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!

 

 

 

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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

 

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!

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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2014 Ironman 70.3 Buffalo Springs Race Report

Better late than never, I suppose…

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

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

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

The swim:

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

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

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

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

Bike:

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

Elevation profile + HR

Elevation profile + HR

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

Run:

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

Early in the run. Photo by Jon Walk

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

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

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

Run profile + HR. Avg HR = 166

Run profile + HR. Avg HR = 166

Run splits - "GAP" = Grade Adjusted Pace

Run splits – “GAP” = Grade Adjusted Pace

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

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

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!

2013 Ironman World Championship Race Report

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

At bike and gear bag check-in walking past the

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

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

Pre-race with my homegirl

Pre-race with my homegirl

With Gus, Bettina, and Janee

With Gus, Bettina, and Janee

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

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

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

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

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

Bike time – 5:00:29 (22.4mph)

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

Number passed during bike – 525

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

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

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

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

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

Run time – 2:58:33 (6:48/mi)

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

Number passed during run – 468

Number passed from swim to finish – 993

Age group place at finish – 24 of 177

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

71st overall amateur

19th American male

Konarunsplits

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

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

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

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