Oceanside is one of my favorite races for a variety of reasons. First, I get to sleep in my own bed. You don’t know how awesome this is, to sleep where you’re comfortable before a race. Second, I have the hometown advantage. The bike course goes right along my training grounds, and I’m used to the weather during that time. Third, the vibe is awesome! So many talented pros and age groupers to compete with. Finally, it’s a great early season test of fitness, which is what my purpose was for this race.
Coming into Oceanside, I had rolled over my training program which I had used to build for Arizona, with great success. It was an attempt to see if Arizona was just a random lucky day, or the result of a great training program. The program was simple in its principle: Make easy really easy, and make hard really hard. I incorporated really hard bike efforts into long and mid distance rides in an effort to build bike power AND improve the strength on the run. In turn, I increased my goal paces on my hard runs to improve speed. All of this in the effort to “train like a pro.” This was my mantra.
So there it is, the secret’s out. I have a pie-in-the-sky goal to become a pro Ironman triathlete. Yes, I know how old I am. Yes, I know I started this late. Yes, I know I have a long way to go. But, as I look back on my brief career in triathlon, I have seen the development I have made with an obsessive amount of focus and drive. What I’ve discovered is that if you truly have a belief in your goal, your actions gravitate in that direction, and a self fulfilling prophecy is born. I also like the idea of setting your goals so high that even if you fail, you still hit some high standards!
Okay, back to the race at hand. My goal for this race was first a test of fitness. I wanted to see if I could go hard and maintain on the bike and still put together a good run split. I had a great run split at Arizona, but I also took it pretty easy on the bike. I wanted to see if I could bike hard and still feel good running. Secondary to that, I had hoped for a podium. This is a competitive race, so hitting a podium would be a great confidence builder toward my build to qualifying for Kona in late July.
This race was extra special because my wife, and Extra Life athlete, Marie was racing with me. I was more nervous for her than I was for me. I have been coaching her for a couple years now, and she has seen great success (cough cough **Olympic distance podium** cough cough), but this was her second 70.3 on a very challenging course. I knew that conquering some fears of biking on super hills was going to be a big deal for her, and I really wanted to see her succeed in that regard. She put in some amazing training to progress her training in this regard, and I think it paid off tremendously. To sum up her race in a nutshell, she conquered the hell out of those hills, finishing the bike in just over 3:30! While she was a little disappointed in her swim (mainly because she started a bit farther back than she wanted to, and wasn’t warmed up getting into the water), overall, she finished strong! I mean, look at that smile coming out of the water!
I am so proud of my wife for finishing this race, as I know how challenging it is. It makes me proud as a coach also to see an athlete succeed in accomplishing their goals. I know that Marie has some more great races ahead of her, and many successes!
For my race, I was up at 2:45 to do my Wim Hof breathing. As I described in this post, I believe the Wim Hof method for endurance athletes is a game changer. I have no affiliation with his product, I just believe in the method. I sat in my Normatec Recovery Boots for about 20 minutes while I did the breathing and meditation.
I like to eat at specific intervals before the race starts. The first one is four hours before, when I consume about 400-500 calories in the form of a shake (banana, blueberries, oats, flaxseed, almonds). After the shake, I had a cup of coffee and got ready for the drive down to Oceanside.
Parking was easy, and we got to the shuttles in plenty of time, only to realize that we forgot a vital element of our race strategy in the car; our helmets. Pro tip: ALWAYS use a checklist to pack your gear, and ALWAYS keep your gear together until you get to transition. It’s really easy to forget something. Fortunately, we remembered in the nick of time and went back to the car to grab them. On the bus, I had breakfast number 2: about 200 calories worth of brown rice with butter and salt. Yum…
We made it to transition in plenty of time to chat up a few of my rack mates and friends. It was chillier than usual for this race, and there was a bit of a breeze, so it led to numb appendages. I put on my wetsuit earlier than usual. After using the bathroom one last time, I excused my way through the corral, jumped in the water for about a minute to do a quick splash around, and then fell into the front of the 30-35 minute group (it was a rolling start this year, which I loved). The gun went off, and about 5 minutes later I was in the water.
Swim – 32:36 – HIM Swim PR
Again, I love the rolling start, and I believe that it was partly responsible for my swim PR. Since I have traditionally been a 33-34 min HIM swimmer on this course, being at the front of the 30-35 minute group helped me to push my pace immediately to stick with the faster folks. I don’t remember being passed during the whole swim, and while I would call the group swimming around me “aggressive” (I was hit in the face a number of times, and kicking was pretty violent!), I had clear water most of the way.
I felt really strong for the first half of the swim, and was trying to keep the tempo high. The cold start led me to feel a bit stiff in the neck, but ultimately it wasn’t too much of a problem. I like Oceanside as a first race of the season because the swim is very easy, and it’s easy to overcome the first race jitters. There’s only about 200-300 meters of “rough water”, when we get out to the channel, but nothing too bad, even in high surf.
Rounding the farther turn buoy, we head right back into the sun, which makes sighting challenging. I just look up briefly and make sure that I am directly behind “splashy people”. If not, I’m off course. Fortunately, I had a good line for the whole race.
The swim was mostly uneventful, but fast, and I was back to the boat ramp in 32 minutes, a new half Ironman swim PR for me. Coming from 38+ minutes a couple years ago, I’m happy with this progress, and look forward to some more to come.
Bike – 2:25:43 – 3rd fastest bike split in 35-39 age group
Did I mention I love the rolling start? If it weren’t for this, I would have been in the last wave, which would have meant a) waiting until like 8 am to start the race, and b) having to make a lot of surges to pass large groups of people for most of the ride. That’s not too much fun, and not very safe. With the rolling start, I was in the water before 7 am, and close to the front of the race once I got on my bike. This being the case, I was able to settle in pretty quickly and focus on my sustained effort.
The goal again was to push the bike and try to be sustainable throughout. Then I wanted to see how I could run off the bike on tired legs. I don’t use a power meter on the bike, I just focus on my effort and heart rate, and I was able to keep my heart rate around 140-150 for most of the bike except for a few surges to climb the hills or make passes.
The first half of the course is relatively flat, and I ride this part of the course very frequently, so I was able to pace very well and ride strong. Did a lot of passing, and was able to get a glimpse of the lead groups while riding up the out and back on Las Pulgas. I was pretty surprised to see a lot of folks riding in the front packs. This was an early indication that there were a lot of fast folks here this year.
The second half of the course is very hilly, which is what makes this course challenging. Additionally, throughout the year you are not allowed to ride this segment of the course, which adds to the challenge and enjoyment. On one hand, you get to see a part of California nobody (except military) get to see. On the other, it tests your bike fitness!
I chose to push hard up the big climbs, getting out of the saddle and exerting big effort to climb them. I also descended well, passing a number of people and maxing out at about 45 mph. I kept up the tradition of getting passed in the “no passing 25 mph zone” also. I wonder if the guy got DQ’d?
Right at the turn to Vandegrift is my cue to take in the last bit of nutrition. I did so, and enjoyed the final 10 miles of downhill into transition. With about a mile left, I began spinning at lower power to flush out the legs and get them ready to run. I ended up following pro Kelly O’Mara into transition. Before running out of transition, I stopped into the porta potty for a quick second, which added some time. During the bike leg I moved up from 32nd place in my age group to 6th.
