2014 Ironman 70.3 Buffalo Springs Race Report

Better late than never, I suppose…

I was excited to head back to Lubbock because Buffalo Springs, despite being an Ironman 70.3 event, still has that “mom and pop” local race kind of feel to it. It seems more laid back while still being professionally run, and I had a good experience there in 2012. This time though, I was heat acclimatized and not in the process of starting  a build for an Ironman (Kona) like I was last time. I was swimming and running faster than ever, and I was a little unsure of my bike fitness due to the different terrain here in Austin (I consistently ride slower here than in Flagstaff).

I made the 5.5hr drive out to Lubbock on Saturday morning. It’s very rare for me to head to races solo, but Janee made the decision to stay home and spend time with our dog, Matilda. Her health had declined in the last two weeks and we knew our time with her was very limited. I went to this race with a heavy heart, as many of us know it’s incredibly hard to lose a family pet.

I did the usual pre-race prep of all of my race gear and noted that the forecast called for up to 20mph wind out of the SSW and a high temp of 100 degrees. I knew this could make it interesting! I left my hotel around 435am on race day despite my start time not being until 6:54am – last time I left later and waited in a LONG line of cars leading to transition and I barely made it in time. This was much better and I had plenty of time to make sure everything was good to go, rather than the mad rush of adrenaline that was 2012.

The swim:

I was disappointed to learn that I was in the 10th of 11 swim waves. The traditionally fastest age groups of any 70.3 race were in the 9th and 10th waves with each wave only 3 minutes ahead of the next, which tends to cause a great deal of congestion as the back waves catch each of the next ones ahead. I had been swimming well in training, so this was going to be a good benchmark to see how well it transferred to open water, so I was worried about how much this congestion would affect things. It’s also presumably a disadvantage when it comes to overall amateur standings for the later waves who have to swim through more people than the waves that started earlier. Either way, I decided I’d stick as much to the inside/close to the buoy line as possible and hope for the best. If I had to briefly swim inside the buoy line, it would likely not be nearly as far as if I swam further to the outside of any groups.

This race start is unique in that it’s one of the few that I ever do that has a beach start where everyone goes sprinting into the water trying to run as far as possible before diving in. I have zero practice with this, but I lined up at the front, ran hard, kept my knees high, and I think I did pretty well. Unfortunately, I didn’t seem to have any luck finding faster feet to follow. I was slowed only a little a few times before getting to the second buoy, but after that, I had mostly clean water ahead of me while sticking left along the buoy line. This was much, much different than 2012 where, over and over, I came upon slower groups swimming four abreast that I’d have to completely re-route to get around.

The rest of the swim went smoothly and I got out of the water in the high 29s, a nearly three minute improvement for this race. Pre-race, I thought I had a decent shot of swimming in the 28s, partly from pool times and partly because I swam 29:05 at Marble Falls, but an improvement is an improvement! Side note: I got the swim distance at 1.21 miles. I did use a wetsuit stripper and transition went so-so. It had been awhile since the last time I did this, but I opted to put my bike shoes on in transition rather than having them on the bike and hopping on barefoot. This was with the thought that we’d be immediately climbing a steep hill right out of transition and I didn’t want to get caught climbing that whole thing barefoot/out of my shoes.

Swim split – 29:52
Split rank – 6th in M30-34, 74th overall
(2012: 23rd in M25-29, 254th overall)

Bike:

Up the steep-ass hill we went, along the park road, and out into the country. It was clear right away that we had a strong tailwind while going north and it felt like the disc wheel was acting like a sail because I was just moving. Going east, it was noticeably more of a crosswind but the speed hovered around 25-26mph, so I knew the forecast was probably right, wind out of the south/southwest. I passed 45 of the 73 that swam faster than I did in the first 13 miles of the bike leg, and things were much more sparse after that: I only passed 12 in the last 43 miles! Luckily it was rare that the next rider ahead was too far ahead to see, so I always had a target to work towards.  The southbound sections were a grind into the wind along with steep uphills out of the valleys. Return trips were screaming fast (and borderline scary going into those same valleys again). The second southbound stretch included “The Hill,” which was not part of the course in 2012. It actually had a switchback and was a super slow climb, plus you couldn’t make up for it on the return trip due to the tight turns on the descent. On the westbound stretch (where it was 25-26mph going the other direction), it was now a struggle to hold 20mph into the head/crosswind. Gusting wind made the bike very twitchy and hard to control, but I saw it as my chance to grit my teeth, stay aero, and try to drop a guy I couldn’t seem to shake. This made the difference, as I gained considerable distance on him over the next few miles. The average pace dwindled throughout the ride to quite a bit below my 2012 average, but these conditions were much more challenging and I hoped it was affecting everyone else just as much.

Elevation profile + HR

Elevation profile + HR

Bike split – 2:27:17
Bike rank – 1st in 30-34, 2nd overall amateur split, 14th with professionals
Bike fuel – 5oz of First Endurance EFS Liquid Shot per hour (400cal/hr, 1000 cal total) 20-30oz of water per hour

Run:

Onto the run, I felt heavy and uncomfortable, but as I said, my run had been stronger than ever leading into this race, so I was still confident I would run well. Boy though, I did not expect to be alone already for such long stretches! I didn’t see anyone ahead of me for a few miles and overall, only passed a handful of people. I knew this was a good sign, I just thought I’d have many more people to pass from the waves ahead of me. Around 4 miles, I started seeing the lead pros coming back and I looked forward to seeing how many AGers were ahead of me since this is an out-and-back course. I had to pay very close attention because many top AGers look just like the pros! On the long, windy, hot, straight stretch known at “Energy Lab II,” I spotted only one AGer ahead of me and as we passed, I checked my time. When I got to the turnaround, I did the math and realized he had over 8 minutes on me. Yikes! I was hoping he started at least 6 minutes ahead of me (hopefully not 3:00…) and I might have a chance to get him in overall time. The only thing I could do was keep pushing as hard as I could despite not being able to race toe to toe. It was still no-man’s land for the most part and it was really hot but I just tried to stay wet and take it one mile at a time. Also seeing the oncoming racers during my return trip made things a bit more bearable and encouraging, as many of them offered their support. How awesome is that? They’re out there suffering just as badly but still cheering on other racers.

