Taking a Triatus

In the second half of 2017, I started struggling with motivation and finding meaning in training for Ironman Louisville. I was questioning whether I want to be doing this, which can of course have an impact on training and racing. I got to Louisville with a “just get through it” attitude, planning on taking a 6-month-minimum break from tri afterward. I had a poor race and mindset through the swim and bike, but then had the run of my life off of what may have been my lowest run volume leading up to an Ironman. It turned that whole taking a break idea on its head! It felt like jeez, I should probably see if there’s more where that came from. I decided to play it by ear for the off season and see if I wanted to keep going in the spring.

Some motivation came back and I signed up for the Wildflower Triathlon (half iron, May 5th) with the thinking that it’d be a tune up for IM Boulder (June 10th). I thought it’d be a great idea to do an early season Ironman, then I’d have a good chunk of the summer to explore our beautiful state more and spend more weekend time with Janée. We got into backpacking last fall and man, it felt like this is what I want to be doing. This is what I’ve been looking for. But, training always got in the way, and I started to resent having all my free time dominated by it. For our first outing, I rode 60 miles, gaining 6,700′ over 4 hours to the trailhead in the Rawah Wilderness. My brick “run” was hiking a 30lb pack to our camp spot over 5.5 miles with another 2,700′ of gain. The next day, we checked out Twin Crater Lakes, packed up, and hiked out. It sounds like an awful lot of work for such a short trip, but I thought it was amazing. Another time, I rode 90 miles, had a 4 mile brick run, then we showed up to the trailhead in the dark and hiked in. Not ideal!

As training increased into the spring, the feelings I had during the fall started to creep back in, unfortunately, but I continued on. I got to Wildflower where I had also agreed to work the event, but got the short end of the deal because my counterpart needed to take a down day (DOT hours of service regulations) the day before the race. That meant I needed to unload 60 bikes, stand in the heat all day, reload all the bikes that weren’t picked up, all solo. I was exhausted just in time to prep for my race and head to bed, and it became a “just have fun with it” kind of race. I had a crappy swim followed by a lot of solo time on the bike, with my attitude not in the best place. So much for having fun with it, eh? Haha. It was during the bike that I decided I wouldn’t be racing IM Boulder and that I was actually going to take a break. I realized that I was training for this Ironman because I thought I should do it, not because I wanted to do it. The only thing that had been holding me back from cancelling was the thought of all the people who expected me to do it; all the coaching so far and all the people I’d told I would race it. It was surprisingly emotional for a bit there, and I think I even cried a little on the bike. Then, I got my first penalty in my racing “career.” For those who are familiar, it had to do with the “stagger rule,” and it did not give me any kind of unfair advantage so I am morally fine with it, but it certainly stung a lot. The run started with some stomach issues and I was running on egg shells for several miles (to try to prevent throwing up), but came around in the second half and ran alright. I think I finished around 20th, but didn’t really care. I was ready to move on.

Of course, everyone who I thought was “expecting” me to do it was incredibly supportive of my decision and my perception was all in my head…Contributing factors to the lack of motivation: I put a lot of pressure on myself in training. If I miss a workout, perhaps due to work (which has happened more lately as I take on more responsibility), it eats at me. If I miss a few, for me it’s like I might as well not even race if I can’t give it my all. Racing in the pro field: in the age group field, a poor showing was, ‘okay, well that’s about in line with my fitness;’ in the pro field, a poor showing was, ‘wow, that was embarrassing.’ Ha, me choosing to see it that way is on me and something I need to work on, but is a contributor. I also feel the need to put more into establishing a career, essentially a change in life priorities.

This year has been great. I put more energy into work without the constant concern about training time. I could focus on doing a better job at events without that added worry. I worked 70.3 Coeur d’Alene, which I love. Then I worked USAT Nationals in Cleveland, which I asked to go work because I grew up there and I’d get to see my family. I ended up being tapped to manage it, which was a bit intimidating with 400 bikes, but with that extra energy that I could devote to planning, we nailed it and it went incredibly well.

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Thanks for the help, mom and dad!

I then got to go work the 70.3 World Championship in Port Elizabeth, South Africa. Never would I have imagined I’d go to Africa in a job involving transporting bicycles! We had a great time and I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to go. It was also super cool to have great access to witness the pro action.

Then, I also went to the Ironman World Championship in Kona, Hawaii the following month! Kona is a lot of work for us and I didn’t have as much time to myself as I would’ve liked, but it was still a great opportunity to see the operations of that event from that side of things, along with being there without the (self inflicted) pressure that comes with racing it.

