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.
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!
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.