Run – 1:33:57 – HIM Run PR
As I got onto the run, I was feeling pretty fast, but feeling a little nauseous. This is common after overbiking, which I think I may have done a bit. That was okay, it was part of the plan. Now to suffer the run. Despite the nausea, I felt pretty good and kicked off low 7 minute miles. This was pretty normal for me on this course at this point in the race. The previous two years I would cramp up around mile 2 or 3, and then begin to fade slowly over the course of the race.
While the cramping began to rear it’s head, I stayed on top of it with water, salt, and proper breathing. I think the breathing definitely helped. While I certainly knew the stomach cramps were there, I didn’t succumb to them.
Also fortunately, I felt that my pacing was sustainable, a good sign that my speed and tempo work was paying off. Over the course of this training build, I pushed much harder paces on my interval and tempo runs, holding my tempo paces around 6:15. I was happy to see that this worked for my running strength. My low 7 min paces stayed consistent throughout the course of the run. I once again used Coke (Sorry… “COLA”) as my primary nutrition, taking it in every mile.
I was very surprised to see how often I was being passed. It wasn’t because I was feeling terrible, in fact I was having the best run I’ve had to date at a 70.3. It was simply that there were a LOT of fast dudes here. Looking at the final standings, I was astonished by how many people run a sub-1:30 half marathon. I’m just grateful that I’m headed in the right direction with the type of training that I’m putting in.
It was only at the last mile and a half that the abdominal cramping began to get to me. It stopped being “manageable” and started forcing me to double over a bit. With just a mile and a half left I didn’t want to be forced into walking. I slowed a bit, and let the pain subside, and then picked up the pace again. Fortunately, this did the trick.
In the finishing chute, I saw the same pro that I left entered T2. I thought I would hold back a bit so as not to do the rude thing and pass her in the chute. Unfortunately, I felt another guy starting to run me down. Not wanting to let that happen, I sprinted by and finished strong.
Final Time – 4:40:40 – PR for Oceanside course, 88th overall, 47th Amateur, 8th in 35-39 age group
Again, some really fast dudes at this race. I was really hoping for a podium this time around, but was very happy to have a course PR and a personal best swim and run with a nearly personal best bike. It makes me feel confident that my training is paying off. Although it does feel ominous as I prepare for Santa Rosa. I notice that many of the same people in my age group racing here will be racing there. It means that some really smart and high quality training will need to be put in between now and then.
For the rest of the day I had the joy and privilege of watching my wife finish the race. Though she gave me the stink eye the whole time for lying to her about the severity of the climbs on the bike course :-).
Next stop is Ironman 70.3 St. George. I’m not looking for anything special there, just some more race scenario practice. Until then.
2015 was a tough year of racing for me, and it showed in some of my racing results. Coming off of a great first year of Ironman racing, I seemed to have taken a step back, swimming a little slower despite improved pool times, and running (ahem, “walking”) quite a bit slower as well. In all I just felt drained after putting in really heavy volume training for many weeks and not seeing performance gains made in training realized in races. It led me to reevaluate how I was training and racing to see how I could do things a little smarter for 2016.
Fast forward to 2016, which has so far been off to a great start. Two races and two top ten age group finishes (8th at 70.3 Oceanside, and 5th at the Orange County Triathlon). This after tweaking my training program by reducing overall volume, slowing down my “easy” days, and adding more quality workouts. I’ve also cut down on swimming to prevent fatigue and give myself some more time.
Most importantly, I’ve deliberately ended my obsession with chasing results. If I’m in this for fun, I’m damn well going to chase the fun. If fun is no longer a primary goal, then I shouldn’t be doing this sport. Solely chasing time goals does not make for a fun experience. Yes, goals are good to have (I’ll get into mine later), but with the number of variables that come into play during a long race like an Ironman, goals have to become moving targets. Also, progress comes gradually in this sport, and patience needs to be practiced.
The “pie in the sky” goal that I’ve been chasing for the last three years has been Kona. I’m not unique. There are many, many people in this sport that are chasing that same goal. Few realize it, many do not. I have not. In fact, I have not been close enough to even really sweat it. It’s always just been a “what if” sort of dream for me. Yet I have obsessed about “eventually getting there since beginning in triathlon. When I first started training in 2013, I knew it was far-fetched, but I always had it as my primary goal (see my first post for a bit of history on this).
Relying too much on the singular goal of qualifying Kona can be a recipe for disappointment. With only 40 slots to allocate across a couple thousand people, there’s too many variables that come into play, including who shows up to race. I had to revisit my goals and consider qualifying for Kona more of a “passive” goal – one which would be amazing if I achieved it, but not the pass line where I would put all my chips (is that an appropriate Craps reference? I suck at Craps).
Which leads me to Ironman Vineman. My primary goal this year has been simple. To once again have fun racing. Yes, I know that’s the hokey sentimental goal that everyone says is their goal, so here are my more tangible goals, of which I ranked them from 1-3 (1 being the most unlikely but most amazing achievement I could hope for, and 3 being the goal that would consider a great day).
1. Break 10 hours
2. Run well off the bike (For me I would consider a sub-4 hour marathon “running well”)
Hitting number 2 was going to be my primary focus in this race because that meant that I would have a shot at number 1, and that I would be forced to bike conservatively (something that has been challenging for me in the past).
Days Before the Race:
We drove up to Sonoma from San Clemente on the Wednesday before the race. We had rented a converted barn through Airbnb, but it burned down. Yes, you read that right. A barn… full of hay… burning down before a race. I knew it was a sign, but I didn’t quite know what that sign was. So we scrambled and found a really small cottage right on River road between the race start and race finish. It ended up being… well… cozy for the four of us, but logistically perfect for getting to and from the race start and finish.
We spent the next couple days getting familiar with our surroundings, checking in, etc. The Russian River area is beautiful, but the concern of a lot of people was how to get 2,000 people into the river and onto the roads. In the past, this race had only a few hundred people. This year it would be 3 or 4 times that.
In the end, it all worked out perfectly due to the rolling start. It really helped to spread people out.
|Gratuitous Speedo shot|
|Practice swim with support|
My mantra as far as nutrition is concerned hasn’t changed; “keep it simple.” The day before the race I had my usual morning shake, some oatmeal for mid morning, eggs, rice, and butter for mid afternoon, and eggs, rice, and butter for dinner. Our massage therapist was kind enough to lend us her rapid release massager, and that was a godsend. Marie worked on me the night before, and cleared up any tight spots that came about due to all the walking required to check in bike and run gear. Then it was into my Normatec boots for an hour and off to sleep. I had never felt more fresh before a race.
I was up at 3 am after a decent night of sleep. Immediately I had a blended breakfast of one cup rolled oats, a banana, flaxseed, and a handful of almonds. I also had a cup of coffee and sat in my Normatec boots for about 20 minutes. Marie dropped me off at the race start at around 5 am and I had second breakfast of a cup of brown rice with butter and salt just outside of transition. Again, keeping it simple.
After checking out my bike, getting situated, and using the toilet, I headed down to find my family to say one last goodbye and pass off all my morning stuff to them. Then I did a quick swim before jumping in the swim corral.
I remembered at the last minute that I forgot to do my Wim Hof breathing. Anecdotally, I found that doing the Wim Hof breathing calms my nerves, floods me with oxygen, and provides me more energy. This, in turn, has seemed to improve performance. I sat down in the swim corral and did 3 rounds of breathing before getting in line.
