to 4:05 and my IM time to 8:37. Now for some down time and to plan out next year!

 

Recap of the first half of the season: 70.3 Texas, Boulder, and Coeur d’Alene

As many of you know, I decided to give pro racing a try this year. The decision came following my result at Ironman Texas last year, where I finished 1st amateur and 12th overall in 8:55. In a lot of races leading up to it, I was starting to consistently find myself placing among the top three amateurs in a lot of races, and I set the goal of first amateur and sub 9 in a full Ironman. After meeting that goal, I felt a bit more justified getting the “pro card,” and having the time to train, no kids, and a low budget added to that decision.

Winter and spring training numbers were my highest ever for that time of year, which really says something after finding I was a huge baby about training in the cold after two warm-ish winters in Austin (we moved to Fort Collins, CO in August 2015). My buddy Todd hooked me up with a CompuTrainer though, and that coupled with Zwift or Netflix made indoor training a lot more tolerable than with a standard trainer.

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In mid March, I had a strange popliteus-related injury (I think) that (I think) came from a long trail run on very tired legs. It nagged pretty badly on both bike and run for a couple of weeks and gradually subsided with some recovery. I followed that with catching a cold, which caused more training to suffer, of course, and my confidence was not the highest leading into my first pro race!

IM 70.3 Texas – April 10, 2016

That first race was IM 70.3 Texas in Galveston on April 26th. The pro start list had an incredible 58 male entries, the most I can recall seeing for any race. It seems that WTC removing prize money from some races and concentrating it elsewhere has also concentrated the pros at those races. It was super exciting to get checked in, get my first bib number with “professional athlete” on it, and go to the pro meeting. It was crazy being in the meeting with some big names, people I’ve looked up to and idolized for years. I picked up my bike from TriBike Transport, got the race wheels all set up (also thanks to TBT for the hookup on the race wheels!), and rode the run course because it seemed complicated. The run is 3 laps and has a crazy number of turns – for some reason, they have the entire thing crammed into a space that is .7mi x .4mi. No joke, I measured!

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This is now framed 🙂

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Perks

One thing I really like about being in the pro wave is being able to start first. A huge peeve of mine the last several years has been starting in wave 10+ and having hundreds of people ahead on both the swim and bike. It’s very refreshing to have a clear course, as well as not having to wait for wave after wave (while the nerves build!) to go off before yours.

The salt water, wetsuit legal swim is in a bayou and is more protected than the ocean but is known to be choppy. I went out hard and was at the back a lot earlier than expected, ha! With the clear course though, it was easy to swim buoy to buoy without having to navigate people and I focused on swimming straight and pushing hard but not balls-to-the-wall after the beginning. The pro women started six minutes behind and I figured it’d be a good day if the lead female didn’t catch me before I finished the swim…NOPE. For those who don’t know, my swim is weak relative to my bike and run. Relative to the pro field, it’s pathetic. All good, it’s a work in progress, and it is progressing.

The bike is a single out-and-back along the length of Galveston Island and it’s super flat, but can be quite windy. Because it’s so flat, it requires some fortitude of the nether regions to be able to stay in the aero position for that long; you never get a break. It seemed to be a cross-headwind on the way out, cross-tailwind on the way back. Overall, it was relatively uneventful and I passed a couple of guys, including the top one or two women who passed me during the swim ;). First half was covered in low 1:10/24.0mph/150bpm, second half was low 1:04/26.0mph/151bpm = high 2:14 bike split.

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IM 70.3 Texas bike course and profile…

While overall expectations were on the low side given the training interruptions, I was looking forward to seeing how the run would go because I sure seem to have a knack for choosing races that have hot and/or hilly run courses! This one would be (relatively) cool and flat, with some consideration for the number of turns. The 5:4xs came fairly easily early on and of course, gradually became more difficult. It was hard to get a handle on how far people were ahead of me due to the number of turns and especially after we were onto laps 2 and 3. Toward the end of my 2nd lap, I saw Lionel Sanders on an out-and-back (and it’s crazy he was that freakin’ far ahead!) and I focused on maintaining pace, partly to (hopefully) prevent him from passing me. I succeeded but jeez. I continued basically trying to maintain pace and finish strong and was very pleased to come in at a personal best time (by 7min) of 4:05:13. I also had a personal best run pace of 5:55 – run split was in the 1:16s.