Early in the run. Photo by Jon Walk

Early in the run with intimidating facial hair arrangement. Photo by Jon Walk

My fastest mile of the day was the 9th at 5:42, although it had a good downhill in it. The last three miles were painful but all were low 6:0X, which I am pleased to have held onto to finish it out – the first three miles (this same stretch, other direction) were 5:5X. I crossed the line in 4:20:22, around a minute slower than 2012, but I knew it was a better performance considering the conditions and I could simply tell based on the lack of people around me for the entire run compared to last time. Now it was time to see whether I “caught” the other guy!

Run split – 1:19:38
Split rank – 1st overall
Run fuel – Three tangerine PowerGels, 1 SaltStick cap about half way through, water at every aid station

Run profile + HR. Avg HR = 166

Run profile + HR. Avg HR = 166

Run splits - "GAP" = Grade Adjusted Pace

Run splits – “GAP” = Grade Adjusted Pace

I went and talked to the timing people to figure out where I placed and they broke the news: I was 2nd overall amateur…by 17 seconds! Ha, wow. I was immediately disappointed and of course wondering where I could’ve save that time, but after awhile, I came to terms with it and realized I had a great race. This was my best overall finish in an IM 70.3 race and I was shocked to learn I had the fastest overall run, including the pros – this took the sting off of those 17 seconds, big time. I was stoked. The first overall amateur was Tim Hola, who is not only consistently good, but I learned he’s a good guy after talking to him for awhile after the race. He won his age group by an incredible 29 minutes.

A few days after the race, Herbert Krabel from Slowtwitch.com contacted me for an interview after they had apparently noticed the overall run split. It’s quite an honor to have been interviewed by them and it can be found here.

Pics from Training/Racing, Jan – June 2014

HITS Marble Falls Half Distance Race Report, 1st overall, 4/26/14

Now that we’re settled in Austin, I’ve been excited to check out some of the new race options. I also aim to race MORE this year compared to last, and for me, that simply means not racing Ironman distance due to cost and the energy and focus that goes into it if you want to be competitive.

I decided to start the triathlon race season with HITS Marble Falls. HITS is known (at least from what I’ve gathered) as a “no frills” type of race company, but they also have the price tag to match – I only paid $150 for the half iron distance a few months out from the race. This is compared to a typical $250-275 for a WTC/Ironman 70.3 event. Combine the low cost with the driving distance for us (about an hour) and the fact that half iron is more “my” distance, and it was an easy choice for an early-season race.

The Swim

My swim has been the bane of my existence since starting this sport and my progress has been agonizingly slow. Practically every time I’m making progress in the pool, I go race open water and usually end up very disappointed. Still, I have been improving; it’s just that my transition from pool to open water doesn’t seem to translate well. About a month before this race, I went and saw Colin Sully, a local swim coach, who filmed me, analyzed my swim technique, and gave feedback. With his drills and some of my own coach’s drills thrown into many workouts, I was seeing my fastest times ever in the pool, and they seemed to be at a lower physical cost. I was anxious to see whether I’d see legitimate improvement in the open water.

I’ve thought that perhaps because I see myself as a poor swimmer, I line up too far back and get on feet that are actually slower than what I’m capable of following. So this time, I just lined up right at the front and stopped being a baby about it. When it was time to go, I went out very hard and kept an eye on who I assumed were the good swimmers to my left. I managed to get on some feet and I basically stayed there the whole time. I had very little contact with others, and I’m actually not sure if I was even passed at all during the swim, which is not normal for me. For the majority of the swim, I was having trouble following the guy ahead of me. I’m not sure if he was poor at swimming straight but still a strong swimmer, or if I was just having trouble hanging on due to a faster pace than I could handle. I was hoping it was because it was a fast pace! The course was a counter-clockwise rectangle, and when we turned the final buoy for the boat ramp/swim exit, I kept looking to see if I could see the top swimmers exiting. I was much, much closer than expected to the swim exit when I saw the first guy run up, so this was a really good sign.

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I ran up the hill to transition and my wife, Janée, told me I was 9th out of the water. I had no idea what my time was (no race clock, no waterproof watch), but a top 10 swim for me is unheard-of so I was VERY happy about this. I had a decent transition (love the stools, gear areas, and bike slots for the HITS races!) and headed out, passing three or four people just outside of transition.

The bike

The bike route starts with a climb of a couple miles, and it took a lot of holding back to try to get the heart rate under control. This is pretty normal while your body figures out what the heck is going on (after going from being horizontal and using the arms for propulsion to being upright and using the legs), but the uphill made settling in take a bit longer, especially knowing I was close to the front. Less than a mile in, I asked a traffic control cop how many people had gone through so far: “One!” Nice! I was already in second.

Around 5 miles in, the course turned west and the hill let up. I had finally caught a glimpse of the dude ahead of me, so that was encouraging. I now started getting more into my groove and gradually closed in on the rider ahead. I noticed right away that he took the steeper uphills much harder than I did (or he was a lot lighter). I got within range to potentially pass him somewhere around 12 miles, but I decided to hang back a bit at the legal distance to observe because I wanted it to stick when I passed. It was a little tricky since he was faster on the steeper uphills, and there were plenty of hills. I decided to pass him at 15 miles or so and I asked him our total time as I went by (this is how badly I wanted to know my swim time), I did the math, and realized it must have been somewhere between 28 and 29min. That’s huge! My previous best was mid 31s. That just about made my day right there, but hey, back to racing, dude.

I apparently picked a bad time to pass, because he re-passed me not long after and it was back to holding back to keep legal distance on the flat to moderate inclines and him getting a little ahead on the steeper stuff. Somewhere around 21 miles, I just decided to pass him and push it for a few minutes (it turned out to be 7min or so) at my threshold heart rate and that ended up doing the trick. I had close to a minute on him at the first turn-around and I was able to settle back into my own pace after that.

This was my first time having a lead/escort motorcycle – sweet! It was great having this reassurance that I was following the course correctly, plus it was my first time feeling just a little bit special while racing. I also got tons of support from the other racers on the out and back sections.