Knowing that the roads on the bike course would be narrow and crowded, I wanted to give myself as much of a cushion from the crowds as possible, so I lined up toward the front of the 1:00-1:10 self seeding area. I had no clue what my swim time would be due to my inconsistent Ironman swim times in the past, but based on recent pool times and 70.3 times, I figured around a 1:08 was in the cards. My plan was to swim a bit harder early on to stick with the faster swimmers and then back off to drift into clear water. Due to the narrow and shallow nature of the swim, I was expecting it to be insanely crowded.
As the horn sounded, I noticed that they were taking their time with getting people into the water, which was good. The race organizers did a hell of a job spreading out the masses. I finally got into the water probably 5 minutes after the actual race start and found open water almost immediately. That’s not to say it didn’t get crowded, since there were small packs of swimmers forming throughout the course, and it was hard to get around them.
Sighting on this course is super easy, since it’s a narrow river. I only looked up occasionally to make sure I wasn’t about to be kicked in the face. I kept my turnover really high, and found I was passing a lot of people, and not getting passed myself. Using the treeline as a guide, it appeared as though I was moving pretty fast. The swim out is against the very light current, so I figured it should be slow, but it certainly didn’t seem slow to me. I tend to think that the mass of swimmers created a strong draft effect, especially at the front of the pack. If that’s the case, it’s a huge benefit to line up toward the front and get the benefit of the fast swimmers!
We had been warned that the river was shallow at parts, and that turned out to be absolutely true. I did my best to keep swimming, and it felt like swimming was faster than walking. The only times I had to put my feet down were when I ran into someone who was standing in front of me.
The swim out seemed to take no time at all, and as we rounded the turn buoy, I checked my watch to see about 33 minutes. I was very happy with this, since that had me on track to do a 1:06 if I could maintain pace, and the rest of the swim was downstream. I didn’t get too excited though, since I had over a mile to swim, and I’d already been pushing pretty hard. I didn’t want to wear myself out, and I didn’t know how much the current would assist us back to the swim finish.
The rest of the swim was relatively uneventful aside from scraping my hands a few times on the shallow parts. A high elbow catch definitely helps!
I enjoyed the heck out of this swim. Not just because it felt fast, but also because it was just so beautiful. The water felt clean and the trees lining the water were just beautiful.
I came out of the water and checked my watch to see 1:03. I have absolutely no business swimming a 1:03 Ironman! Never in my wildest dreams would I have expected that. I figured that the swim must have been short*
*After reviewing my data, I found out that I swam just over 4,400 yards, so the swim was not short. I also placed better in my age group than I ever have in an iron distance swim, so I guess I swam well! It’s so great to see hard work in the pool pay off!
After so much time feeling anxious about swimming, frustrated with not getting better, and just putting in so much time, it’s so exciting to have had such a great swim!
1:03:27, 24th in 35-39, 196 overall – Strava Data
I had a pretty slow transition. I don’t know what it is about the transition setup at Ironman events, but I have an easier time transitioning when all of my equipment is next to my bike. In the tents I usually just find myself dumping my bag onto the ground and staring at the contents for a few seconds before figuring out what I need to do.
I finally got it all settled and ran out of the transition toward my bike. I chose to run my bike up the short hill just after the dismount, and it looked like I was the only one who did so. Once to the top, I mounted and went on my way.
The goal for the bike was to back way the hell off. I “could” ride the whole bike leg with my heart rate in the high 140s, but I chose instead to keep it in the 130s. It felt very light and easy, and it also gave me some cushion to make surges to pass large groups of people.
The first two hours I was very cold. Taking it easy probably didn’t help this. It made my shoulders and neck very tense and I became sore. I tried to enjoy the cool air because I knew it would get very warm later in the day.
I could see how this could be a deceptive bike course that would urge a person to push the pace. The first loop felt very easy, with rolling hills easy enough to get over without much effort, and only a few short climbs. The flat section before Chalk Hill seemed very fast with no wind.
On the second loop, the course seemed to change. As the air temperatures increased and the wind picked up slightly, the hills seemed to pack a bit more punch, the roads seemed a bit stickier, and the flat section was a lot slower. With the headwind, on a section where I was averaging 23-25 mph on the first loop, I was now averaging about 18-20. I actually got off my bike for a second to see if my rear wheel was rubbing, because it felt like I just wasn’t moving as fast as I should have.
Despite that, I stayed true to my goal of taking it easier on the bike. While my head was telling me to go faster and break 5 hours, I held true to better judgement, and finished the bike well, happily just over 5 hours, and still with the 4th fastest bike split in my age group.
5:07:03, 5th in 35-39, 42nd overall – Strava Data
Getting off the bike, I was very nervous. After spiking my heart rate to get up Chalk Hill the second time, I tried to coast the remaining 10 miles into transition at a very easy pace. The bike handoff was quick and painless and before I knew it I was once again staring at the contents of my transition bag. Snapping out of it, I put on my shoes, race belt, and headband that my daughter had made for me. It’s a new tradition we’re starting to help get my kids more involved, and it seems to be a good luck charm for me.
|“Extra Life” headband made by my daughter. I needed all the lives I could get!|
Running out of the tent, it was time to see if holding back was going to work for me. System’s check showed that everything so far was good. Pace was easy, stomach felt okay, no cramping, breathing felt fine. Checking the heart rate I was in the low 150s. Quite a bit higher than I wanted it, but I was feeling okay, so I just decided to keep an eye on it.
I deliberately avoided watching my pace because I did not want to chase the time. In training, I had practiced taking it really easy, and had found that my pace was faster than I would expect, so I kept faith that everything was working out fine, and I would find out my splits at every mile.
Mile 1: 8:03. Okay. So far so good. Now the key will be to delay slowing down for as long as possible.
Now that I had a pace dialed in, I continued out onto the first loop committed to keep the first loop steady and easy, easy enough that I wouldn’t be tempted to walk at any point, and easy enough that I could get water and Gatorade in.
About a mile into the run, there is a relatively steep downhill section for about a quarter mile (we also have to run up that hill on the return trip each time). I stifled myself from charging down the hill too hard, and kept the pace steady. As I got to the bottom of the hill I saw my second mile split at 7:45. Excellent.
The next 6 miles or so are out and back into the vinyards on a relatively flat course exposed to the sun. On this first loop, there weren’t many people out, just a few age groupers and the pros. It was quite nice actually. Those miles clicked off pretty nicely, a few sub 8 minute miles, and a few 8+ minute miles until I got back to the big climb.
I once again held true to the mantra of taking it easy as I approached the hill for the first time, not wanting to burn out my legs. The hill felt surprisingly “not hard”, and I kept running toward the first turn around. I saw my wife and kids there, which gave me a quick burst of energy, and I told them I was feeling good as I headed out for my second loop.
I continued to monitor my heart rate as I ran, and surprisingly (fortunately) it was only rising very gradually. I maintained a 1:3 breath to foot strike and that felt good at the time. I was also focused on form and high cadence, which seemed very comfortable. Aside from getting to be a little more crowded, the second lap was relatively uneventful. The second time up the hill was tougher than the first, but I still made it up and continued running. Aside from a couple porta potty stops, I hadn’t walked yet, which was an Ironman first for me!