On top of that, we went on ten backpack/camp trips and saw some incredible scenery. Some photos from each one:

Eastern Utah in March:

Sangre de Cristos in southern/central Colorado in May:

Big South trail in Roosevelt National Forest in June:

North Rawah Trail to Lost Lake in June:

Wetterhorn Summit (14,015′) and Grand Mesa in July:

Island Lake in the Rawah Wilderness, July:

Roaring Creek in August…guess I didn’t take many photos that weekend:

Medicine Bow in September:

Aaaand Mt Zirkel Wilderness near Steamboat Springs in September:

Additionally, I got an awesome mountain bike and I’ve been having a blast on that thing and that’s been my main form of exercise all summer. I haven’t gotten a swim in since May, which is probably not a surprise for many who’ve witnessed me constantly struggle with it. It also took until the fall to legitimately have the desire to run again, although we obviously did a lot of hiking.

This break has been a bizarre experience – dropping something that’s been a part of my identity for such a long time, but it’s been liberating as well. The fact that I still don’t have a desire to race a tri again any time soon signals to me this hiatus was much-needed. I don’t feel like I’ve lived as much as I have this year in quite some time.

 

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Louisville ‘n stuff

As usual, it’s been a while! Long story short, I’ve been on a hiatus from structured training and racing since May (a triatus?). We’ll save that talk for the next post, but here’s a “quick” (for me…) recap of Louisville.

Coming into last fall when I was getting ready for IM Louisville, I was struggling with the training and not really enjoying myself. I had almost fully decided I’d take at least a 6 month break from “serious” training and racing once I got that race behind me, mainly just to get back in touch with the roots of why I do it in the first place.

On race day, the Ohio River water temperature was .2 degrees (yes, point two) above the wetsuit-legal temperature. The pro wetsuit temperature is 71.5 degrees, while the age group temp is 76.1. I’d say I’m less bulky than a lot of triathletes, and given the generally lower-intensity effort of Ironman distance and 2/3 of the swim into the wind, this wasn’t a good recipe for me to keep warm. By half way, I started shivering while swimming, and felt a total lack of power in my swim stroke. What should have probably been my fastest Ironman swim due to the majority down-current direction, I came out in a disappointing 1:04:XX and behind of ton of age groupers who started after me. Onto the bike, it took at least an hour to warm up. The bike course is considered fairly hilly (4,900′ gain on my Garmin) compared to some races, and you ride ~20 miles out, do two 35 mile loops, then come back. Around 40 miles, I got a flat rear tire, unfortunately. I changed it fairly quickly as I had a string of recent flat tires in training and was well in practice, ha. Guess I didn’t get it out of my system before race day! This bothered me a smaller amount than I’d expect, but it was demoralizing to see all the people I’d already passed go riding by me while I was on the side of the road. Onto the second lap, it became very frustrating because the back of the race was on the first lap at the same time. The road was also open to vehicle traffic, so you’d commonly encounter cars waiting to pass groups of bikes, so I was repeatedly held up. My attitude dwindled until my outlook was in the sh*tter by the time I got on the lonely 20mi stretch back to T2. In addition to the head wind here, I also started experiencing some cramping in my quads and my attitude became even worse. I was honestly hoping something would happen so I couldn’t finish the race. I simply didn’t want to be there. I cussed my way to transition but told myself over and over ‘just give it a go, see how you feel on the run.’ Off the bike, my legs felt terrible, but after taking a seat and getting into my running shoes, I felt alright starting the run. I thought I eased into the first mile and it was a 6:19. Mind you, it was a pretty good temperature for running. Through half way, the average pace was…still 6:19. Jeez. Didn’t expect that. I thought the wheels must be coming off soon because I believed my training lacked the depth (limited due to a nagging achilles injury) to keep this up for much longer. I honestly did the math on what it’d require to run under 3 hours, despite going through half way in the 1:22s. As I got up into the 17, 18 mile range and still had some miles under 6:25, it became exciting, like wow, maybe I will run in the 2:40s. I kept pushing and felt strong, and I seemed particularly in touch with how I felt vs my fueling. I noticed I was needing to take in gels ~5-10 minutes earlier than planned as I could feel energy wane a bit. I could then feel the gels kick in shortly after having them. Anyway, every mile was under 6:30 except miles 23-25, then mile 26 was 6:19. I crossed the line in 9:00:57 in what turned out to be a new Louisville run record of 2:46:51. That, combined with learning it was the fastest run of the day by nearly 7 minutes, almost completely erased the crappy 6+ hours of racing that lead up to it.

Over a year later, I’m still trying to wrap my head around that run. Was I angry? Did that help? Was it the cool weather? Before this I’d done four hot, humid Ironman races in better run shape but had worse run times. My max run week leading into this race was 35 miles. Prior to IMTX 2015, it was 58 (and I ran 12min slower). Maybe in the past I underestimated just how much the heat would affect my run. Maybe it was the experience and cumulative mileage of 6 prior IMs? But the big lesson learned is that there is always time to turn the race around. Just because your legs feel awful and your mind is in a terrible place on the bike, doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll have a bad day. And never underestimate what your body is capable of just because of what your brain is telling you.