On the second turn-around, I saw that the gap had grown bigger to second place, and third place was several minutes further. The return trip to the main road was screaming fast after a lot of climbing into the wind, so I took that opportunity to apply some sunscreen (I keep a tiny bottle in my bento box). It was awesome to be coming back so fast, but it quickly changed when I got back to the main road and faced the wind and more hills.

Bike course elevation profile

Bike course elevation profile

I backed off on the intensity the last few miles or so and turned my thoughts to the run. The last 6.5mi of the bike course is also the entire run course and I certainly started thinking my goal of running under 1:20 was lofty after seeing how hilly it was. Either way, I’d try!

Off the bike and through the awkward chute to transition (narrow, over a curb, through grass, tight turns, all while trying to maneuver the bike…), I was a bit self conscious because all eyes were on me as the first person off the bike. I did a so-so job of not looking like a goof and it was time to see if I brought my run legs.

Bike split – 2:26:32
Split rank – 1
Bike fuel – 5oz of First Endurance EFS Liquid Shot per hour (400cal/hr, 1000 cal total)
20-30oz of water per hour

The Run

I was pleased to learn my legs felt pretty darn good. The start of the run always feels slow but is usually faster than expected. I think this is due to the fact that the last 2+ hours were spent at 20-30mph so suddenly being at 10mph seems awfully slow visually. A glance at the watch about a half mile in showed 5:40 pace – alrighty! I consciously backed off a tad and settled into my goal (6:00) pace.  I still thought running under 1:20 was a kind of crazy sounding goal, but I certainly hadn’t given up on it.

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Well, by 3 or 4 miles, the legs really came around and I felt the strongest I ever have in a half iron run with average pace continuing to hover in the high 5:50s. I was at the turn-around before I knew it after a super long downhill and I asked the volunteers whether it was officially the turn because I noticed the distance was a bit short. They confirmed and now it was time to head for home, but also time to tackle that wall of a hill. The steepest part of it was .7mi long and I consciously pushed the effort to try to maintain the average pace as much as possible. This was my slowest mile of the race at 6:29, which I was pleased with.

Run course elevation profile

Run course elevation profile

Run splits - GAP is Grade Adjusted Pace

Run splits – GAP is Grade Adjusted Pace

I believe this brought my overall average to 6:03 or 6:04/mi – not bad! I knew I needed around 6:07 a mile to squeeze in under 1:20 and I had already tackled the largest hill on the course. I was now confident I had it; not only the sub 1:20, but also the win after seeing the gap to second. The support from the oncoming racers was pretty awesome and only helped to bring me home strong, managing to get two more miles under six minutes. For the last 5k or so, the stress of the pace and hills did start to set in and I had to grit my teeth a bit and the mile markers felt like they were taking longer and longer to show up, but knowing I was going to win made this much more bearable. I broke the tape in a very surprising 4:14:59 and I am elated to start the year with an overall win!

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Run split – 1:16:37*
Split rank – 1
Run fuel – 3 tangerine PowerGels, one at 20min, 40min, and 60min
Water at every aid station

This was my third half iron win since I’ve started doing tris, but I was particularly excited to have had a great swim set me up for a great race. A solid swim completely changes how the race plays out for me and I hope the trend continues! I also ran a personal best pace for the run course, but can’t say it’s a run split PR because I got the course at 12.75 miles. My pace was 6:02/mi, which would have worked out to right at 1:19 for an accurate run. To have done it on such a hilly course, I couldn’t be happier with the result! Official Results 

Thank you to Janée, my coach Bettina (Racelab), Guayaki, and all of our stellar racing team sponsors for helping me chase my goals!: Rudy Project, First Endurance, Pactimo, Polar Bottle, Skins, and Nathan Hydration!

Pics From Training, June – December 2013

I take a lot of pics when out training and periodically upload them. A bit late on the upload here but this is the second half of 2013…First half of the year can be found here. A bicycle or running shoes can take you to some beautiful places!

2013 Training Totals & Averages

This year was the most extensive training log I’ve kept and it was fascinating and motivational to track it all. These numbers specifically may not be useful for most people, but for me, I can look back in my log and potentially figure out why I had a particularly good or bad race. When you can see the layout of several weeks, it’s much easier to spot patterns that may contribute to certain training effects. I simply created my log in Excel so I could decide exactly what I wanted to track, and it’s pretty easy to input formulas so totals and averages are automatically calculated. Here’s all (perhaps too much?) of the “fun” stuff I calculated based off of 2013’s log.

Total swim dist: 342,784 meters
Total number of swims: 139
Average distance per swim: 2,466 meters
Longest swim: 6,130 yards (the strange distance can be attributed to this swim taking place in a 30y pool)

Total bike dist: 6,857.8 miles in 342 hours, 22 minutes
Total number of rides: 161
Average distance per week: 131.9 miles
Average distance per ride: 42.6 miles
Average speed: 19.56mph*
Longest distance ride: 130.1mi
Longest duration ride: 6hrs, 31min (125mi, hillier than the 130mi)
Biggest bike week: 358.2mi in 6 rides
*this includes 90 miles of mountain biking

Total run dist: 1,301.6 miles in 150 hours, 23 minutes
Total number of runs: 157
Average pace: 6:56/mi
Average distance per week: 25 miles
Average distance per run: 8.3 miles
Longest run (outside of a race): 20.6mi
Biggest run week: 58 miles in 5 runs

Total training hours for the year: 614 hours, 39 minutes
Average total hours per week: 11 hours, 49 minutes
Total number of sessions: 457 = 8.8 workouts per week*
*this includes triathlons, so not sure if that should be counted as one session

The fact that I took some training time from running (my strength) and put it towards swimming (my weakness) showed this year. I was focused on two Ironman-distance races this year, and I saw a well-balanced 9hr race for me coming out to 1hr swim, 5hr bike, and 3hr run (obviously excluding transitions). This means swim = 11% of finish time, bike = 55%, run = 33%. An athlete who is equally strong in all three sports may want to split up training in a similar fashion. In order to work on my swim though, I increased volume there and basically maintained my strong run, and my ratios were: swim – 18.5%, bike – 57%, run – 24.5%, based on the year’s totals.