After getting up the hill for the second time, I was definitely starting to feel the pain and fatigue, and new that the last 9 miles were going to be tough. I once again passed by my family at the turn around and told them that the last loop would be hard, but I would see them at the finish line. I decided that once I got down the hill on the third loop, I would up the effort and change my breathing pattern to 1:2 breath to foot strike ratio to get more oxygen. This would increase my heart rate and energy output, but would also be more comfortable. With 10k to go, this was the time to do it so that I could maintain pace.
On the third loop, since I was breathing more, I briefly walked each aid station to make sure I got in Coke and water without choking or gulping a bunch of air.
By now the course was pretty crowded, and I was trying to politely run around other racers (though some were making it very hard to do so). My pace was slowing a bit, but I was still running between 8-8:30 minute miles with a few 9s sprinkled in. It became apparent that I would achieve my goal of breaking a 4 hour marathon, but it was also starting to dawn on me that I could break 10 hours. The calculus going on in my head was pretty intense, but all of my calculations seemed to imply that it was going to be a close call!
I climbed the hill one last time, knowing that once I crested I would only less than 2 miles to the finish. I briefly walked up the hill just so I could have the energy to run the last leg. It was hard to start running again, so I knew that I couldn’t stop anymore.
My mind was focused on finishing and running strong. I heard a few people shout encouraging words about how great my pace was. As I got to the curvy section of the park, I knew I was close, and had to dodge a lot of crowds to get through.
And then comes the magical moment as you hit the fork in the road. To the right is another loop on the course. Straight ahead is the finish line. As the crowd recognizes that you are going straight instead of right, they begin to cheer wildly, and the overwhelming sense of relief, euphoria, adrenaline, and pure joy overtake you.
As I entered the finishing chute, I recognized that it wrapped around half of the high school. This was the longest finisher’s chute ever. Finally, I took a right turn and saw the finish arch before me, and I let out a wild scream as I passed over the finish line. Unclear of my finishing time, but seeing 10:22 on the arch (factoring in that the clock time included the pros, who started about a half hour before the amateurs, breaking 10 hours was going to be close). I collapsed on the grass and laid there for a few minutes. I could not walk very well.
When my wife found me, she was able to tell me my finish time.
With all of the exhaustion and emotion I was feeling, I teared up at the knowledge that I had achieved my ideal goal.
Run time 3:37:11, 6th in 35-39, 34th Overall, 23rd Overall Amateur – Strava Data
My wife went on to tell me that I was 6th in my age group. I thought surely that it was a mistake, or that it was too early to tell, and that more people in my age group would finish with faster times (since the swim was a rolling start). That never happened. I was in 6th place, and when the realization hit me that that’s where I would stay, a nervous feeling began to form in the pit of my stomach.
I had the sudden realization that for the first time I was actually in contention for a Hawaii World Championship slot.
Oh shit… This is what it feels like!
All of those race reports that I had read over the years about lucky age groupers, who had punched their tickets to Kona after tons of hard work, and now there was a chance that I could be that guy. This pipe dream that once seemed so unattainable was now actually in sight.
This would lead way to obsessive Iron-stalking later that night. I was checking Ironman.com for previous race results of each of the 5 people who finished before me in my age group, hoping to find that they had already qualified at an earlier Ironman. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find any relevant results for any of them. I had to wait until the morning to find out. Damn you, Ironman cliffhangers!
That was okay, though. I was still on cloud nine for the amazing race that I had just achieved. Even if I did not qualify for Kona, I could not have given any more in my race, and I was over the moon with how it had went. Surprisingly I wasn’t nervous, nor did I have any expectations. If anything, I expected I would not qualify, but I was happy enough just to be close.
Besides, I had more important things to think about. Like having a giant Cheeseburger… and cake… and M&Ms. Okay, all the junk food.
Awards & Rolldown:
After frantically packing up the car to get out of our Airbnb and on the road, we headed to Windsor High School to attend the awards and roll down ceremony. Okay, I won’t lie, we had another detour to the donut shop.
Watching the awards was pretty great. I had a chance to watch all of the amazing athletes that finished best in their field of hundreds of athletes. When they announced the 35-39 age group, I looked at all 5 of the people on stage and had the realization that those were the only folks in my age group that came in faster than me. For someone who traditionally comes in higher than 20th in an Ironman event, it was a pretty amazing and humbling feeling.
The third place male in my age group came by and sat next to me. I gave him my hand and congratulated him on an amazing race and his soon-to-be Kona slot (obviously fishing). After talking, he mentioned to me that he thought that first and second place had already taken slots, and thus they would roll down at least to 5th.
My stomach dropped at the thought. If he was correct, I was two steps closer to Kona. Now the wild card was 5th place. Would he take his slot? Things were getting really, really, really, real.
I began to tear up thinking about all of the hard work I put in. Overcoming depression and anxiety, achieving sobriety, getting healthy, becoming a joyful and optimistic person, committing to setting a positive and healthy example, becoming an Ironman. All of these things led to where I was at right now; in a ceremony celebrating my 5th Ironman finish, a PR of under 10 hours, so close to a ticket to Kona.
And now the moment was here.
It was inspiring, but painful at the same time, listening to all of the older age groups take their Kona slots. I was happy for them, but it also meant that no more slots than 3 would be allocated to our age group (if an age group doesn’t claim a slot, it goes to the most populated age group). Waiting for the announcer to get to male 35-39 was an exercise in extreme patience.
I still felt that it was a longshot when they finally got to my age group, even if it happened to roll down to 5th. I was determined not to get my hopes up. As they announced the first place finisher, he got up and accepted his ticket. It turns out the third place finisher was mistaken, and he hadn’t taken a slot yet.
Second place declined his slot.
Third place took his slot.
Well, I knew that was going to happen. Just two more have to decline and I’ve got it…
The announcer called the fourth place finisher. He raised his hand enthusiastically and accepted the 3rd and final slot in the 35-39 age group.
Missed it by two…
I can’t say I was disappointed by this. There’s a reason why it is so hard to get into Kona through qualification. It’s because the field of competitors is incredibly talented, and there is only so much room on the pier. If it were easier, it just might not be worth it. Getting this close and missing it just made me hungrier, more confident, and more inspired to go out and work for it. It will also make the accomplishment sweeter when I get there. After this experience, I know that I’m doing things right. The training, the consistency, the recovery, the nutrition, the discipline is all paying off… gradually.
That’s how it works. Results do not come immediately, they come over time. And the goal is to strive for continuous improvement, not continuous perfection. I came really close this race, closer than I thought I ever would. I learned a lot through this experience, and gained a ton of confidence, and that is a priceless result. Qualifying for Kona may happen next year, or it may not happen for 10 years. It may never happen. But as long as I continue to improve and enjoy this sport, I’ll continue to be a part of it.
I achieved every goal I set out to achieve at Vineman this year, and nearly one that wasn’t on my radar. To me that is a huge win.
I can’t say enough for the volunteers and the community of people that make this sport possible. I know of no other sport where competitors encourage one another to the extent that they do in triathlon. As a perpetual optimist, it makes me proud to be a part of this community and to be encouraging to others working toward their own individual goals.