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The unusual 3 lap 70.3 Texas run course

I thought there was a decent chance the top amateur would finish ahead of me time-wise, partly because I don’t believe this type of course (flat and cool) suits me, but I did feel a bit more justified in taking the pro card after seeing I finished 2+min ahead of first amateur. While 27th overall sounds a bit “blah” to me, I finished about mid-pack as far as the pros go and again, it was a big personal best despite some interruption in training. Great success for first race of the season!

Results

IM 70.3 Boulder – June 11, 2016

Boulder was nice and easy to get to at only an hour away, and I got to stay at home the night before. I was looking forward to a stronger swim and bike after seeing some solid workouts lately.

On race morning, the water temperature dictated that the pros would be non-wetsuit while the age groupers would be allowed to wear wetsuit – the cutoff temperatures are different. This presumably puts me at a disadvantage, but I do like the lack of restriction when not wearing a wetsuit. Despite the smaller time gap to the women’s pro start compared to Texas, it took much longer for the first female to pass me, which was in the last 100m or so. Small victories.

Bike summary: I passed one guy right at the beginning who later passed me. I then passed one or two more guys. That’s it. Ha! It was a lonely ride but I was very happy with the average speed. I used to be quite fixated on the hour barrier during the 40K bike of an Olympic distance race. In Boulder, I covered both of the first 40Ks in less than 59 minutes. The effort was quite high and I’m still learning just how hard I can push the bike while still having a decent run. The course was short, 54 miles, and I came in at 2:07 – At my 25.5mph avg, I would have covered an accurate course in the high 2:11s, much improved from April despite 1900′ of gain in Boulder vs 280′ at Galveston.

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Da bike, pre-Boulder

The Boulder run is 2 laps, primarily on dirt road and path, and very exposed. This day happened to be near-record temperatures as well. I felt alright and the first lap was 6:03s. In the second lap, I started to fade a bit (6:20s), and unfortunately, I think this was primarily a mental thing. I didn’t feel like I was in this race, and I let it get to me. I basically ran like I was on a training run, not like I was racing.

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I came in just under 4:05, another PR, but it can’t really count considering the short bike. I was an improved 22nd overall, but still kind of “out there.” I am mainly happy with the improved swim relative to the field and the bike PR. It turns out that I was quite disappointed with how I handled the run. Over the next two weeks during a maintain-fitness type of transition to 70.3 Coeur d’Alene, I basically beat myself up about it, but in a good way – I was mentally prepped to run like I can in CdA.

Results

IM 70.3 Coeur d’Alene – June 26, 2016

I’ve heard nothing but good things about racing in Coeur d’Alene, so when I realized we (TriBike Transport) had a truck going from the Denver area to the race, I jumped on the opportunity to make this a paid race. I drove the Colorado truck and picked up bikes in Colorado Springs, Aurora, Denver, Westminster, and Boulder, then headed west through Wyoming to Salt Lake City. From there I headed straight to CdA for race weekend. Even though I was paid to head up there, the downside to working the event means a lot of time on my feet the two days before the race. I tried my best to minimize the impact and believe I did a pretty good job.

The water is cold there! I thought I might need to double up on swim caps, but after warming up pre-race (needing to breast stroke before being able to commit to keeping my face in the water), I decided I’d be okay with one. This was a beach start with a run into the water, which freaked me out a bit because I have just about no experience with dolphin diving and the like. I think I did alright…The lake is quite large, so you can get some waves. I’d say these were more like swells, but as mentioned earlier, it’s nice to have clear water otherwise and it was relatively easy to swim straight. I found myself gapped fairly early, but it turned out I had someone on my feet for the first time this year. He stayed there the whole time. Out of the water, my gap to the fastest swimmer was a full minute less than Galveston and Boulder. Good!

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Photo Credit: triplethreattriathlon.blogspot.com

On the first, shorter out-and-back on the bike, I found myself in the company of two other guys. I passed one, but the other one was stronger and I kept the proper distance to feel things out as the race continued. Well, it basically stayed like that the rest of the way! I was consistently pushing hard at 6-10 bike lengths from him, never feeling strong enough to pass. This was a good place for me to be – it brought me to a higher effort and for the first time this year, I wasn’t alone for the vast majority of the bike. The climbs on this course are pretty long, which would presumably really lower the average speed, plus it was the hilliest course this year so far. I was pretty happy to come in at 2:21 on this course.