Due to off-season weeks being well under 10 hours at times, I was somewhat surprised to see my average hours per week at close to 12 hours, but there were many weeks over 20 hours (none over 24) before each Ironman which brought that average back up. Overall, I’m happy with my consistency this year and it was bigger than 2012 by 28% in terms of total training hours. No doubt, this has to do with doing two Ironman races in one year rather than one last year, but I’m glad I was able to handle it all well.

I’m excited to have another year of experience and extensive endurance training under my belt as it all counts towards the future. I’m very excited for what 2014 has in store with plenty of new races in our new location in Austin!

Mountain Man Triathlon Half Iron Race Report – 1st overall, CR, August 2013

Mountain Man Triathlon has always been special to me, as the Olympic distance was my first triathlon back in 2007. In 2011 and 2012, I did the “Flagstaff Feats of Fortitude Challenge” by racing Big Brothers Big Sisters half marathon on Saturday and Mountain Man Olympic on Sunday. By having the fastest combined time for both races those two years, I was granted free entry into both races the following years. I had never raced the half ironman distance at Mountain Man, and that particular distance is more suited to me than the Olympic. This year,  considering the fact that I’d be moving out of state soon, I opted to forfeit my free entry into Saturday’s half marathon. I wanted to enter and focus on, in the back of my mind, winning Mountain Man Half Iron on Sunday. It would be so awesome to go out with a win on the home turf!

Confidence going into this race was so-so: I was in the thick of preparing for the Ironman World Championship, and I had some heavy training to do before and after this race. I knew I wouldn’t be the most rested on race day. Race week looked like this:

Monday: 90min ride with 4×4:00 tempo + 18mi brick run in 2:12
Tuesday: 5hr ride including Mountain Man bike course, 101mi; 4000m swim
Wednesday: 8mi run with 3×8:00 tempo, 52:53; 2500m swim
Thursday: 1:04 (25.9mi) ride on the race wheels with a total of 24min at tempo + 3mi brick run @ base in 18:01(this is where I said to myself, ‘WTF?’ due to the speed, considering the week so far)
Friday: 1500m swim
Saturday: 2.5mi run @ base, .5mi easy, 19:18
Sunday: race

Despite a very short taper, I had great energy coming to this race. I saw it as a celebration of Flagstaff and I was really excited to race more “my” distance in such familiar territory with many friends there racing and spectating.

The Swim
Swimming had been going well and I was anxious to see if it would show in the open water. Brian and Adam Folts would be racing, and I knew they’d be among the competition for the overall, not to mention any studs whom I didn’t know that may randomly show up. Brian’s swim, in particular, has improved a lot over the last 18mo or so, and was the primary reason I lost to him at April’s Leadman 125. Before the start, I decided I’d line up at the front and try to get on Brian’s feet if I could. From the gun, I went out very hard (for being at 7,000ft elevation!) and my plan worked perfectly – I was swimming with both Brian and Adam to the first turn.

Brian Folts, Adam Folts, me

Adam Folts, Brian Folts, me – Taken by Jake Bacon of AZ Daily Sun

After rounding the first buoy, Brian took the lead followed by Adam, and then me. I paid VERY close attention to where Brian was to make sure no gaps formed between him and Adam. One started to open up and I immediately passed Adam and got on Brian’s feet, and Adam got on mine. It stayed this way the remainder of the swim with two other guys from our wave up ahead. We got out of the water in the low 31s, a new personal best, and by far the closest I’ve ever been to the front at the beginning of the race: 4th out of the water. I had a solid transition and was onto the bike in 2nd overall.

The Bike
I passed the only person I knew of who was ahead of me less than a mile into the bike. Holy crap, this is weird already leading. I am not in the least bit used to swimming in the top 10 overall and this was a drastic change from my typical “chase all day” races. I had an unusually large gap to the Folts brothers a few miles into the bike but I certainly didn’t expect to stay up there alone. I wondered if Adam and Brian would work together to catch me (at a legal distance of one another, of course, but it helps to trade the lead and have someone with you out there) and how things would unfold then. I just knew I’d be seeing at least one of them again. As I approached the top of “the steps,” a series of three climbs that I’ve ridden dozens of times, I heard someone starting to close the gap behind me. After a quick glance, I saw it was Brian. He didn’t pass me, though, and I continued with my current effort into the next downhill. I made the right turn to start the first loop around Mormon Lake and glanced back less than two miles after the steps and he wasn’t even close anymore. I definitely didn’t expect that. I was having a blast leading the race with nothing but open road ahead of me, with my home-field advantage and positive vibes pushing me along. I stayed relatively comfortable and steady effort-wise, glancing back again right before turning back onto Lake Mary Rd: No one in sight.

This was the 19 mile mark and we had a 6 mile (round-trip) out-and-back before making another loop around Mormon Lake. There was still a nagging worry in the back of my head that maybe a super-swimmer whom I had missed was still ahead of me, so the out-and-back was a perfect opportunity to make sure I was correct about leading. I got to the turnaround and hadn’t seen a single person going the other direction. Booyah. Next, I got to see what the gap was like to second overall and you know I checked my watch at the turn to see *exactly* what that gap would be. Unfortunately since I’m writing this a few months after the race, I don’t recall what it was but I know I was certainly happy about it and I’m confident it was at least two minutes.

The average speed so far was hovering in the low 24s, which I was very happy with, but I was sure to keep myself from getting too excited because the next stretch had a lot of gradual climbing and the last six miles or so of the race tend to have a headwind. After riding the course on Tuesday, I knew I would be happy with riding a 2:25 bike split, an average speed in the low 23mph range. I eventually got to the Olympic bike turnaround and was alarmed to see several riders before that who appeared to be in the race but continuing well past their turnaround…I’m surprised I didn’t hear more about that afterward…I continued onto the second lap, which didn’t include the out-and-back on Lake Mary Rd this time and it was basically uneventful besides now having the company of some other half iron racers who were on their first lap. I was excited to turn back onto Lake Mary Rd because it meant I was now headed for home. I couldn’t believe the Folts bros hadn’t made an appearance, and I was pretty sure now that I’d officially be first off the bike (which would be a first for me). I also couldn’t believe the average speed so far was right at 24mph.

