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!

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2013 Collegiate Triathlon National Championship: NAU TriJacks’ Stats

I’ve had the honor and privilege to coach Northern Arizona University’s triathlon club (NAU TriJacks) for a year and a half now and I couldn’t be more proud of this year’s team. First off, this is only the second year the team has had to qualify for Collegiate Nationals (before, everyone could just go, but it’s become incredibly popular and competitive so qualification was implemented) and they qualified again this year after accruing points at a few conference races that took place during the school year. The most important race prior to Nationals was the Lake Havasu Triathlon on 3/17. It is arguably the most competitive Olympic distance race in the country outside of Nationals and the TriJacks punched their tickets to Nationals that day in incredibly windy, challenging conditions.

We lucked out this year in that Nationals took place in Tempe, AZ, just over two hours away. The last two years it was in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and the two years before that were in Lubbock, Texas. As you can imagine, it’s challenging to get a dozen+ poor college athletes out to a race that’s several hundred miles away, so having it in our “backyard” (not to mention in a *familiar* place) was a huge relief.

The training schedule I laid out for the team consisted of three levels of volume and intensity and, based on current ability level, time, and experience, athletes picked which schedule they followed. While preparing their training plan, I started at Nationals and worked my way back through Havasu and the beginning of the semester to ensure that they were going to be primed to peak at Nationals – and boy howdy, did they peak!

Admittedly, it turns out that the bike course at Nationals was two miles short (which is ridiculous for a National Championship and a huge peeve of mine…) but the absolutely massive personal bests that TriJacks had much more than account for the short bike course. For instance, at 20mph, the bike course was 6 minutes short – just keep that in mind when looking at the size of the PRs.

Without further ado:

The Ladies
Hannah D finished in 2:28:49 – PR: 15:12
Allie N, 2:34:23 – PR: 17:54
Lexi F, 2:52:33 – PR: 5:50
Rachel C, 2:52:39 – PR: 10:42
Liz W, 3:02:33

Average women’s finish time – 2:46:11
Average PR – 12:25
Average swim time – 28:17
Average T1 – 1:35
Average bike time – 1:08:11
Average T2 – 1:42
Average run time – 1:06:03*
*The women’s races started at 11am at the earliest and the high temp for the day was around 90 degrees, which shows in the results for the majority of the women’s results

The Guys
Alex K, 1:59:51 – PR: 7:05
Andrew D, 2:11:22 – PR: 8:00
Adam S, 2:13:44 – PR: 9:26
Clay P, 2:15:20 – PR: 15:28
Skylar R, 2:22:51
Christian P, 2:27:55 – PR: 24:57
Kameron W, 2:27:58 – PR: 14:33
Blake S, 2:34:24 – PR: 44:36
Peter N, 2:35:04 – PR: 16:17
Joey M, 2:43:12 – PR: 23:09
Austin J, 2:48:13 – PR: 40:12
Ryan M, 3:12:14 – PR: 42:34

Average men’s finish time – 2:29:21
Average PR – 22:23
Average swim time – 30:37
Average T1 – 2:17
Average bike time – 1:05:50
Average T2 – 1:51
Average run time – 48:23

On top of the way that all of these athletes executed on an important day, I’m also very proud of how these athletes carry themselves. They’re classy, fun, responsible, happy, hard working, and friendly – they’re good people, and that is why the NAU TriJacks have been a huge part of my life over the last five years.

The Next Chapter

Shortly after I moved to Flagstaff in October of 2006, I began refurbishing vending machines for a local beverage company. Customers would request a machine for a given location and I would select an old, beat up vendor from our warehouse of used machines. Then I’d practically disassemble it and sand, paint, reassemble, troubleshoot, repair it, and turn out something that some would describe as a work of art ;). While it was somewhat depressing going from working on F-16s in the Air Force to fixing vending machines…the job was very flexible with my class schedule at NAU, where I started in January of 2007. I typically worked 20-25hrs a week there and usually took 12-14 credit hours. The atmosphere at the job was very laid back, happy, and enjoyable. We were located near downtown, away from the east Flagstaff location of the main company operations, so we kind of flew under the radar, so to speak. It was that coupled with our manager at the time that contributed to the laid back attitude.

When I graduated in May of 2011, our department had moved in next door to the main company, and we didn’t even have a manager at the time. It was several months before an official new manager was found, so that period was even more unorganized than usual. This particular job, well, all the jobs in the department, offered no planned/structured chance for advancement (AKA dead-end job), so I always thought of it as my college job.