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70.3 CdA Bike Course Profile

Starting the run, I couldn’t help but smile because my legs felt good. The course is out-and-back two times with rolling hills and the first lap was covered at 5:48/mi, right on pace for a good run PR. The second lap got a little bit slower and more difficult, as can be expected, but I didn’t slow by very much at all. I was counting on the out-and-back sections to see what place I was in and to see if my distance to the top guys was at least staying the same. It was indeed staying close to the same to guys like Potts, and I was making up ground on some of the other top guys. I was having a good run, much more to my fitness and potential, and this was specifically from mental prep over the last two weeks after being disappointed in Boulder. It’s highly unlikely I gained any fitness in those two weeks. This was my first pro race where I felt like I was more in the race. I felt more like I was competing, rather than being out in no-man’s land.

I finished 14th overall and ended up having the 3rd fastest run split overall, 1:16:46. That’s more like it! I had finished within two minutes of the top 10, and it is another step in the right direction.

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IM 70.3 CdA run HR, profile, and pace chart

Results

 

Pics from Training & Racing 2015

Part of what I love about training is getting out there and seeing things at a different pace than in a car. The last two years, I’ve also traveled throughout the country for work and I always try to get out for a run to get a vibe for where I am. This year, in order, I ran or biked in:

Houston, TX
Clearwater, FL
Miami, FL
Jacksonville, FL
San Juan, PR
Aurora, CO
Boulder, CO
Park City, UT
Fort Collins, CO
Columbus, OH
Leawood, KS
Knoxville, TN
Ogden, UT
Rapid City, SD
Oakley, KS
Columbia, MO
Louisville, KY
Austin, TX
Panama City, FL
Dallas, TX
New Orleans, LA
Gilbert, AZ

Sheesh! I certainly didn’t get a pic from each location, but it’s kind of cool to tally them up. Most pics are from the two locations we lived this year, Austin and Fort Collins. Another year has come to a close, but I look forward to adding to my 2016 album as I explore our new home state of Colorado!

 

2016: Doin’ the Pro Thang

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My endurance sports background started at the age of 13 when I ran the St. Malachi 2mi road race (holla, my Cleveland peeps!) in 1997, which evolved into racing middle school and high school cross country and track. While I felt as though I had found my niche, I never managed to qualify for the state meet in CC or track, and saw myself as a mediocre talent for quite some time. However, I need to credit my high school coach, Barb, with planting the seed that I could be better than I thought.

The first time I thought racing as a pro might be a realistic possibility was after Ironman Arizona in 2011, my first Ironman. I placed 4th overall amateur in 9:04, one place outside of earning pro status. That race was truly a “did that really just happen?” kind of experience that completely changed the way I saw myself as an athlete. This is also when other people started asking me if I would race pro. At the time, it was very exciting to think about doing so, but it felt premature; I wanted to gain more experience as an athlete, especially at the IM distance. Sure enough, I experienced some adversity at my next two races, the Ironman World Championship 2012 and Ironman Texas 2013. I learned a lot, applied it, and had the race I was hoping for at my next Ironman World Championship.  I did exactly what I wanted to do and it was a very gratifying experience to take control of my race, resulting in one of the fastest overall amateur runs that year.

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Janée’s sign for me during the run at Kona 2013

After meeting my goals in Hawaii, the pull of Kona wasn’t nearly as great in 2014 (doesn’t mean I don’t want to ever go back though!).  I decided to focus on 70.3 distance to recharge and race more frequently. I won a HITS half iron (no pros) to start the year and then had my best placing ever at an IM 70.3 event with 2nd amateur and 9th including pros at Buffalo Springs. I was shocked to learn after the race that I had the fastest overall run of the race – this was a signal to me that racing pro was another step closer to becoming realistic. I won another half iron distance race in September (no pros) and closed out the year with 3rd overall amateur at Austin 70.3, solidifying some consistency at the front of the amateur field.

Prior to my 2015 season, a friend asked me what my next goals were – I said I wanted to be the first overall amateur at an Ironman and I wanted to go under 9 hours. I started the year with Puerto Rico 70.3 in March.  Since I was working during the trip to Puerto Rico, I spent a lot of time working on my feet in the sun in the days leading up to the race, but I had put in some solid training and was feeling fit. I finished as the 2nd amateur, again with the fastest overall run split, which qualified me for the pro card if I wanted it to take it. Next up, though, was Ironman Texas.