I had my last climb followed by the long descent down the steps and I knew the next north-bound stretch would be fast and then I expected the headwind to begin as we turned west/northwest about six miles from home. It turned out there was indeed a headwind, but really not all that bad. I felt fantastic, had ridden within my fitness, and I was absolutely stoked to be leading. Thoughts gradually turned to the run, which is my strength and didn’t cause a great deal of anxiety, but I did remind myself that this win is far from clinched. A half marathon off a 56 mile bike is no joke, and I didn’t know how much of an effect the 7,000ft altitude would have.

My average speed dropped a tenth, maybe two-tenths of a mile-per-hour on that headwind stretch and I could not believe I was about to hop off the bike with a 2:20:XX bike split! On this course!

Bike elevation profile + heart rate

Bike elevation profile + heart rate

The Run
When I was in transition, a friend of mine who had done a relay said something like, “There’s plenty of time to get him!” WHAT!? To get who? This blew my mind – I told him I’m in the lead and he seemed confused. Now I certainly was…Either way, I was still *pretty* confident I was leading and he must have been mistaken that there was a half iron guy ahead of me. That, or it was a relay racer.

The run started pretty smoothly with a 6:05 first mile while I tried to get comfortable. The first mile off the bike is always uncomfortable, but usually faster than I expect (this was). It’s just a matter of your legs figuring out what the heck is going on. When I made the turn to start the climb up toward Marshall Lake, another friend of mine working an aid station made another comment indicating there was someone else ahead. I chalked it up to him having no way of knowing if anyone was ahead of me because all of the Olympic racers were turning onto this road too. Still, the anxiety was building that there might be someone up there.

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Starting the one mile climb up Marshall hill

I stayed compact, steady, and light during the one mile climb to the turnaround. With all of the Olympic racers, I had no idea if any of them could be in the half iron race, but I’d officially know after the bottom of the hill where the Oly racers go left and half iron goes right. The descent is unfortunately too steep to really “let it go,” and my heart rate dropped big time while I held back on the way down. This mile (the 4th) ended up being just a second faster than my first mile, despite being completely downhill. I got to the junction at the bottom where half iron split from Oly and sure enough, my aid station friend said the guy who’s leading is X minutes ahead. WTF. This doesn’t make sense. It has to be a relay. There’s no way anyone could have been leading by over six miles, only 19 miles into the bike (the out and back where I learned I was leading). That would mean that, at 25mph, the lead rider already had a near 15-minute lead only 19 miles into the bike. I figured he (hopefully) unintentionally didn’t do the out-and-back section of the bike course. The rational side of me knew something must be up, but I was still incredibly worried. Especially after being so confident for so much of this race.

Open road ahead

Open road ahead

Just looking at my heart rate graph for this run, you can see this is when I went to work on catching this guy. I recall the gap to him sounded daunting but I drew confidence from knowing the run is my strength and I wanted to make this my race. This section of the course is pretty wide open and I hoped I’d be able to see him soon. Finally, somewhere around six miles (turnaround is at 8), I caught a glimpse of a runner up ahead and prayed it was him. I quickly got close enough that I could pick landmarks that we would run by and I could figure out my time gap and how fast I was closing. This turned out to be a tad silly, as I could tell visually that I was gaining ground plenty fast enough to get him before the finish, and I ended up passing him at about 7.5 miles. He gave me an odd round of applause as I passed him and I told him I don’t know how I didn’t see him on the bike. He didn’t reply.

Run Terrain + Heart Rate

Run elevation profile + heart hate

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Either way, I was definitely now leading the race – I was achieving my goal of taking the win here in this place I had grown incredibly fond of. The next several miles were relatively uneventful outside of lacking the drive to bring it home hard. I saw I had a gap of over 5 minutes to Brian Folts, who as far as I was concerned was in second, and I was just taking it in and enjoying myself.

I crossed the line a good six minutes under where I thought I’d finish, 4:19:03, and much to my surprise, I had lowered the course record by over nine minutes – I was absolutely elated! This win really meant a lot and it was a truly magical day that I will never forget. I will miss you, Flagstaff!

Swim – 31:26
Bike – 2:20:06
Run – 1:24:56

Warm finish welcome

Warm finish welcome

Thank you to the Racelab posse who showed up in full force and especially my coach, Bettina for playing a huge part in getting me here!

Bettina and I, with one-of-a-kind alabaster trophy!

Bettina and I, with one-of-a-kind alabaster trophy!

My wife, Janee, once again PRed in the Olympic!

My wife, Janee, once again PRed in the Olympic!

Regarding the fellow who was ahead of me until 7 miles into the run, I only know he was disqualified. He finished in “2nd” overall and I know the Folts brothers, who were the next two finishers behind him, were also baffled about where he came from. The most logical explanation is that he didn’t do the six mile out-and-back on the bike, and I certainly hope it wasn’t intentional.

Gear and Nutrition Used at 2013 Ironman World Championship

Swim
Trisuit: Pactimo Mako
Goggles: Speedo Vanquisher
Over the trisuit: TYR Torque Elite swimskin

Bike
Frame: 2009 Ceepo Venom
Group: Sram Force
Wheels: Reynolds 72 Aeros
Tires/Tubes: Continental GP4000S, 23c. Front tube was standard butyl, rear was Vittoria Latex
Bars: Easton Attack, old version
Saddle: Cobb VFlow Max
Shoes: Specialized TriVent
Pedals: Speedplay Zero
Flat kit: Two spare tubes w/ valve extenders already on, two CO2s, adapter, two tire levers, multi-tool
Bottles: Standard frame bottle with every 4oz marked for hourly caloric intake, 1600cal of EFS Liquid Shot inside. Profile HC horizontal mount on aero bars for water
Helmet: Rudy Project Wingspan
Glasses: Rudy Project Ability
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Run
Hat: Last year’s Headsweats Kona finisher hat
Glasses: None
Shoes: Adidas Adios 2, wore socks
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Nutrition
Breakfast, 4:15am:
Peanut butter and Nutella sandwich on whole wheat bread = about 640cal
Banana = 100cal
5:30am: 2/3 Clif Bar, 1 SaltStick cap = 160cal
4:15-6:30am: 32oz Gatorade, 40-50oz water = 200cal