A new fire has been lit within me, and I really can’t wait to start training for Ironman Arizona! But first, more rest… and donuts…
The 2016 race season has officially kicked off for me. It has been a long offseason, since I haven’t raced since August at Ironman Boulder. I had planned to take an extended break to work on my run, since it was what I struggled with in my races last year.
Unfortunately, I didn’t quite get the consistency of running down due to illnesses. I was hit pretty hard early in the year with sickness. First a respiratory cold, then a stomach bug, then the respiratory cold again, then the stomach bug again. This took me out for much of January and early February. Any run gains I had made seemed to have been lost when I started to train consistently again.
I had to expedite my training leading up to Oceanside due to the weeks of illness, so I accepted the base of fitness I had and focused on long endurance at the high aerobic levels. Then I would go into a short two week taper leading to Oceanside. Not ideal, but at least it would kick start my season.
I had a lot of emotions coming into this race. It takes place in my backyard where I do all my training. It would be the first time I would repeat a 70.3, and last year’s performance was by far a personal best for me, finishing in 4:44 and 12th in my age group. While I tried to tell myself not to focus on the results, just to have fun and make it a training day (after all, with all of the sickness I didn’t have the fitness I had last year), it’s hard to not want to compete against your previous results!
Since this was the first race in a long time, and because of the reasons above, I was more nervous for this race than many of my previous races. But when I got nervous, I was able to calm myself by reinforcing that the goal of this race was to focus on strategy and pacing. My tendency last year was to overbike and then blow up on the run. I wanted to see how it felt to UNDER bike and feel good on the run.
The goal was to swim out hard and try to stay with a lead group at least for a while. Then I would cycle at about Ironman pace or a little higher and set up a strong run, which I would feel out as I went.
This year I was really looking forward to starting in one of the earliest waves. In 2015, I started in the last wave, which led to a lot of congestion on the swim, a lot of passing on the bike (which caused a lot of energy to be wasted). Starting in an earlier wave meant a cleaner swim, and a lonely bike (just the way I like it).
Here’s how it went:
Swim – 33:51 – New PR
By the time I got to the water’s edge, my nerves were calmed. This was pretty typical for me, since most of my nerves are centered around just wanting to start. Now that time was coming. The water was cold, but I had prepared for that, so it wasn’t shockingly so. As we sat by the buoy line waiting to start, there was a relatively strong current that seemed to be pulling us out a bit. We had to work a little to stay behind the start line.
It’s always an interesting dynamic at the start of these races. Our heads above water, we are all very encouraging of one another, shouting to each other to have a great race, or laughing with each other. But the second that blow horn goes off, it’s every man for himself with lots of contact and fighting for space.
I lined up to the far right of the buoy expecting to swim a little wide to avoid the contact, and settle into the buoy line once it thinned out. Once the horn sounded, I gave a quick sprint to stay with the feet of the first row of swimmers. I happened to end up right between a large gentleman on my left, and a very thin gentleman on my right. The man on my right had me a bit worried, as his stroke was very aggressive and wide. More of a scrappy swinging motion. One of those swinging arms to the face would likely break my nose! Since I breathed to the right, I was able to keep an eye on this guy as his sledgehammer hands splashed within inches of my face.
The gap began to narrow and I felt now would be the time to try to serge to the front of this group. Having this instinct makes me happy, since it shows that my confidence is building with regard to my swim. Previously, I would have resigned my position and stopped for a second to find another path behind them.
The surge worked, and I was now in open water as we approached the first turn buoy. The current assist seemed to be significant, since we got to that first turn buoy in no time at all.
Heading into the open water of the channel, we began to feel the swells of the large waves entering the harbor. It made swimming smooth a little more difficult, so that was a cue to increase the turnover and get more strokes in. I was starting to get into the mix with previous waves at this point, and I didn’t see many people with light blue caps anymore (my wave). As we rounded the final turn buoy, the fastest guys in the next wave started to catch me. I tried to stick with their pace. No dice.
As we hit the boat launch area for the swim exit, I stood up very easily and was able to find my legs with no problem. I had a solid pace running through transition passing a lot of the people in front of me. I still felt energized, which was a new feeling for me after the swim. This was by far the most comfortable swim I have had in a race to date. Maybe I’m turning over a new leaf.
Bike: 2:29:17 – 4th fastest bike split in Age Group. Moved up to 5th place in 35-39, the highest place I have been in to date
An uneventful transition had led to the start of the bike. I had thought it would be cold for the first part, but it turned out to be rather comfortable. I took the pace really easy getting out to Pendleton, with all of the twists and turns and uneven surfaces. Again, I was really stoked to be in an early wave. Instead of hundreds of people in front of me which I had a chance of passing, I only had about 40-50 (obviously not counting pros!). This made for a very clean and uneventful ride.
Through the campground, I was caught by a couple of guys “working together”. Once they passed, I was able to stay at legal distance from them while watching them drafting for most of that section. I noticed that my heart rate was on the very low side, so I was faced with the choice of staying there and giving up speed, or making a huge surge, enough to drop them (I didn’t want them to start drafting off of me). I decided to surge, which I did for about 5-10 minutes or so until I was clear again.
Much of the rest of the first half of the ride was paced very conservatively. When I reached the gate at Christianitos, I did a self check. I was feeling great, and decided to be a bit more aggressive on the backside where the hills were located. The climb up the first large hill on was much easier than last year, again attributed to the lack of congestion. Being somewhat alone, I could pace myself up the hill and not have to surge around other people.
The downhills were fun and fast, aside from the 25 mph zone, where I rode the brakes to about 22 mph, just to be safe. Around this time, I started to catch some of the female pros. Another cool side effect of starting in an earlier wave!
Riding down Vandegrift back toward Oceanside, I backed off the power once again to recover a bit from the hills. I was caught by a couple of other people, including a fellow Dimond owner, who shouted “nice bike” as he flew by me. Into transition with a time about 5 minutes slower than last year. However, this seemed to be consistent with the other bike times in my age group. Both years, I had the 4th fastest bike split, but this year was a bit slower. The conditions didn’t seem too much different, but I have a theory that perhaps it has something to do with the congestion on the course. Since our age group spent more effort surging to make passes last year, perhaps that is the reason we were faster. Who knows!
Run: 1:36:44 – Run PR
Transition was once again a breeze, aside from shoving Vaseline down my pants in front of a large crowd of people. But I’ve experienced the alternative and it isn’t pretty. It’s been my experience that if you’re standing around the area of transition, you’re bound to see something pretty gross. As a spectator, that’s to be expected!
Running out of transition I felt in control of my run. A dialed back pace from what I felt I could run. Visions of mile 3 last year rushed through my head. It was at that time that I experienced painful side stitches that reduced me to walking for a few minutes. I had attributed that to too much nutrition in the early part of the race combined with too fast a pace. I didn’t want to repeat that experience.
Again, I was all alone, which was an interesting experience on the run. The only people that were with me were the pros that zoomed by me every once and a while, which was really cool. It’s a strange feeling running without seeing anyone in front of you. I had a constant feeling like I had to ask someone if I was going the right direction.
Through the first aid station, I grabbed only water and kept going. Still felt good an in control. I was trying to maintain a 7:15 pace, not too fast and pretty easy to sustain. Sure enough, as I approached mile 3-4, I started getting the stitches again. I backed off the pace a bit and was able to keep moving, but it was still frustrating knowing that I could run faster if it weren’t for the side pains. They stuck with me even after the turnaround, and intensified as I passed through mile 5. I had to walk down the hill to get my heart rate down and get them to go away. Finally, they subsided, only sticking around intensely enough to remind me that they would destroy me if I attempted to pick up the pace.