But…how do you proceed after deciding on taking a minimum 6 month break from tri but then having the run of your life in an Ironman?

As always, a big thank you to my coach of 14 years now, Bettina, my wife, Janee, my parents for coming down to Louisville(!), TriBike Transport, Pactimo, First Endurance, Rocky Mountain Multisport, Rudy Project.

Some photos:

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The bike:
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Strava link: https://is.gd/RINjwn

The run:
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Strava link: https://is.gd/PuRAAP

 

2017 Wildlife Loop Triathlon Race Report

For the third year in a row, I headed up to race the Wildlife Loop Triathlon at Custer State Park, South Dakota. I believe this is the only half iron distance race in SD, and you’d be hard pressed to find a more difficult 70.3 course in the US. I love this race for the grassroots feel and beautiful course with lakes, wildlife, nice roads, forest, and plenty of hills. Another draw is that it’s among the very few non-IM-branded races that has a prize purse for the top 3 overall.

My first year out, I finished 3rd overall and was a bit surprised by how hilly the bike course was. You know how course elevation profiles can vary depending on the scale…I expected hills, just not the >8% ones. Last year, I was more prepared at about 9 weeks out from Ironman Arizona and I took the win. This was quite a surprise, as I learned beforehand that Daniel Bretscher would be racing. Daniel won Ironman Wisconsin in 2014 in a course record, so I was nearly certain it would be a race for second. It seriously screwed with my head when I caught up to him on the bike. Is he out for a training race? But he traveled 8+ hours to get here. Is he injured? Is he in good shape but going to drop the hammer the second half? I bided my time and when he didn’t go any harder the second lap, I LET ‘ER RIP and passed him to go on and win. Craziness! This year, I knew he was signed up again and I really hoped he’d be in good shape so it could potentially be quite a race, because I was certainly in better shape this year, just 5 weeks out from Ironman Louisville. It also helped to be very familiar with the course. Then again, it was a really short taper and a bit of a training race, as Louisville is the priority.

Janée and I camped out the night before just a half mile away and I got up at 6am (vs 3:40am for 70.3 Santa Rosa!) – NICE. It was a nice relaxed morning taking my time eating breakfast and taking down camp and we went down to the start around 7 with a planned 8am start. After getting there, I learned that Daniel and last year’s 3rd overall finisher, who was also signed up, hadn’t yet checked in. If they weren’t going to show though, you still never know who else might be there. For being a race with a relatively low number of entrants, the prize purse could attract some up-and-coming studs from Boulder, etc.

Unlike the last 2 years, the start temperature was above 50! It was quite a challenge to get out of the tent in ’15 and ’16 with temps in the high 30s…We all swam through the “seaweed” that would have freaked me the hell out if I were alone, but I was with a bunch of people, so I had to act like I was totally fine ;).

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Brandon, the RD, did the countdown and we were off. Quarter distance athletes started at the same time and did one lap while half iron distance athletes did two laps. I was happy to find myself in second by the first turn buoy, to a woman in a wetsuit with pink arms. As soon as I saw her stroke, I could tell she was a ‘real’ swimmer. She gradually distanced us the rest of the way. This was Morgan Chaffin who won the inaugural iron-distance Alaskaman Extreme Triathlon this summer. After the second buoy, Kona-bound Kirsten Smith passed me, so it was now two women in first and second and me in third, and it stayed that way until the swim exit. I came out of the water in 30:XX. It looked like it was official: Daniel Bretscher did not show, unfortunately.

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Photo courtesy of Jason Troxell/SD Tri News

After a nice and dizzy T1, it was on to the bike. It starts with a mile or so of uncomfortable climbing while your body figures out where the heck it needs to send blood now, followed with a glorious, winding 11.5 mile descent – it is incredibly fun if you’re comfortable on the downhills. By 13 miles or so, the average speed was 31mph, ha! It’s really easy to think you’ll be able to hold on to a good chunk of that average, but oh no ho ho, you are sorely mistaken. After that is when the climbing begins. The great thing, though, is you will never, ever be bored on this course due to the dynamic nature of it. You’re to the high point of the course at 26 miles after around 2,000 vertical feet of climbing and your average speed has completely tanked (there are luckily some downhills thrown in during this stretch to give you a bit of a break). I was feeling really strong – I felt like I had another gear that I usually don’t have at half iron distance. This is most likely due to high intensity group rides that coach has been throwing into the training schedule. With a lot of long, low intensity training, you can lose that top gear. I passed Morgan around 15 miles and was officially in the lead. After that high point, it’s onto a second loop, so you get to enjoy that 11.5mi descent again…and all that climbing again. After the second lap, you turn the other direction toward the finish. Going in to this race, I definitely wanted a course PR (under 2:39 – this is a testament to the climbing, as this is 27 minutes from my 70.3 bike PR) but I was hoping to hit 2:30, which is 22.4mph. I always forget how much climbing there is after turning toward the bike finish and I went quite hard while watching the average speed dwindle to 21.5mph – there goes that idea! I hit a heart rate of 160 on this stretch, which is around 5bpm higher than threshold. After the 1mi descent, I rolled in to transition in the 2:34s, a 5min course PR and 21.7mph average.