On the bike, each hour:
20min: 2oz Vanilla First Endurance EFS Liquid Shot = 160cal
40min: 1/4 Clif Bar = 60cal
60min: 2oz First Endurance EFS Liquid shot
= 380cal/hr
100mg caffeine (half of a pill) at 4hrs, another 100mg at 4:30 into the bike (side note: I had no caffeine for four days leading up to the race and none on race morning)
Water frequently, most likely 30-40oz an hour

On the run:
One gel and one SalStick cap every half hour = 220cal/hr
(Total: three green apple PowerGels, one strawberry banana PowerGel, one Gu Roctane = 135mg caffeine total)
Something at every aid station – If recently had a gel, water, if more than a mile after having gel, course-provided Perform
Coke at about every other aid station for the last 10k, just because it sounded good (and it was!)

2013 Ironman World Championship Race Report

Last weekend, I had the privilege of racing Kona for a second time with the main goal of improving on last year. I left last year with a strong feeling that I could do a heck of a lot better and I set out at Ironman Texas this past May (report here) to attempt to re-qualify. I came in at 9:15 and 3rd in the 30-34 age group, securing one of the five slots: here we go, Kona 2.0!

A fantastic logo of my cranium, randomly created by Adam Sandoval from NAU - let me know if you'd like to hire this dude for some graphic design

A fantastic logo of my cranium, randomly created by Adam Sandoval from NAU – let me know if you’d like to hire this dude for some graphic design

Coming into Kona this year, I had a few advantages over last year: 1) I had been there and experienced it – you can read as much as you want about the course and conditions, but you never know exactly what it’ll be like until you’re there. I had a few surprises last year, including a flat tire, fueling issues, and probably most importantly – I underestimated the run course, partly for its hills and also for how you feel like you’re in no-mans land after 11 miles. 2) At least six months after Kona, I came to terms with the fact that I had an attitude problem at Kona during the run, and it may have stemmed from the mental energy I expended with my flat tire and the time leading up to it (the tire thumped for over 30 miles and I knew it was at great risk for blowing out that entire time – I burned some “mental matches” during this). My poor run split last year (relative to what I was capable of) was largely due to not having the mental attitude, “game,” or drive to keep pushing – I was not happy and I was in a very poor mental place to be in a race of such length. 3) I was heat/humidity acclimated. I had an altitude advantage last year since I came from Flagstaff’s 7,000ft elevation, but practically no heat training, as Flagstaff hits the low 80s for the high during the summer and the humidity is no more than 20%. This year, we moved to Austin, TX seven weeks before Kona and right away I was training in temps over 95 degrees with 50% humidity. As October rolled around, temps dropped to mid-to-high 80s with 50-60% humidity: practically perfect for Kona. Altitude training is known to have its advantages, but when it comes to Kona, I think the heat and humidity acclimation outweighs any kind of altitude advantage (By the way, if I were a top level pro with the means to do so, I’d train at elevation until three weeks before Kona, then train in Kona the last three weeks. The best of both worlds!). One disadvantage coming into this year: I had to move 1,000 miles during a pretty heavy period of training and missed out on at least a solid week of good training. Add to this the stress of moving and who knows how much of a toll it took.

Short training ride on the Queen K on Thursday before the race

Short training ride on the Queen K on Thursday before the race

Friday:
I spent the vast majority of the day before the race by myself at our condo. I spent the day very slowly and casually preparing my bike and race bags, mentally rehearsing the race, and sitting around/staying off my feet. My coach, Bettina, arrived with her husband, Gus, and my lovely wife who couldn’t make it out until now due to her intense grad school schedule at the University of Texas. After that, we only went to bike check-in and the grocery store and followed it with dinner at the condo. This is my kind of pre-race day – low key, very little distraction, lots of visualization and energy to save up. I was fully prepared for the next morning by 8pm and I went to bed around 10pm.

Dealing with all of these race bags is always a bit overwhelming

Dealing with all of these race bags is always a bit overwhelming

At bike and gear bag check-in walking past the

At bike and gear bag check-in walking past the “Kona Bike Count” gauntlet

Race Morning:
I slept better than last year, only waking a couple of times and the sleep in between was deeper. Certainly no snooze button required though! I got up at 4am, had breakfast (race day nutrition) and was ready by 4:30. We got to the race site a little bit after 5am and I headed to body marking. This year they opted for temporary tattoo numbers rather than stamps and it certainly takes longer per person to apply them. I’m not sure why they wanted to go this route – the stamps were quick and I don’t recall them saying you couldn’t apply sunscreen until after the swim like they did this year (sunscreen apparently makes the temp tattoos come off). I got to have Ms Allie Nath apply my numbers – Allie is the NAU TriJacks president and an athlete I have coached before. It was awesome to have someone I know there when I was incredibly nervous! I then got weighed (157lbs) presumably for the purpose of post-race IV if required, hit up the bathroom (which was an ETERNITY of waiting) and finally walked to my spot. I quickly found a pump to borrow and quadruple checked my tires (since last year’s tire blowout situation would have been avoidable if I had done the same), loaded up my bottles, bento box, and saddle bag, and I was good to go. I then met up with Janee, Gus, and Bettina for some pre-race pics and so they could hopefully calm me the heck down. I don’t get very nervous for races anymore, but I was very nervous for this one, I think mainly due to last year’s experience.

Pre-race with my homegirl

Pre-race with my homegirl

With Gus, Bettina, and Janee

With Gus, Bettina, and Janee

The Swim:
I would estimate that I lined up about 1/3 of the way between the pier and the left-most end of the field. I started about three “rows” back and braced myself for the chaos, which was every bit as bad as last year. Any time you start a swim with 2,000 people, it’s bound to be violent for a bit, but this one is just awful. I had people all up in my business with elbows (a good one to the side of my head, for one), nails (got a great scratch shoulder-to-armpit), feet, and hands everywhere for a much longer duration of time than any other races I’ve done. You don’t choose where to go unless you were on the front line and can swim fast enough to stay there – you swim where the bodies around you force you to go. The remainder of the race calmed down but there was never long between contact. As the swim went on, I became increasingly nervous that I’d come out of the water in 1:1X, something I desperately wanted to avoid (I even told someone who asked back in May about my Kona goals, “I will quit the sport if I swim over 1:10,” about half-joking) because it sure felt like this swim was taking a long time. I finally popped out of the water at Dig Me Beach and my watch said 1:09:4X – Get this: my official race swim time was 1:09:59. Guess I have to stick with it!