During the summer after graduation, I decided to see the job as just something to pay the bills while I focused on training for Ironman Arizona. I wasn’t actively looking for anything new. One new thing at a time, I suppose. The old manager who was willing to work with my class schedule was also willing to work with my training schedule. I could take a two hour lunch for a workout and that would be okay; I would just come in a little bit early and/or leave a little late. The new manager, on the other hand, was not willing to do that. He did have every right to make the schedule as rigid as he wanted to, of course, but I just didn’t see the reasoning when it worked so well before. I worked in the warehouse and basically did my job unsupervised, it literally didn’t matter when I was there. This was one small factor in a long list of reasons of why it became unbearable to work there. Different employees were treated very differently (some serious favoritism). I saw the same costly mistakes made year after year, sometimes month after month, with no attempts to correct them. Employee evaluations gradually went away and I hadn’t had a raise in four years, seven months, despite being very reliable and hard-working. I’m not going to list off everything because I want this to be more about turning the page, rather than a really long whine fest…

An idea that I had early in my undergrad, which I had discussed with my coach, Bettina Warnholtz, was to potentially start coaching athletes with Racelab. To be able to help endurance athletes attain their goals in something that I’m passionate about would be a dream come true. That dream quickly became a goal, and I attained my BS in Exercise Science as the completion of my first step. During that time, I also got involved with NAU TriJacks, the university club triathlon team. I watched the team grow from five members – and even met Janee for the first time at one of the workouts – to a club of 45 members under Janee’s leadership. We got experience recruiting athletes, organizing events and workouts, and we made a ton of friends. TriJacks were in my wedding, and many of my training partners are TriJacks.

The winter after graduation, Janee inquired whether Trijacks were looking for a coach. They certainly were, and I started coaching them during the spring 2012 semester, learning a lot along the way, all the while being completely stoked to have a side job doing something that I wanted to be doing.  Also, my buddy (a TriJack!), Frank Smith, put in a good word for me when the PES department was looking for a new triathlon class instructor, and I started with that the same semester. 1) Isn’t it rad that NAU has a triathlon class!? 2) This meant I moved two more steps in the direction I wanted to go!

The next step came in July when I traveled to Salt Lake City for a USA Triathlon Level I coaching certification clinic. We got to listen to clinics from four Level III certified coaches (Bobby McGee, Bob Seebohar, Shelly O’Brien, and Ian Murray) of which there are only 19 in existence. Among other things, we learned about sport psychology, training and nutrition periodization, and metabolic efficiency.

Back on the vending job: This summer, instead of the old, “I’m just hanging onto this job while I focus on Ironman,” it became more like, “Get me the heck out of this depressing place.” It had really become bad in every aspect, and I used my lunch breaks to search for jobs because that was basically the only time I could, since training took up the vast majority of my other spare time. I quickly learned that it’s pretty hard to even get an interview around here, despite getting less and less picky about what I was applying for. I developed a huge sense of entrapment and started becoming legitimately depressed. My mood was affected inside and out of work, I became less motivated, I was always tired, and it all negatively affected my training. We then started thinking of ways to make coaching full-time a reality. It was a challenge to find time outside of the full time job to focus on planning and promoting, so we started a “quitting fund.” We’d save enough money for me to be able to go part-time and eventually quit.

A few weeks ago, I approached my boss about starting to work only Monday through Thursday, 32 hours a week. The triathlon class was about to start up on Fridays, and I figured I’d use Friday afternoons to focus on coaching duties (I worked half days last semester). My boss rejected my request, saying that he couldn’t justify me missing those extra four hours per week. I really didn’t think it would be a problem, and this meant that our original plan to gradually phase out the job wasn’t going to happen. So Janee crunched our financial numbers and we determined that I could put in my two week notice the following week. Seriously!?!? It was an incredibly exciting realization. She determined that, even if I were to make zero money over the next few months, we could make it through November. Of course, not making any money at all won’t be the case, as TriJacks are starting back up and so is the triathlon class.

I’ll be done with this job that sucks the life out of me on Wednesday, September 5th, four days before the 70.3 World Championships and five and a half weeks before the Ironman World Championships.  I fully intend to take on more individual athletes (I currently coach four) as a coach for Racelab, focus on making TriJacks an even better team, and continue learning as much as possible to become the best coach that I can be.

An added perk to this situation is that I can focus on training to the best of my ability, which brings me to a side goal: to take racing triathlons to the highest level that I can. After my result at IMAZ, there were a lot of people that asked if I’m going to race professionally. There are a wide range of opinions on when one should move up to the pro ranks. Some believe that you should as soon as you meet the qualification criteria to do so. Others think it should be when you’re basically good enough to make a living from it, and there is a huge difference in those two examples. I personally think, at the very least, that I need to address my lackluster swim before making that leap. Professional racing is a different ballgame and tactics come into play. It’s important to come out of the water with the competition rather than several minutes back. The top guys work together on the bike – they don’t draft (well, most don’t), mind you, but they can get a small draft at the legal distance and they have the mental advantage of having someone there to pull them along. If you come out of the swim way back, you’re just chasing all day by yourself. I expressed this to Leanda Cave several weeks ago and her reply was, “Well you can be chasing all day as an amateur, or you can be doing the same thing as a pro.” Haha! Point taken. It was good to hear her perspective and she firmly believed that I should race professionally. Bettina and I discussed it as well and we believe I need more experience, plus I suppose we’ll see how Kona goes!

Either way, I’m ecstatic to be taking the steps to make this sport that I’m incredibly passionate about an even bigger part of my life!

If you have any questions or comments, reply on here or email josh@racelab.com!