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Starting the run, I felt as generally okay as I can expect to feel after a hard bike, ha, and just tried to settle in. The run course is out and back two times, and for some reason, to me it feels more difficult on the way out. That’s better than the other way around though! Perhaps it’s the grade of the hills, but it is a relief to get to the turn around. I was feeling pretty rough on the uphills and now I felt as though I was missing a gear, unlike during the bike. This may be due to the relatively high effort on the bike plus the hills, and/or I was still feeling the prior weekend’s long run and (really) long ride. I kept pushing though and came across the line with the win and a 1:23 run time. The run was short of a course PR by 8sec/mile but I’ll chalk it up to training fatigue and getting after it on the bike.

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Photo Courtesy of Jason Troxell/SD Tri News

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Run course profile and heart rate. “GAP” is Grade Adjusted Pace.

Overall, I’m happy with this effort and the course PR and it was a good status check and training stimulus heading in to Ironman Louisville!

If you’re looking for a tough course in a great location, I highly recommend you check this out! There is plenty of sightseeing nearby as well; The Needles, Mount Rushmore, Crazy Horse, Wind Cave National Park, etc. Big thank you to Brandon Zelfer for putting on a great race! Thank you for the massive support from Janée, and of course my coach of over a decade now, Bettina, and my teammates at Racelab. Shout out to sponsors Pactimo, First Endurance, TriBike Transport, Rudy Project, Rocky Mountain Multisport, and Xterra!

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!

IMAZ Thank Yous!

I had an extraordinary amount of support leading up to, and at, Ironman Arizona. I took every comment, well wish, and bit of advice to heart, and on race day I felt as though I had a massive amount of good energy on my side. That energy also got me through many, many of my training sessions. When there are so many that believe in me, skipping workouts just because I’m tired or had a rough day at work seems silly. So to anyone that said “good luck,” let me borrow gear, trained with me…anything, thank you all!

In particular, thanks to:

My parents – Thanks for some good genes, and more importantly, thanks for showing me that the harder you work, the more you’ll get out of whatever you’re doing. Also for being so incredibly supportive – coming all the way to Boston, Clearwater, graduation, and this race.

Janée – Thanks for putting up with my moodiness when the weather or some other external factor (like bee stings!) messed with my training. Thanks for riding the bike with me while I ran 20 freaking miles, for the moral support when I was discouraged, for feeding me some LEGIT food, and for making so many sacrifices throughout the training.

Bettina and Gus Warnholtz, Racelab – Enough can’t be said for how much you guys have helped me. From the training schedules, to the racing team sponsorship, to the constant moral support and encouragement. For a place to stay in the valley. You guys are like my family away from home.

Cory and Judy Hove – While wondering if I’d have enough money to enter IMAZ, Cory offered to pay for my entry. I was speechless. Then, right around the time when Janée and I realized there was a decent chance I’d qualify for Ironman Worlds and that we should start saving for that (you have to pay for entry the day after you qualify), Cory came out of nowhere and offered to pay that entry fee as well. We didn’t mention to a soul that we were starting to save for it and he contacted me about a month before IMAZ with this news, though he stressed that there wasn’t added pressure to make it to Kona haha. Wow, beyond speechless that time. THANK YOU!!!

Training partners – David Rakestraw, NAU’s Cycling Club prez who even rode one of my 5 hour rides with me. Alex Kaufman – also thanks for letting me borrow your bike seat! Frank Smith, Tim Krupa, Skylar Rubalcaba. My Racelab teammates that I got to train with. Patrick Bless – thanks for riding with me and offering Iron-advice!

Eamon Conheady for letting me borrow your trainer for way too long!

Phil Reimer for checking out my bike-fit when I changed saddles!

Kevin Taddonio, Doug MacLean, Bryan Dunn, Lewis Elliot, the Folts bros, Jr Grabinger, and *anyone* that offered advice and/or pushed me in races.

All the day-of course support – Family and friends including the Racelab posse, Trijacks, NAU Cyclin’