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I showed my greatest consistency and dedication to training for that race, and Janée remarked on a number of occasions that I seemed so much less zombie-like when getting through the toughest weeks of training. I was taking the training more seriously and I was handling it better.

At Texas, I met my goals – I finished first overall amateur in 8:55. Beyond the amateur win though, I had the unique and crazy experience of running with eventual winner, Matt Hanson, for all 8+ miles of the last lap of his record-setting race (my second of three laps). This eye-opening experience, coupled with finishing two places outside the money at the North American IM Championship, again indicated to me that perhaps I was ready to give pro racing a try.

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The improvement I’ve seen over the last several years,  the results and consistency I’ve had, my approach to and ability to better handle training, and some perspective gained along the way have all factored into the decision to race as a pro. We also moved to a great training environment at 5,000′, I have a flexible work schedule, and I see this as a timely opportunity to test myself while Janée pursues her PhD.

Considering the relatively small amount of money in triathlon, I don’t view this as a career change and I’m not quitting my job. However, I have considered myself an ambassador for the sport for some time for Racelab,  as a member of NAU’s tri club, as a coach, and as someone new athletes can come to with questions. I love the sport, I love the training, and I love helping people get into it. As a pro, I look forward to being able to race among the best in the sport; I’ll be lining up with many I have idolized. I’ll get to start in the first wave – no more starting 10+ waves back and having to get through hundreds of people before seeing a somewhat clear course. No more worrying about races selling out, and the cost of racing will be much less. I look forward to new challenges, new experiences, and getting out of my comfort zone!

Thanks a ton to all who have supported me along the way, especially Janée, my coach of over ten years, Bettina, my parents, and friends.  Let’s GET UGLY this year!

2015 Ironman Texas Race Report – 1st Amateur!

This was my second go at Ironman Texas and fifth time racing an Ironman. Last time, 2013, was a brutal day that saw a high temperature of 91 degrees, high humidity, and a DNF rate of 17%. I couldn’t help but think signing up again was kind of a silly idea…However, I now live in Austin, only 2.5 hours from the venue, and I’d presumably be more heat acclimated (yeah, yeah, acclimatized) this time.

Pre-race

Our friends, Travis & Sarah, invited us out to stay at his parents’ house in The Woodlands for race weekend. This was incredibly helpful since we were only 1.5 miles from the lake, had homecooked meals, and laid back, easygoing people to hang out with! Janée and I would’ve been staying at a Motel 6 twenty miles away otherwise…

On Friday, we intended to ride to the practice swim, but this guy got a flat tire about 3min into the trip there. At least I got that out of the way before the race, right? We were already running a little late to the swim, so by the time we got there, it literally ended up being a 5 minute swim.

I have been disappointed with my swim split in each of my previous IMs after coming out of the water 5+ minutes slower than expected. Travis consistently swims close to an hour for Ironman distance, so I asked him if it would be alright to follow him into the water on race day to see if I could hang. I saw this as maximizing my chances of achieving the swim I was looking for (1:05 or under). He was totally okay with this and I was happy to learn that it wasn’t too difficult to stay on his feet during our short practice swim.  It was announced that the water temperature was 81 degrees, so no wetsuit for this one.

Later on, we did a short ride to make sure everything was running smoothly, prepped our bags, and checked the bikes in. Dinner involved a ton of pasta and garlic bread for me (thanks, Falda!), and I was in bed around 10pm.

Race Day

It rained all week leading up to this race and transition was an absolute mud-fest. After some thought, I decided I’d put my shoes on the bike and carry my socks and a towel to wipe my feet off before getting on my bike. I didn’t want to risk getting mud stuck in my cleats and I didn’t want to carry my shoes while wheeling my bike out of transition. After pumping the tires, adding nutrition, etc., I speed walked to the swim start, which is quite a hike. Time always seems to go twice as fast on race morning, and I found myself waiting in the bathroom line all stressed out about getting to where I wanted to start. After the bathroom, I went to morning clothes dropoff where I planned to meet Travis so we could line up for the swim together. Since I was feeling the pressure to get to the swim corral, I unsuccessfully looked for him for a short time before deciding I’d just look for him in the corral.

