70.3 Santa Rosa Race Report

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

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

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

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

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

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

Swim

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

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

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T1

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

Bike

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

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

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

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T2

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

Run

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

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

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May have run faster if I had opened my eyes

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

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Evaluation

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

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

Holla fo’ ma peeps

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

 

 

 

Pics From Training and Racing 2016

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

IM 70.3 Texas – April 10, 2016

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

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This is now framed 🙂

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Perks

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

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

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

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IM 70.3 Texas bike course and profile…

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

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The unusual 3 lap 70.3 Texas run course

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

Results

IM 70.3 Boulder – June 11, 2016

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

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

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

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Da bike, pre-Boulder

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

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

Results

IM 70.3 Coeur d’Alene – June 26, 2016

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

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

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Photo Credit: triplethreattriathlon.blogspot.com

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

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70.3 CdA Bike Course Profile

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

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

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IM 70.3 CdA run HR, profile, and pace chart

Results

 

Pics from Training & Racing 2015

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

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

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

 

2016: Doin’ the Pro Thang

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2015 Ironman Texas Race Report – 1st Amateur!

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

Pre-race

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

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

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

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

Race Day

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

The Swim

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

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

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Left purple line is the first stretch of the swim

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

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

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

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

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

The Bike

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

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

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

Photo credit: Meredith Gardner - thanks!

Photo credit: Meredith Gardner

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

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

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

The Run

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo credit: Nick Morales

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

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

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

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

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!

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.

Ironman Texas Race Report, 5/18/2013

While it probably wasn’t the most ideal pre-race situation to involve driving a total of nearly 1,400 miles to get to the race, I think it worked out well and most importantly, saved us a heck of a lot of money over flying. My wife and I drove with Ashley Robota in her car (thanks Ashley!) and she raced as well, her 7th Ironman actually!

We got to The Woodlands, TX before noon on Thursday, went to packet pickup, and then headed out to a section of the course for a short brick workout. I was actually happy with the location we chose because it was right at the 90 mile mark of the bike where the course turns from south to east. With the race day forecasted wind to be out of the south at 10-20mph, that 90 mile turn would presumably be a welcome sight at the end of 25 miles of straight headwind. The legs felt great for the 40min ride and the base 3mi run averaged 6:15s, but it was certainly noticeable how freakin’ humid it was! I don’t think I’ve ever dripped like crazy like that in just a 40min ride.

On Friday, we did an 800m open water swim at the race site and I was stoked I was able to stay on Ashley’s feet without very much trouble because she swam 1:01 at Ironman Arizona. If only I could follow her feet for all of the race’s swim (a virtual impossibility when you’re starting with 2,000+ other people at the same time…)! We checked in our bikes and T1 and T2 bags and the rest of the day I focused on resting up and hydrating like crazy. I even got in a wicked good 90min nap.

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The Race

Swim:

I got in the water, oh, 3 minutes before starting after *barely* making it into a porta-potty shortly before the start. The ONLY race I’ve ever been to that had enough porta-potties was the Boston Marathon:

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I lined up pretty far right and more than anything else, felt excited for the day ahead. Serious violence ensued when the cannon went off and it was pretty gnarly for a while there. Less than a minute in, one of the hundreds of flailing hands around me managed to pull down the zipper on my swimskin. Ah, crap. It was WAY too crowded at this point to stop to try to zip it up unless I felt like drowning from being run over by the masses. I would guess I was close to 800m in when I was finally able to successfully zip it up, and I definitely felt it catching water up to that point. Freakin’ A man! The rest of the swim was smooth and the last 800-900m were in a pretty narrow canal, which was neat because of all the spectators and easy for sighting.

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I got out of the water at 1:11 and I was mildly okay with that. It was a minimum of a two minute improvement over my other two Ironman races, it was without wetsuit, and I assume I was slowed that first half mile. It was still at least four minutes slower than I think I should be swimming for that distance based on training and my half iron swim times. I plan to practice more open water swimming this year.