At the halfway point, I started to feel much better, so the goal was going to become “don’t slow down”. In fact, just as an experiment, I wanted to see if I could push the pace a bit more and then walk the aid stations. The goal was to still average the 7:15-7:30 pace overall, but through a combination of 7 minute miles and walking through aid stations. This worked really well as I continued to feel totally in control.
Much of the rest of the run was uneventful, just trying to keep a controlled run without it getting ugly. Sure enough, I went through the finish line with a 3:30 PR over last year’s half marathon, fully 10 minutes faster than the half marathon at Boulder 70.3, and even a few seconds faster than my half marathon PR (which was run while I was sick with one of those stomach bugs). Overall time was 4:47:23, which I was very pleased with, considering the tough start to the training year. It was good enough for 8th place in my age group, which was shocking to me. This was my first time in an Ironman branded race breaking the top 10. Especially at a race that boasts itself as one of the more competitive races, I am tremendously grateful.
From what I understand, even though I didn’t stick around for the World Championship roll down ceremony (I can’t really afford the trip to Australia in September), I heard that the slots rolled down well past my placing, which means if I were to have chosen to, I could have raced in the 70.3 World Championship this year. That’s pretty awesome!
Now as I spend a week off before starting my build toward Ironman Vineman, I have a renewed drive to train well this season and to train smart, with goals to challenge myself and simply give the best of myself. I’m looking forward to what the rest of the year holds.
“Short” because I DNF’d right as I took my first pedal stroke on the bike.
“Long” because, as with every race I have run, I have taken away a tremendous lesson which can be applied to life in general. So I provide some… ahem… detail.
One year ago, I posted a quick recap on Facebook summarizing my experience in the 2014 Carlsbad Triathlon:
“Great race today in Carlsbad! Finished 6th in my age group, beating last year’s time by 10 minutes. Vast improvements on the bike and run. I had the fastest bike split in my age group! Zero improvement on the swim. I know what I’m working on this off-season.”
For those of you who know me and have read this blog, you know that in my short triathlon career, I have historically been a worse than average swimmer. As was implied in the bold section of the Facebook post above, I had trouble improving on it, and it was a point of frustration last season.
Last off season I did, in fact, work on my swim and made tremendous improvements in the pool. It was hard, it was boring, but I put in the work and I improved.
When I stood at the starting line yesterday, right behind the band of seasoned swimmers which would shortly be jockeying for position at the front of the swim pack, I had something with me that I didn’t last year. Confidence.
Well, technically, two things. Confidence and a Roka sleeveless wetsuit.
I hadn’t planned on trying to keep up with the lead pack on the swim. In fact, I had resigned myself to simply following safely behind and finding my own rhythm. But as I stood at the line 15 seconds before the horn sounded and saw the formations of a small set of waves coming in to greet us at the shoreline, my mind changed.
The swells were relatively large yesterday, basically a yellow flag kind of day which would imply possibly rip currents and larger, more powerful waves. Having grown up around the ocean, I am used to maneuvering through these waves – a situation you don’t often find in the calmer waters of the local YMCA pool or open water swim.
As the horn sounded, I kept my distance behind the “front line”, who charged the water as if a pinata had burst open over the ocean. As they hit the water, battled the incoming wave, I hesitated and dove as the water retreated. I was streamlined as everyone else was hacking the water.
Once clear, I began sprinting to stay with the lead swimmers and found a pair of feet aggressively kicking in front of me. This was a new experience for me, as the pace around me was fast, and I was caught up in it. I just wanted to make sure those feet didn’t hit me!
I stayed with the bubbles of the frantic kicker until the first turn buoy, where he had taken a wider turn, and I was on the inside. I found myself in unfamiliar territory as I was now leading a group of swimmers. I sighted forward and saw another group off ahead. This was to be expected, as there were certainly super-swimmers in the bunch.
Things were going well. I was swimming a straight line, I was in front of all the racers I could see, and I wasn’t tired or fearful.
My relative position, and inspired confidence helped me to keep a very high tempo, and keep me moving forward at a good pace. At the final turn we headed toward shore, and I again worked on timing my surges. I would take some relaxed strokes while looking behind me for incoming waves, and then increase my rate of turnover as the wave caught me. This served to speed me up, and save my energy.
Running up to transition, I was still relatively alone, but not sure what place I was in. The bike racks give an indication, however. I found a lot of bikes were left in the racks, which meant that I was toward the front. Time to go to work on the bike!
… Or so I thought. The second I got to the top of the hill, I tried to shift into a higher gear and nothing happened. I got off my bike and tried to see what the issue was, but everything was connected properly.
Meanwhile, all of the racers I had led out of the water began to pass me one by one.
I couldn’t immediately identify the problem, and since I couldn’t spin my way in the lowest gear through the whole bike leg, I decided to do the walk of shame back into transition.
It turns out that a connection inside the frame had become unplugged at some point between when I had racked the bike in transition and when I had finished my swim. Since I had shifted through the gears to test everything prior to heading to the swim start, I knew it was working then. How it became disconnected will remain a mystery, but the fault is on me for not being more thorough in checking the connections before the race.
I hate to not finish a race, and would do everything I can to finish regardless of how I am doing, save for injury and mechanical failure. Unfortunately this issue was out of my control.
Where this race was a victory was in the management of things I could control. My confidence, my swim training, my sighting, playing to my strengths. While things outside of our control can ruin a race, it is useless to dwell on them because there is absolutely nothing we can do about it!
Such is life. We control what we can, and accept what we can’t. Sounds simple, but for complex beings, we often need to create complex answers. Not always the right path.
I later learned that I was 6th out of the water in my age group out of 37 people. I also learned, after seeing the results, that if I had biked and run the same splits as I did last year (which was entirely likely) that I would have won my age group.
For all intents and purposes, I should be disappointed. But how can I be when I set out a year ago to make a specific improvement, and I achieved that goal? I am stoked to have swam so well one year after committing to work on improving in that area, an area which had caused me frustration in the past.
Once again this sport has, even in the smallest instances, taught me about perspective, persistence, and acceptance. I am exceptionally grateful for having the opportunity to swim the way I did, and to learn to accept the “uncontrollables” as well. There’s always next year, and new lessons to learn.
I didn’t respect the race. That’s the bottom line. The first two Ironmen I raced I stayed within myself and accepted the fitness I had. I therefore executed great races. For Texas I did a few things wrong which led to a very painful day.
This is the nature of the race. It’s a long day, and if you don’t have respect for it, if you try to outrace yourself, if you try to control what you can’t, it will tear you down. I learned some valuable lessons this past weekend that I won’t soon forget.
What’s funny is that I thought I already knew these lessons. In my mind I would tell myself to “race my race”, or “stay within myself”, but deep down I had certain expectations that I wanted to achieve. It’s dangerous to set expectations on a race like this, because so often uncontrollable variables dictate how we will perform. Thus it is better to go in with an open mind to the “uncontrollables”, and to control what you can. I tried to control too much.