The Swim

Rather than the usual mass swim start, this year they used a rolling start where they feed everyone into the water in a steady, continuous flow.  Leading up to the swim entrance, there were people holding signs with projected swim times and where you lined up was self-seeded. Your time started as soon as you crossed a mat at the water’s edge. It was difficult to work my way up to the 1:00-1:10 section because all of the smart people were there already and there were fences on both sides. Not surprisingly, I couldn’t find Travis, so I had to suck it up and be hell-bent on swimming what I knew I was capable of.

The map for this course shows that it’s a perfectly straight shot to the first turn buoy, but if you stand on the bridge overlooking the course, it is obvious it bends to the right. The straightest shot to the first buoy is to stay right, far from the guide buoys. I aimed for a piece of land on the west shore that stuck out, and after that, I sighted off the turn buoy.

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Left purple line is the first stretch of the swim

Left purple line is the first stretch of the swim sighting off the point of land

Following this route, I had virtually no contact with other swimmers and it was smooth sailing the whole way. I would occasionally draft off someone who would slowly go by, but none of them worked out for particularly long either because I wasn’t happy with the route they had chosen or I simply couldn’t hang. After the second turn, someone next to me yelled my name – it was Travis! Ha! He just so happened to pass right by me during the swim, and I promptly got on his feet. This lasted probably less than five minutes until he pulled away, but what a great guy to risk a mouth-full of water just to get my attention.

I hugged the right shore all the way into canal, and we were in the homestretch. The canal is great because the spectators can see their swimmers, plus it’s relatively narrow, so you don’t need to sight often. Janée spotted me from the side (which is pretty easy with a red swimskin among mostly black ones) and I gave her a quick wave and that was a nice boost!

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Before I knew it, I was climbing out of the water and, no joke, I was actually afraid to look at my watch after being disappointed so many times before. I worked up the nerve, glanced down, and saw 1:05…Yes! About damn time!

Official time: 1:05:48
Division rank: 34/257 = 13%
Overall rank: 210/2,587 = 8%
IM swim PR by 4:11
IMTX swim PR by 5:48

The Bike

Transition was uneventful and so-so time-wise. I assume running through so much mud slowed us down a bit. I was pleasantly surprised to find that they had pools of water at the transition exit and the volunteers were even holding athletes’ bikes; I didn’t need my towel after all.  I sloshed my feet around in the pool, threw my socks on, grabbed my bike, and off I went.

It didn’t take long to realize that the wind must really be blowing from behind because it was easy to hold over 25mph at a pretty conservative effort. For the time being, I just focused on calories (4oz First Endurance EFS liquid shot + 1/4 Clif bar per hour), hydration, and patience – the name of the game at Ironman distance! Due to the rolling start plus my improved swim, I spent less time passing people this year and I was completely solo for long stretches with several miles between passes sometimes. I did encounter some other riders every now and then who were of similar fitness, which is out of the norm for me because I’m usually further behind out of the swim. I eventually caught up to people, though, and it took too much attention and mental energy to be sure I was at the legal distance (which is 5 bike lengths nowadays, fellas, not four!) so I always opted to continue on and find my own rhythm. This is what I thrive on – I can plug away solo at a steady effort for long periods of time and I enjoy it.

The high-speed outbound trend continued and I went through 56 miles in 2:16:19 – yeesh! The crosswinds during this westbound stretch were very bad (wind overall was definitely worse than 2013) and the focus turned toward mentally bracing myself for a battle in the second half when we’d be facing the wind.  At first, it was quite bad in the wide-open country with little protection.  As the course continues on, the trees become more prevalent, offering a little bit of relief. Don’t get me wrong – we certainly still had a headwind – but it wasn’t quite as bad as I expected after feeling the crosswinds mid-way.

Photo credit: Meredith Gardner - thanks!

Photo credit: Meredith Gardner

Making the turn to the east at 90 miles, it starts to feel like you’re nearing the homestretch and it’s easy to forget you actually have around an hour left… I was very pleased, though, with how the speed was staying up and I knew it’d take an incredibly slow stretch to not PR this bike. No other riders were in sight for a lot of those final miles into The Woodlands, so it felt like I was far up in the race. Soon, there was fencing on both sides, which signaled that I was approaching the bike finish, but I was paying attention to race distance to determine when to start getting out of my shoes. Well before I expected it, holy crap, there was the bike dismount line just ahead. I managed to scramble and get one foot out, but I had to stop and unclip the other foot at the line and run with one shoe on me and one shoe on the bike, ha!