The Bike:
Transition went smoothly, and I even had a familiar volunteer helping me, Paul, an Active Release Therapy guy who helped Kym Wilkens work out some kinks in my legs on Thursday. Out onto the bike, the first several miles on Kuakini Hwy are very congested and I looked forward to the Queen K where I could settle into a groove. When I got out there, I immediately realized how much of my surroundings I hadn’t taken in last year, probably due to my stress and paranoia about my front tire. This year, I looked around and I grinned. It’s THE Queen-freakin’-K, man! After not too long, a guy who I had just passed got my attention and it was my buddy “Tommy-Rivs” from Flagstaff! This guy qualified for Kona by winning his age group at the Hawaii 70.3 – his SECOND ever 70.3. Kona was his first Ironman and his fifth triathlon. Nuts. He has a few blog posts here. I couldn’t believe I already found my bearded self crossing paths with my bearded friend randomly, so early in the race. We briefly exchanged some words about how things were going and we each passed each other a few times throughout the race. It was really cool to have someone I knew there and it helped to lighten the mood of being at big scary Kona.

I recall there being some congestion and drafting going on occasionally last year, but this year seemed a heck of a lot worse. I don’t know if it has to do with swimming a few minutes faster or the relative lack of wind. As far as typical Kona goes, the gusting winds were not nearly as bad as they’ve been in the past, and I wonder if the crazy wind usually breaks up groups. Who knows, but I do know I was frustrated about not being able to find a rhythm because I kept coming upon groups of people (not always necessarily drafting) where either a few passes were being made at once, or they really were drafting, and I’d have to sit up, keep my space, and wait until it was clear to pass.

The average pace (which I’d been very conservative with) through half-way was 24mph, which was exciting and concerning at the same time – it indicated we may be facing a stiff headwind on the return trip. The climb to Hawi wasn’t bad at all and it was again exciting to see the pro race unfolding as we saw them descending on their way back to the Queen K. Upon my own return to the Queen K at roughly 80 miles, the groups and congestion had subsided enough that I was finally able to find a very good groove. This also happened to be when we were facing a constant head/crosswind, so maybe I was right about the wind breaking up the groups! I consistently passed person after person and I was enjoying myself way more than last year. I popped 100mg of caffeine around my 4hr mark and another 100mg at 4.5hrs and the added focus really seemed to help me bring it home strong. No thoughts like last year along the lines of, ‘holy crap, fifteen miles to go!? I just want to get off my friggin’ bike.’ My entire attitude was completely different and I was happy.

Before I knew it, I was hopping off my bike, handing it to a volunteer, and prancing…my way through transition after a bike split just a shade over 5hrs. Sweeet! 15 minutes faster than last year. There was some stiffness and awkwardness, but that’s to be expected after spending 5hrs in an aerodynamic position on a bicycle, I suppose! I was confident my running legs would come around quickly.

Bike time – 5:00:29 (22.4mph)

Overall place after bike – 585 of 2,134 = 27%

Number passed during bike – 525

The Run:
The run is where the magic happens and where I worked the most on my mental prep for this race. My outlook and key word for this race was “gratitude.” I am grateful to have the talent and the ability to train and race at a level that gets me to the World Championship. I am grateful for the people I’ve met through the sport (including my wife!) and the incredible amount of support I receive along the way. It is this feeling of gratitude and thankfulness that I wanted to especially bring to this run. I also really, really wanted to run under 3 hours and I was confident I could do it. I adopted a mindset that I’m going to have to earn it, “it’s not going to run itself” (as in, it’s not going to happen if I’m out there running mindlessly), and if I want it, I have to take it.

My main concern was the hill up Palani around 11 miles and the stretch between there and roughly 16 miles where we’d enter the Energy Lab. That is where things went downhill (far from literally) for me last year. The 10 early miles on Ali’i Drive blow by and feel easy. There are tons of spectators and it’s relatively flat terrain. I kept my heart rate under control (around 150 for the first 4mi or so) and let it creep into the mid 150s as I approached 10 miles. This resulted in an average pace in the mid-6:40s to that point. I got to see Janee, Bettina, Gus, Allie, and her mom, Susan, twice during this stretch and that’s always a boost. Janee had two surprise signs for me – man, she’s awesome:
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IMG02610-20131020-1047

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Briefly onto Kuakini Hwy we went, and then it was time for Palani hill. This hill felt like a mountain last year and I desperately wanted to walk. This is the part of my race where I realized things would be different. I was light and quick, and I felt good with no thoughts of walking. YES. I fixated on 6:51 pace because that’s the pace required to run exactly 3:00 for the marathon. My watch showed me overall average pace and the split for each mile. For awhile, I added up how many seconds total I was under goal pace. When I got tired of that, I reverted to my standard countdown from 300 when I was a quarter of the way through each mile (three steps for each second at 180 steps/min, 300 seconds for 3/4mi at 6:40 pace. Yes, I’m crazy). I went through half way in the 1:28s – so far, so good! I was becoming even more confident I’d come in under my 3hr mark. I focused on utilizing the very long gradual downhills (all of which had long gradual uphills to match, of course) by thinking “light,” “tall,” and simply knowing and acknowledging it was downhill. When I think like this, I feel my posture improve and I really do feel lighter and faster. My chest comes forward and I feel an upward pull on the front of my hips. This transfers into my legs and I feel as though it actually affects my form, but I can’t be certain it really does. I eventually caught up to Russ Brandt around 16mi, a triathlete in the 40-44 whom I know from Arizona. He was having a fantastic race and ended up setting a PR of 9:27. Again, nice to see a familiar face out there and exchange some encouraging words. Shortly after that was the turn into the Energy Lab, which is exciting because it means you get to turn around soon! The next mile (the 17th) is primarily gradual downhill toward the ocean and this ended up being the fastest mile of my race at 6:24. Holy moly! Another boost. After the turn-around, it’s flat for roughly a half mile and then uphill back to the Queen K (same stretch as 17th mile, but backwards). This mile was 7:03, putting my inbound + outbound Energy Lab miles at an average of 6:45 pace – still on goal! Back on the Queen K and headed the opposite direction really helped to confirm the feel that I was “headed for home.” With around 10k to go though, and being about 8.5 hours into the race, this is when things can really start to ache/nag/hurt/scream…only 5k to go sounds like a lot from that perspective. My crazy math antics turned into calculating what pace I’d need to average for the remaining X miles to come in under 3hrs. As each mile ticked by, it went from 7:15s, to 7:30s, and all the way up to 7:50s that I’d need to run by the time I got to the 24th mile. I had it, I knew it.