Swim time – 1:11:36

Overall – 369 of 2,046 = 18%

Out of 30-34 age group – 59 of 285 = 20%

T1 – 3:19

Bike:

Transition was uneventful and I was excited to head out for a 5hr jaunt on the ol’ hobby horse. After I was settled in, it became clear that things were moving along pretty quickly for the effort level and the average speed hovered around 24mph all the way through 50 miles. The course is one lap and heads in a NNW direction on the way out and in a SSE direction on the way back. Given the wind forecast, I did expect the way out to be quite fast and I hoped the average wouldn’t dwindle TOO much on the return trip into the wind. The hills were rolling at worst and I went through 56 miles/half way in 2:21, nice! Due to my swimming prowess, I had plenty of folks to pass in the first half and the number of people to pass started to drop in the second half. I mainly kept the focus on drinking plenty and sticking to my nutrition plan. The headwind in the second half was not as bad as expected and also more variable than expected. The spring in Flagstaff is incredibly windy though (gusts above 40mph are pretty standard) so that may have helped me desensitize a bit.

After the aforementioned turn (brick workout) to the east at 90 miles, the road ahead was suddenly wide open – not a rider to catch in sight. I saw this as a good sign as I had probably moved myself pretty far up in the overall field. This stretch was the hottest but I expected to feel this warm much earlier in the ride. As far as being completely alone with no one to pass, I also saw this as a good thing because I do the vast majority of my 5+ hour rides completely solo. I was perfectly comfortable just plugging away with no external stimulus. In the final 10 miles or so, there were a lot more turns than I thought the course map had shown, but it kept it interesting.

My thoughts turned to T2 and I realized I didn’t know if we were allowed to get out of our bike shoes before getting off the bike – we weren’t allowed to leave the shoes on the bike for T1 and I failed to check the rules on T2. I ended up asking the last couple of guys that I passed whether they knew if it was okay and they all seemed confident it was fine, which turned out to be correct. I thought I had a sub 4:50 split in the bag  based on pace and distance to go and I hopped off the bike right around 4:50:10 – ha! I probably lost those 10 seconds asking people about that shoe rule…

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I really enjoyed this course; the greener areas, scents, and humidity reminded me of my home state of Ohio, the road was much smoother than I expected, the trip through the National Forest was AWESOME, and it was great to only have one big loop instead of an out and back or multiple laps.

Bike time – 4:50:13 (23.16mph)

Overall place after bike – 59 of 2,046 = 3%

Number passed during bike – 310

Age group place after bike – 14 of 285 = 5%

Bike split – 8th overall amateur

T2 – 2:19

Run:

The legs felt so-so immediately off the bike and they felt great after transition, which I got pretty excited about. Just like in Kona, I had to hold back quite a bit to run a little under 7min/mi pace and I averaged right around 6:50/mi for the first of three laps. At the end of that first lap, Janée informed me I was 15th in my age group off the bike and the leader, James Chesson, was 20 minutes ahead. Holy crap. That was a blow to the confidence. I did a poor job of pushing the negative thoughts out for the majority of the second lap and the pace lagged quite a bit. But, at the end of that second lap, Janée told me I was now in 5th – Heck yes!  That alone made me feel better and Janée could even tell a few minutes later when she saw me again.

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The competitive drive (instead of feeling sorry for myself) came back and I was looking at calves for all of the final lap, hoping the 30-34 AGers I was passing were on the same lap as me. I was still suffering quite badly though, and my only explanation for my poor pace (relative to what I know I’m capable of) was simply that the heat was taking its toll. The high temp for the day (likely while I was running) was 91 degrees and the average humidity for the day was 75%, putting the heat index between 98 and 100 degrees. It’s funny, you’d think you’d be super excited to get to the 20 or 22 mile marker of a race so long since you’re practically in the homestretch with “only” 4-6 miles to go, but at the time, it feels and sounds awfully, awfully far.