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I got the bike distance at 111 miles instead of 112, which might be why I was so surprised to see the dismount line. I don’t know if that’d be the case if you actually measured the course with a wheel or something, but either way, I know it would’ve been a PR even if the GPS is spot-on.

Bike time: 4:43:09, 23.5mph
Division rank after bike: 3
Overall rank after bike: 41
IM bike PR by 7:04

The Run

Through the slip-and-slide-like transition I went, grabbed my bag, and entered the changing tent. I had two awesome volunteers helping me out and I asked one of them to dump water on my head two different times – it was so freaking hot in there. I took my time; I think I kind of needed to gather myself for what was about to begin.

I was out onto the run at 5:56 total time and the legs felt fine but I had to check myself when I saw the pace was 5:4X during the first 200m. Ha, after spending so much time at a higher speed on the bike, any pace on the run feels slow at first. After a first mile of 6:24, I made a quick bathroom stop in the second mile, which ended up at 7:02. I concentrated on keeping the HR around 150 for the first lap, but I noticed it seemed to be getting kind of “touchy.” This usually signals dehydration, which concerned me because it’s not easy to catch up on hydration. The average pace hovered at 6:40/mi for the first lap.  I was content with this, but it was also a little slower than expected. In training, 6:20-6:30/mi is basically programmed into my legs at a similar HR. Around five miles in, I passed Lionel Sanders, who was on his second lap. This was a surprise, as the guy can run like the wind. He looked a little bit rough around the edges, but when I glanced back at his bike-lead, it said 2nd overall male. Oh wow. Perhaps this was going better than I realized.

As I approached the end of my first lap, I passed the overall leader at the time, Joe Skipper. He looked over as I passed and I made sure to let him know I was an age grouper because I can imagine there’s some anxiety that people are coming for you when you’re leading a huge race like that. Shortly after this, Matt Hanson took the lead from Joe and I could kind of hear it all going on behind me. I then expected Matt to absolutely blow by. He ran a course-record 2:41 here last year, after all. When he came up to me, the pace differential was small – another indicator, to me, that 1) this was going better than it seemed at the time, and 2) the heat/humidity was a huge factor and was slowing everyone down. I first matched his pace to tell him nice work and that he’s been an inspiration to me ever since he ran 2:59 there in 2013 as an amateur. To see him go from that only two years ago to now leading the Ironman North American Championship is simply amazing. Well, what I thought was going to be a brief period of time of me running near him turned into several miles. I was very conscious of the motorcycle/camera because I felt awkward about the whole situation – I figured all of the viewers were thinking, ‘Who’s this yahoo amateur thinking he can run with Matt-effing-Hanson?’ 

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Now that I was very confident that I was dehydrated, I was absolutely loading up at the aid stations. Because of this, I would drop back from Matt a decent amount at every one, and then I would very gradually work my way to running near him again. I made a conscious effort to stay out of his bubble, let him do his thing, and try not to interfere at all. I sometimes even tried to get off to the side out of view, but it sure seemed like that camera guy was trying to keep me in the shot.

As we neared the end of my second lap, his last, he seemed to suddenly slow – I assumed that he was getting himself together for his turn for the finish: he removed the sponges, zipped up his tri suit, etc. When he slowed, I just went by to continue my race. It was funny to learn that someone on Slowtwitch said that I “surged” here….Until that point, that was the slowest mile of my race and I’m certain it was the slowest mile of Matt’s race.

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My mantras during the third lap were ‘Just keep moving’ and ‘You can do this.’ The latter was a mental improvement from the second lap where some doubt started to creep in. You start thinking of excuses, what you might tell friends and family if you end up slowing a lot, etc. You’ve already begun to lose if this starts. Luckily, in the days leading up to the race, Janée made an effort to remind me that if I want to finish under 9 hours and run under 3 hours, it would probably require suffering. She pushed me to mentally prepare for it and to consider difficult scenarios. I believe this helped me in the very challenging, very painful third lap. You can do this. One step at time, one aid station at a time, one mile at a time. That, plus a lot of math after completing each mile to calculate what pace I had to run per mile to finish under 9 hours, is what pulled me through that last lap. I knew that if I did indeed get under 9 hours, there was a good chance I’d be in the top 3 amateurs overall. I had no idea where I actually was in the standings though – I knew I was probably chasing someone or a few people, but I didn’t know where, who they were, or how many.