The last uphill before turning onto Palani seems to go on forever (I believe this is the “Iron War” mile) and was my slowest of the race at 7:20. Then there was the painful controlled fall down Palani followed by hundreds of spectators to bring me home strong.

I was so, so happy with how I had executed my race and especially at how I ran. This year, I was in control, rather than having the race control me. I was overjoyed to make the last turn onto Ali’i and have a successful redemption race on the Big Island behind me. I took in as much of that final stretch as I could and gave Janee a kiss when I saw her. That finish line experience is truly incredible and I will never forget it.

Run time – 2:58:33 (6:48/mi)

Overall place at finish – 117 of 2,134 = 5%

Number passed during run – 468

Number passed from swim to finish – 993

Age group place at finish – 24 of 177

Finish time – 9:15:40, 26:36 faster than 2012

71st overall amateur

19th American male

Konarunsplits

1:28:32 first half, 1:29:49 second half

This race is dedicated to my wife, Janee – she has been absolutely monumental in getting me to this race from any facet you can think of. I honestly don’t know what I’d do without her and I’m almost positive I wouldn’t be at the World Championship without her help.

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A huge thank you to all who have supported me, including friends, family, my coach, Bettina as well as the Racelab team, mom and dad, NAU TriJacks, Tim Fleisher, Allie and Susan Nath, Kym Wilkens, Reynolds Wheels, Jack and Adam’s Bicycles, RaceQuest Travel; and personal and team sponsors whose products I wouldn’t use if I didn’t believe in them, including First Endurance, Guayaki, Triple Sports, Rudy Project, Skins, Pactimo, Polar Bottle, and Doctor Hoy’s

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Reynolds 72 Aero Review

Reynolds offered a sweet deal to Kona qualifiers who responded quickly enough – to ride a set of their wheels in Kona from their relatively new line of wheels, all under the “AERO” name. The only catch was that you had to be among the first 40 to respond and I managed to squeeze in there. They come in 58, 72, and 90mm depths and I was given the option of 58 or 72mm. Last year, I rode an 88mm rear Chinese carbon clincher (Yishun) and Zipp 404 front clincher (52mm depth) and I was comfortable with that – The Reynolds Aero line has a lot of data (Competitive Cyclist has a good breakdown here, Reynolds aerodynamics “white paper“) showing that these wheels are incredibly aerodynamic and good in crosswinds, so I opted for the 72s.

Out of the box, they look fantastic. I don’t know if this is normal with other brands, but I was impressed they came with rim strips, brake pads, valve extenders, a cassette spacer, and even wheel bags. I also noticed the hole where the valve comes through has a rubber gasket to eliminate noise/vibration on the rim. On my own wheels, I have to use a piece of tape to secure the valve stem to the rim to stop that annoying rattling over bumps.

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I got the wheels over a week before the race so I was able to ride them a bit and get a feel for them. My first ride was 3hrs and I immediately noticed they don’t feel like race wheels. I would say they ride and handle like a much more “shallow” rim. With my own race wheels, I know I’m on them as soon as I take my first turn. Not so with these. Beside the sound and the fact that I was able to ride faster than normal for the effort, I wasn’t reminded that I was on deep wheels until an hour into the ride when a semi truck passed me at a high speed. The gust “grabbed” my front wheel pretty good, but it was manageable and I wouldn’t have given it a second thought if it were in a situation where I expected it, like Kona. My next ride involved 4×4:00 at tempo, which ended up being a full 1.5mph faster than any of my Austin tempo rides before that. There are factors that play into this, such as environmental and taper, but I’ve never seen an increase like that – the wheels were a big factor, but it’s hard to say just how much. I personally didn’t expect that much of a boost.

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My last ride on them pre-race was just 35 minutes in Kona on the Queen K the Thursday before Saturday’s race. It was point to point, consistent head/crosswind, and no issues or complaints to add to what I’ve already said.
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One thing of note is that these wheels are quite wide (26mm, I believe). When I arranged to have them delivered, I asked what width tires are best suited with these wheels, and 23mm was the reply. I opted for Continental GP4000S tires with a Vittoria latex tube in the rear and standard butyl tube up front (I simply didn’t think of ordering another latex tube in time – flatted the front one in Kona last year). Anyway, upon bike check-in, I found that the wheel was even too wide to fit into the wood wheel slots in transition and a volunteer had to use a crow bar to widen the space so the wheel would fit. Crazy!
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As many know, Kona this year was a low-wind day as far as typical conditions go. I was looking forward to seeing how these wheels would perform in the notorious crosswinds on the climb up and down from Hawi, but it really wasn’t bad this year. I recall some bad gusts on the Queen K last year as well, but not this year. We certainly had the typical head/crosswind the last 30 or so miles on the Queen K and there wasn’t a single moment that the wind made me feel concerned about being in the aero bars with these wheels. Either way, I was confident on these wheels and being able to ride in the aero bars without concern for getting blown off the road just adds to energy saved for the run – mentally and physically. I rode at a conservative effort, came in at 5:00 (15min faster than last year, including last year’s flat), and backed it up with a 2:58 run.

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The bottom line is, I’m impressed with how these wheels handle for being 72mm deep, they look great, and they are noticeably faster.

Pictures From Training, Jan – May 2013