I knew I was no further back than 5th in my age group during the last lap because no one passed me, but I signed up for this (incredibly expensive) race specifically to try to get a Kona/Ironman World Championship slot again. I also knew there was a possibility my age group would only have four slots, and there was a lot of uncertainty of whether I passed anyone from my age group since the end of the second lap when Janée told me I was 5th. I basically knew I was on the cusp and I was suffering so incredibly badly simply trying not to slow down. I saw Janée again less than two miles from the finish and she told me I was still in 5th. Ugh, seriously!? I really had been praying that I passed a few during that lap, but it turns out I hadn’t. I thought I may not have another shot at Kona this year afterall. The focus turned to getting to the finish without stopping and as fast as my body would allow. In the last half mile or so, I passed two guys that were in my age group and they were both walking. I thought, ‘Eh, they’re probably on a different lap’…I finally got to make that turnoff that said “Finish –>” instead of “<– Laps 2 & 3” and I found myself in the longest freakin finishing chute in the world, with a cruel section that passed right by the finish line before you had to run a few hundred meters away from the finish, make a 180 degree turn, and then you were finally facing the finish and the true final chute.

Afterward, a few folks sent texts to Janée saying that I was 3rd in my AG when we thought for sure I had gotten 5th and possibly no Kona slot. It turns out I was, in fact, 3rd – the two guys that I passed in the last half mile were on the same lap! I couldn’t believe it and I had surely clinched another slot to Kona. I was also extremely pleased to have placed 7th overall amateur.

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Run time – 3:08:13

Finish time – 9:15:43

Overall place at finish – 7th amateur, 21st with professionals of 2,046 finishers = 1%

Number passed during run – 52

Age group place at finish – 3 of 285 = 1%

Run split – 5th overall amateur

DNF rate – 17%

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Some cool stats from runtri.com: Ironman Texas 2013 Results Analysis

I’m really pleased with how this race turned out considering the extreme heat and humidity and having to train through the winter and our cool spring to prepare for it. I’m also stoked I met my #1 goal of qualifying for Kona again and I can’t wait to have another shot at that race!

A huge thank you to everyone who helped me while preparing for this race, especially:

My incredibly supportive, understanding, amazing wife, Janée; my coach of nearly 9 year now, Bettina Warnholtz (Racelab); the constant support and encouragement of my parents, Joe and Cindi, and my sister Kaylee; Kym Wilkens for taking care of my (previously) seriously messed hamstrings; Stephanie Del Giorgio for a fantastic race week massage; Allie Nath for letting me borrow all kinds of things…; Frank Smith for letting me borrow more things; Ana Carlson for coming all the way to Texas just to support Ashley and I; Ashley Robota for letting us drive out with her; Alex Kaufman for stellar text updates to Janée during the race; Triple Sports, Rudy Project, First Endurance, Pactimo, Nathan HPL, Doctor Hoy’s, Guayaki, Polar Bottle, Michelob Ultra, Genuine Innovations, Skins, and Ceepo.

10/15/12: Kona – Day 6

I certainly slept better last night, thank goodness. And you know that leftover pizza I mentioned yesterday? That was for breakfast….and lunch…along with some of Janee’s birthday cake…

Early in the day we visited Mountain Thunder coffee plantation, only about 15-20min away, but much higher in elevation (I think 3200′). It’s pretty neat, you gain just a little elevation (at least by my standards coming from hilly Flagstaff) and there’s suddenly no more visible lava rock and A LOT more foliage. It’s like the rainforest. We got a tour and were educated on the harvesting, sorting, and roasting process. There were free samples too!

After lunch, we wanted to see what a black sand beach was like, so we went to Kahalu’u Beach, just four or five miles south on Ali’i Drive. It wasn’t a very big beach, but it had some good snorkeling and we saw at least four sea turtles.

We had supplies left over, so Janee made Hawaiian haystacks for dinner again (let me know if I should post the recipe – it’s delicious!) and then we met my parents at Huggo’s On The Rocks. It’s a really awesome spot – the seating is under huge umbrellas in the sand right next to the ocean. The frequently have live entertainment, and there were a lot of hula dancers on this night.

View from our backyard in the morning

As soon as you gain some elevation, it’s like you’re in the jungle. This is on the way to Mountain Thunder coffee plantation

Chickens at Mountain Thunder coffee plantation

The bean sorter

Roasting beans

Black sand beach right on Ali’i Drive

The triathlete’s tramp stamp

Sunset from Kona Mansions, where my parents stayed