Finally, I got to where I could hang a right where the arrow says, “Finish” instead of continuing on for another lap. At this point, there is about 1/4 mile left.  For the first time during the run, a smile came across my face: I knew that I had done it – both sub 9 total time and sub 3hr run, and, even more exciting, I knew that I could soon *stop* and end the pain.

I entered the finishing chute and really took it in, allowing my absolute elation to uncharacteristically come through. I think I let out a few yells, slapped some hands, and as I crossed the finish, Mike Reilly said, “And here’s your first overall amateur finisher, Josh Terwoord, out of Austin, Texas!” That was the first time I heard where I was placed – yes! I worked the hardest I ever had in both training for this race and the race itself, and it paid off – 8:55:07.

Photo credit: Nick Morales

Official run time: 2:58:52
Division rank: 1/257
Overall finish including pros: 12/2,587
Run rank: 1st amateur, 4th w/ pros

Right after finishing, a guy with a clipboard approached me and let me know he was with US Anti-Doping Agency and that I’d be drug tested. Ha, how exciting! In my eyes, it’s an honor to be drug tested because it means it was a good result and I’m glad that they’re making an effort to keep the sport clean. The “drug-testing chaperone” had to stay with me and escort me to where testing was, and luckily Janée could come with us.

During the walk over, I couldn’t believe how bad I was hurting – I was choked up in part from elation with my finish and partially from the pain. I hobbled over to a tent where the second amateur finisher, Tripp Hipple, was also waiting to be tested, as well as Leanda Cave and Lionel Sanders. We all chit-chatted a bit and I took in a ton of water and an hour and a half later, I was finally able to pee. Yes, the USADA representative had to enter the port-a-potty with me…Then I filled out some paperwork and was able to go celebrate!

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Thanks so much to Bettina, my coach of over ten years now, for consistently pushing me with science-based training plans, building me up, believing in me, giving pep talks, everything. I can’t thank Janée enough for being there for me, keeping me honest with myself, knowing I can do it, and understanding what it takes day-to-day in training. Thank you to everyone who helped out along the way; Travis Rimel, Sarah McCarty, Falda & Larry Rimel, Meredith Gardner, Racelab, Jack & Adams, First Endurance, Rudy Project, Pactimo, Headsweats, Doctor Hoy’s, Skins, and Polar Bottle; and thanks to everyone for the well wishes and congrats pre- and post-race!

2014 Kerrville Triathlon Race Report

I headed down to Kerrville, TX for the Kerrville Tri Fest (half iron distance), an event put on by High Five Events. I liked their well organized race and style at Jack’s Generic Tri at the beginning of August, plus I wanted a bit of a status check leading up to Austin 70.3. This was also a good opportunity for a fairly fast time because it appeared to be a flat to moderately hilly course relative to many of the other races I’ve done in the past few years. I didn’t hear good things about the road conditions though!

Unfortunately, we weren’t allowed to do a swim warmup because it was too “dark.” That was a bummer, because I am the type who could use at least a fifteen minute warmup to feel good starting hard. Either way, the others racers didn’t get one either. I was in the first wave, the “open” wave and there were about a dozen of us. This wave is for those who want to compete for the overall podium, and is a rather unique addition to just age group waves that most races have.

I went out really hard trying to find some feet to follow, but I was pretty unsuccessful. I don’t know what it is about this area, but the proportion of strong swimmers seems to be high! That, or it’s a result of having this open wave. I went really hard, feeling like I was at or over threshold for a large portion of the swim, never, ever feeling comfortable. The week before this race, I swam a hard, but not all out, 2100 yards (1.19mi) in the pool in 30:00, so I figured under 30 with wetsuit in the open water would be doable in a race. I came out in 30:38, so I was a bit disappointed considering how hard I went. My GPS got the swim distance at 1.27 miles, so perhaps it was a tad long, but you just never know how reliable these watches are in the open water.