For one, I was fixated on trying to qualify for Kona. I had specific time expectations for each leg of the race that I felt I had to meet in order to be in contention. My hope was to do a sub-1:10 swim, a 4:50 bike, and a 3:30 run. I felt that this would get me close based on results from previous years. Again, this was a mistake to think this way because of the “uncontrollables”. My attitude should have been, and should always be, to race the best race I can on any given day. To execute my best swim, my best bike, and my best run without setting expectations. And if my best happens to be good enough on any given race day, then I will be fortunate enough to join the best athletes in Kona.
In a race like Ironman, it’s important to focus on the positive aspects of the race, and at this race there were many, despite my inappropriately high expectations. And now that the race is over, that’s what I choose to focus on. If I get down about what could have been, or what I missed out on, then I am not honoring the nature of this sport – that we can transcend doubt in ourselves and overcome significant challenges. It is not about finishing in a certain time, or qualifying for Kona. It is about finding out what we are capable of, and being the best we can be.
I crossed the line on Saturday, so I too was victorious. I am fortunate to have coaches with Smart Triathlon Training that can help me to be my best, and to regain my perspective after a race. Thanks to Luis, Diana, and Kelly for getting me to the finish line!
I flew into Houston on Wednesday before the race and got my Dimond all unpacked and put together. Once again, the Hen House got my bike to the destination without bike fees. If I fly enough, not only will the bags be paid for in saved baggage fees, but so will my Dimond!
The weather in Texas was pretty wet leading up to the race. Very rainy in the afternoon, but overall the air felt comfortable. I knew that I was well prepared for the heat of Texas.
At this race we would have the opportunity to do a practice swim on the Friday before the race. This was absolutely necessary for me, since it would be my first non-wetsuit race. I had convinced myself that I was confident in my swim, but in my heart I was still very anxious. It was still a big fear of mine to be out in the water swimming with hundreds of other people without the security of neoprene.
The water was very murky to the point of not being able to see much beyond the goggles. This meant that being aware of other people around me would be difficult, so I would be getting to know strangers very personally. So personally, in fact that, without the relative anonymity of the swim, would have me arrested for indecent activity. My apologies to all the people I inadvertently violated.
Within about 200 yards of the swim I had a minor panic attack that left my trying to float on my back and failing. I realized that with the chop, I wouldn’t be able to go to my back and relax. I would have to keep swimming and relax that way. Sure enough, after a few hundred yards I felt relaxed and in control of my swim. After the swim, I checked my watch to see how I did and was very disappointed to see that I was swimming about 1:57/100. How was this possible? It really weighed heavily on me, and I wasn’t sure how I could have possibly swam this slow. My average pace in the pool is about 25 seconds faster per hundred for a similar distance. I chalked it up to a glitch with the Garmin and moved on to check my bike and gear in.
|Racked and ready. Always bring protection!|
The night before the race I slept surprisingly well, and wasn’t really too nervous when I got up. I had my typical breakfast of blended oatmeal with a banana, flaxseed, and a bit of almond butter (one at about 3:30, and another at 4:45), and headed out to the race site.
Parking was easy, as I think I was one of the first ones there. I parked in a lot right next to the finish line, which was one of the smartest things I did all day. I hiked to the transition area, got my tires pumped up, made sure all systems were go on the bike, and trekked out to the swim start, about a mile away.
Ironman Texas has the best toilet situation out of any race I’ve been to. There were plenty of porta potties, and very short lines. It was easy to flush out my nervous stomach.
As I was getting body marked, the man marking me asked if I was going to wear a wetsuit, and I hesitated for a moment. If I were to wear a wetsuit, I would be forfeiting any chance at a Kona slot or awards. Also, if I did wear a wetsuit, what message would I be telling myself? That it was somehow okay to take the easy way out? That I was going to let fear win? That I didn’t trust my training? “No wetsuit”, I said to the guy.
I got into the corral, standing behind the 1:00 to 1:10 seed (as I was expecting – read “hoping” – to finish in under 1:10. Surprisingly, the corral was very empty in the minutes leading up to the race. I had thought we would be packed in like sardines, but that was not the case. The minor panic attack from the day before began to get to me again, but I suppressed those thoughts as I looked around at all the people racing today. Each of them had stories, fears, and anxieties. Certainly I could manage mine. When the cannon fired, the age groupers went off. It probably took about 5 minutes before I was in the water and starting to swim, sans wetsuit.
Immediately, the visions of the practice swim returned to me and I lost my confidence. At about the same point as in the practice swim, I had a panic attack and turned to my back. It probably lasted about 30 seconds, but it was an overwhelming feeling of anxiety. I had just struggled through 200 meters, and I was now very aware that I had 3600 to go, and it wouldn’t get easier. After 15-20,000 yards per week of swimming, this should be second nature to me by now. Why couldn’t I just put one arm in front of the other and crawl through this? I’ve done this plenty of times! It’s pretty demoralizing that I have been doing this for a few years now and I still let this fear get the best of me.
And with that, I got angry at myself. I told myself to sack up and start swimming again. I would not let the fear take over. I would let go and release this fear to my higher power. And that I did, and I immediately began to feel comfortable again. Any time I began to feel anxious, I would say a quick prayer of gratitude and get back to swimming.
My little diva moment probably cost me a couple minutes, but it wasn’t much. After that, I was turning over well, and very focused on my form. I “thought” I was swimming nice and strong, if not a little off course a few times. For most of the swim, I hugged the shoreline quite a bit to stay out of the crowds. Since I breathe to my right (the direction of the shore) I tended to drift into the little inlets and had to correct pretty often. In retrospect, this probably cost me quite a bit of time.
As we entered the canal, I was amazed to see that I was alone in my own little pocket of solitude. I had expected that once the swim funneled into the 10 meter wide canal that it would naturally become more crowded. But I couldn’t have been more wrong. Add to that that the flow of athletes swimming down the canal created somewhat of a “lazy river” feel, where we seemed to have been helped along by a current.
As I got out of the water, I was resigned to the fact that I probably did not meet my goal because I had a little meltdown. I had probably swam a 1:15 or so. Looking at my watch, I was thoroughly demoralized to see 1:22. My worst Ironman swim to date.
With all the progress I had made in the pool, that swim time was tough to swallow. My swim times were getting progressively worse at each race. At that moment, I pretty much knew my chances at a Kona slot were gone. My attitude should have been to say “it is what it is” and then move on with my race, but instead I resolved to make it up on the bike.
I will say before I go any further that while I was disappointed at the time, I have since corrected my perspective. I had conquered another big fear, and swam the iron distance without a wetsuit. A few short years ago I wouldn’t have even dreamed I would be able to do that. My swim will come around, but for now I have to focus on the victories. I faced a fear, and I didn’t give up.
Swim Time: 1:22, 165th in 35-39
Into transition, and it was a muddy mess. Still frustrated over my swim, I arrived at my bike, which wasn’t hard to find since it was the only one left on the rack. If there was any place I was going to make up time it would be on the bike.
I left T2 in a very familiar position, trailing half the field of athletes and needing to put in some work to pass them all. I had deliberately started the swim in the earlier part of the corral so that I could get out of the water and not have to constantly pass people. Unfortunately it didn’t quite go as planned. Fortunately, the course was wide enough that passing wasn’t too much of a challenge.
|Great action shot taken by the Dimond Bike guys. Such a fun bike!|
Immediately on the bike I felt great. I checked my heart rate and it was in the high 130’s, which was pleasantly surprising. Usually at this point in a race, it was spiking as I got my racing legs going. With a renewed focus, I drove on, committed to pushing the pace. I went through the first 25 miles in 1 hour. Then through mile 56 at 2:18. That was 6 minutes faster than my Oceanside bike split. The Dimond was performing brilliantly, and I was feeling very strong.
