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!

 

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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!

2014 Kerrville Triathlon Race Report

I headed down to Kerrville, TX for the Kerrville Tri Fest (half iron distance), an event put on by High Five Events. I liked their well organized race and style at Jack’s Generic Tri at the beginning of August, plus I wanted a bit of a status check leading up to Austin 70.3. This was also a good opportunity for a fairly fast time because it appeared to be a flat to moderately hilly course relative to many of the other races I’ve done in the past few years. I didn’t hear good things about the road conditions though!

Unfortunately, we weren’t allowed to do a swim warmup because it was too “dark.” That was a bummer, because I am the type who could use at least a fifteen minute warmup to feel good starting hard. Either way, the others racers didn’t get one either. I was in the first wave, the “open” wave and there were about a dozen of us. This wave is for those who want to compete for the overall podium, and is a rather unique addition to just age group waves that most races have.

I went out really hard trying to find some feet to follow, but I was pretty unsuccessful. I don’t know what it is about this area, but the proportion of strong swimmers seems to be high! That, or it’s a result of having this open wave. I went really hard, feeling like I was at or over threshold for a large portion of the swim, never, ever feeling comfortable. The week before this race, I swam a hard, but not all out, 2100 yards (1.19mi) in the pool in 30:00, so I figured under 30 with wetsuit in the open water would be doable in a race. I came out in 30:38, so I was a bit disappointed considering how hard I went. My GPS got the swim distance at 1.27 miles, so perhaps it was a tad long, but you just never know how reliable these watches are in the open water.

I totally missed the wetsuit strippers and had a so-so transition. My main goal for the bike was to ride at a little bit of a higher intensity than I did at Buffalo Springs. In my last few 70.3s, my average heart rate has gradually gotten lower, mainly because I *feel* like I’m going too hard (so I back off), but training numbers indicated that I could perhaps push a bit harder, so I was prepared to get uncomfortable on the bike in this case and see how my run held up.

For the first stretch, it was super fast with a light tailwind and a slight net downhill. We then looped back to the northwest on the other side of the Guadalupe River with some climbing, a light headwind, and pretty rough roads in spots. The intensity kept me distracted though and it was shaping up to be a pretty good bike split. I caught up with one guy who I wasn’t able to shake without a serious effort and we went back and forth a few times, with me always at the legal distance (probably at least one bike length past the legal distance because I’m paranoid!), but I can’t speak for him because I didn’t really look back much.

We then caught and passed Colin Sully, who’s a great guy who helped me with my swim earlier in the year. Colin let me know that there were two guys ahead of me, one ridiculously fast swimmer (22:xx) who swam at the University of Florida and another guy who I didn’t realize was racing. I was happy about this because there was quite a bit of distance to go and the run is my strength. Shortly after, I put some distance into the other guy who had been riding near me, and I looked forward to the second loop.

The second loop was MUCH more crowded with the racers for the quarter-iron distance now on the course. It took constant attention on the road ahead and probably over 100 “on your lefts.” This got the wheels turning in my head for perhaps using a bell in my next race haha. At some point, I did look back and saw the guy who I was riding near earlier had caught back up and was riding way too close behind me. I also noticed the on-course ref was approaching on a motorcycle. I heard the motorcycle “hang out” next to me for awhile and then saw it pull ahead, and then I looked back and the guy was gone, absolutely out of sight. Perhaps he got a penalty!

Nearing the end of the bike, I was starting to feel pretty uncomfortable due to the effort and really ready to be done with it. I did meet my goal of going harder though, as my average HR was 152 vs 148 for Buffalo Springs and I came off the bike with the second fastest overall bike split of 2:20:51 and average speed of 23.9mph. Now it was time to see how my run legs felt and I still had to catch the two guys who I was told were ahead of me.

Bike elevation profile

Bike elevation profile

Bike heart rate

Bike heart rate

My legs felt kind of crappy beginning the run, but as is usually the case, it turned out I was running faster than I thought I was with a first mile of 5:58. I was already two for two on half iron runs this year right around 6:00/mi average, and I hoped to lock into that same pace for this race. Due to work trips though, my confidence was not particularly high with my bike fitness and I thought it might show in my run since the bike split was solid. The run course was four laps and had what felt like a huge hill a mile and a half into each lap. I didn’t realize it would be so big! I just focused on being smooth and efficient and hoped I could handle the ups and downs alright.

Who knows what's going on with my hand...Photo by Ed Sparks

Who knows what’s going on with my hand…Photo by Ed Sparks

Somewhere between 2 and 3 miles, I caught the uber-swimmer, Adrian Cameron, and as I found out, he was also leading the race. He was first out of the water and said that no one had passed him, so I was now moving into the lead! Shortly after, my heart rate monitor started failing me, so I continued to focus on maintaining that 6 minute pace, worried that my sub-par fitness would catch up to me at some point, but I felt pretty good. Well, I felt alright. The second half of each lap involved both that huge hill and the other stretches were into the wind, so it didn’t feel good. The gradually downhill and slightly wind-aided outbound stretch always felt fantastic. I managed to hold the pace right around my goal and I was stoked to finally start the fourth lap. Four laps feels like a lot for that distance and I think I’d prefer a max of three, but it’s all obviously a mental thing.

Run elevation profile

Run elevation profile

Around 10 miles, I started really feeling the physical effort but luckily I was practically in the home stretch in the scheme of things, so it helped to keep me pushing it. My slowest mile was the 12th mile and at a very hard effort, so I think I paced it pretty well (rather than starting to slow half way through, for example). I rounded the final turn for the finish and was very pleased and surprised with a finishing time in the 4:12s, a new personal best. My run split was 1:18:31.

Considering my work-limited training in the prior month, I am very, very happy with how this race went and I believe signals an evolved ability to race well off of a lot of experience. An overall win is always exciting too!

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Pics from Training/Racing, Jan – June 2014

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.