I totally missed the wetsuit strippers and had a so-so transition. My main goal for the bike was to ride at a little bit of a higher intensity than I did at Buffalo Springs. In my last few 70.3s, my average heart rate has gradually gotten lower, mainly because I *feel* like I’m going too hard (so I back off), but training numbers indicated that I could perhaps push a bit harder, so I was prepared to get uncomfortable on the bike in this case and see how my run held up.

For the first stretch, it was super fast with a light tailwind and a slight net downhill. We then looped back to the northwest on the other side of the Guadalupe River with some climbing, a light headwind, and pretty rough roads in spots. The intensity kept me distracted though and it was shaping up to be a pretty good bike split. I caught up with one guy who I wasn’t able to shake without a serious effort and we went back and forth a few times, with me always at the legal distance (probably at least one bike length past the legal distance because I’m paranoid!), but I can’t speak for him because I didn’t really look back much.

We then caught and passed Colin Sully, who’s a great guy who helped me with my swim earlier in the year. Colin let me know that there were two guys ahead of me, one ridiculously fast swimmer (22:xx) who swam at the University of Florida and another guy who I didn’t realize was racing. I was happy about this because there was quite a bit of distance to go and the run is my strength. Shortly after, I put some distance into the other guy who had been riding near me, and I looked forward to the second loop.

The second loop was MUCH more crowded with the racers for the quarter-iron distance now on the course. It took constant attention on the road ahead and probably over 100 “on your lefts.” This got the wheels turning in my head for perhaps using a bell in my next race haha. At some point, I did look back and saw the guy who I was riding near earlier had caught back up and was riding way too close behind me. I also noticed the on-course ref was approaching on a motorcycle. I heard the motorcycle “hang out” next to me for awhile and then saw it pull ahead, and then I looked back and the guy was gone, absolutely out of sight. Perhaps he got a penalty!

Nearing the end of the bike, I was starting to feel pretty uncomfortable due to the effort and really ready to be done with it. I did meet my goal of going harder though, as my average HR was 152 vs 148 for Buffalo Springs and I came off the bike with the second fastest overall bike split of 2:20:51 and average speed of 23.9mph. Now it was time to see how my run legs felt and I still had to catch the two guys who I was told were ahead of me.

Bike elevation profile

Bike elevation profile

Bike heart rate

Bike heart rate

My legs felt kind of crappy beginning the run, but as is usually the case, it turned out I was running faster than I thought I was with a first mile of 5:58. I was already two for two on half iron runs this year right around 6:00/mi average, and I hoped to lock into that same pace for this race. Due to work trips though, my confidence was not particularly high with my bike fitness and I thought it might show in my run since the bike split was solid. The run course was four laps and had what felt like a huge hill a mile and a half into each lap. I didn’t realize it would be so big! I just focused on being smooth and efficient and hoped I could handle the ups and downs alright.

Who knows what's going on with my hand...Photo by Ed Sparks

Who knows what’s going on with my hand…Photo by Ed Sparks

Somewhere between 2 and 3 miles, I caught the uber-swimmer, Adrian Cameron, and as I found out, he was also leading the race. He was first out of the water and said that no one had passed him, so I was now moving into the lead! Shortly after, my heart rate monitor started failing me, so I continued to focus on maintaining that 6 minute pace, worried that my sub-par fitness would catch up to me at some point, but I felt pretty good. Well, I felt alright. The second half of each lap involved both that huge hill and the other stretches were into the wind, so it didn’t feel good. The gradually downhill and slightly wind-aided outbound stretch always felt fantastic. I managed to hold the pace right around my goal and I was stoked to finally start the fourth lap. Four laps feels like a lot for that distance and I think I’d prefer a max of three, but it’s all obviously a mental thing.

Run elevation profile

Run elevation profile

Around 10 miles, I started really feeling the physical effort but luckily I was practically in the home stretch in the scheme of things, so it helped to keep me pushing it. My slowest mile was the 12th mile and at a very hard effort, so I think I paced it pretty well (rather than starting to slow half way through, for example). I rounded the final turn for the finish and was very pleased and surprised with a finishing time in the 4:12s, a new personal best. My run split was 1:18:31.

Considering my work-limited training in the prior month, I am very, very happy with how this race went and I believe signals an evolved ability to race well off of a lot of experience. An overall win is always exciting too!

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