It was this boost of confidence that led to my next mistake. I got cocky and let my pride get the best of me. Seeing my half split, I knew I was on track to a rocking bike split. With a little luck, I could save my race. At around mile 60, I was passed for the first time. What I should have done was settle in legally behind him for a while and save some energy. What I did instead, once it was legal, was to proceed to pass him and start “racing”. Yes, I pulled away from him, but it would cost me later. I was now pushing my heart rate well above my aerobic threshold. It was way to early to do this.
As I continued on the second half of the bike, I continued to burn a bunch of matches making passes as the riders became increasingly stronger cyclists. I was beginning to feel it as we headed into the headwind on the chip seal roads. For the next 30 miles or so, the road would be bumpy and windy.
With about 10 miles left on the bike, I decided that it was best to back it off and get my heart rate back down into my aerobic zone. But by this time it was too late. My body was already firmly established in an anaerobic state, and there was no getting it back.
Into T2, and my bike split was 4:51, pretty close to my 4:50 goal, but it cost me a lot of energy to get there. The Dimond had performed superbly, and had helped me to achieve a 21 minute PR for a Ironman bike. Now onto the run.
Bike time: 4:51, 38th in 35-39, 12th best AG bike split
Once out of T2 and onto the run, I felt good and focused on my breathing, which had worked well for me in training. Looking at my heart rate, it was already going well into the 160s, which was too high to start a marathon. I tried to slow it down and keep it below 150, but it wasn’t happening. I struggled with this for the first few miles, until I decided to walk a section to try to get it down.
I took an inventory of my physical state to see where I was at. The only place that I was having trouble was that I couldn’t summon the strength to run for any significant distance. My legs were fatigued. Additionally, my heart rate would spike when I started running, so I would tire fairly soon after running. The good news was that my nutrition was spot on. I consumed 300 calories per hour, and I experienced no GI issues. I was well hydrated, and my mental capacities were in good shape (in other words, I didn’t seem to be at risk of heat stroke). So the game became run as far as I could before I had to walk.
At this point in the race, this became an effective strategy for me. I would run between the aid stations, walk the aid station to get my heart rate down, and start running again. I would also have to occasionally walk at other times as well. It was hot and humid, but I didn’t feel like that was affecting me too much. I had acclimated well, and didn’t feel uncomfortable from a heat standpoint.
In my first lap, I had the fortune of being passed by the lead female, a world champion, and a world champion runner up. The first was Angela Naeth, who I paced for a few seconds. Second came a while later when Leanda Cave passed me. Then shortly after was Rachel Joyce. As these women passed, I recognized why these women were pros. They were so incredibly strong, and their form was amazing. It is why I love this sport, because a guy like me can run side by side with the pros (for at least a brief amount of time). Throughout the course of the run, I would be passed by many more of the pro women as they finished their final laps, including Kelly Williamson and Heather Wertle.
Lap 2 was very similar to lap 1, and I think I even maintained a similar pace. If I was going slow, at least I was consistent. When I passed mile 13.1, I was still under 2 hours, so I had a faint glimmer of hope that I could complete the marathon in under 4:00. I quickly threw that thought out of my head as I remembered that that thinking on the bike had put me in the position I was in now. I then resolved to not look at my watch, and not follow my heart rate or pace, lest I get discouraged. I was going completely by feel.
I passed by a few of my Smart Triathlon Training teammates who looked very good. They all had a good day, with two top 5 finishes for Roger Wacker and Rusty Robertson.
It’s easy to recognize on this course how the crowd support can fuel you. I found myself running much faster and cleaner going through the massive crowds around the canal, but I suffered more on the outskirts where there wasn’t much support. On lap 3, the run course was starting to get crowded, and I started to get a new source of inspiration, as I was running with people who had stories to tell. These were the people that were going to finish late into the night, and would have been on the course for 15+ hours. For me, it’s hard to imagine being on the course for that long. These people truly have the “never quit” mentality.
When I ran into the canal section and got back to the crowds, I had a renewed energy from the crowd support. I ran through miles 22-24 only to walk during 25 again in the last aid station. After I got out of the aid station, I started running again and didn’t stop until I approached the fork in the road which led athletes onto the second and third lap. I pulled right into the finisher section and was greeted by tons of people lining the street to cheer on finishers. I looked back and saw that I was once again alone to enjoy the finish line on my own. I’ve been lucky for the last three races to do so.
As I ran through the finish chute, I was greeted by the catcher who brought me toward pizza and burritos. Surprisingly, both of those options sounded appetizing to me.
Run Time: 4:04, 31st in 35-39
Overall: 10:27:58, 31st in 35-39, 150/2587 overall
At the Kona rolldown, I knew that the slots would not go 31 deep in my age group, but I wanted to stick around to see how deep they did go. For my age group it rolled down as far as 11th place, with a time of 9:47. This was a far cry from the 9:30 I thought I needed. It goes to show that time goals are arbitrary, and anything is possible. I don’t have any resentments about this, as I still came through on a personally challenging day. Furthermore, I found that Kona is still on my radar, when it so happens that I have the race that gets me there. This race wasn’t my race to get there.
I learned a lot from this race, and I am taking away some valuable lessons. The first is to race within myself, and to accept the fitness I have. I could have had a better race if I had done this. The second is to do more open water swims. I really need to focus on how to translate my pool swim fitness to the open water.
Finally, I learned not to get discouraged, but to focus on the positive aspects of the race. A lot went well in this race, despite my best efforts to self sabotage. I swam a full Ironman swim without a wetsuit, a first for me and another fear conquered. I had a 21 minute PR on the bike, thanks to my new Dimond superbike. I had an Ironman PR despite a very tough day. And of course, I crossed the finish line, something everyone should be proud of. If I can continue to focus my attention on the positive, I can have much better races in the future.
A few days after the race, and I am already prepared to start training for Boulder, and to apply these principles to my race there. I am looking forward to staying within myself on the bike and actually running the marathon.
I am grateful for the lessons I learned in Texas. I’m grateful that I didn’t quit. I’m grateful that I was there to see some inspiring people finish the race. I’m grateful that I can look back and focus on another successful race. Ironman Texas may not have been the race I wanted to have, but it was the race I needed to have.
One of the defining images of California iconography, aside from the beaches and surfers, is certainly the insane amounts of traffic flowing into and out of our overcrowded cities. It’s an accurate portrayal of most of the populated areas of California, from San Diego through Los Angeles if you ask me, and if anyone wishes to experience a simulation of the overcrowded state of California in race form, then Ironman California 70.3 is your venue.
This would be my first race of the season, which is loosely packed with two half Ironmans and two fulls. In the offseason, I worked on my swim… a lot. I also worked on my bike… a lot. I suppose I worked on everything a lot because in the weeks leading up to the race I was logging 50+ mile running weeks as well. In the pool I was doing a lot of short intervals with short rest to try to increase my speed. I had a lot of success in increasing my paces in the pool, but I wasn’t sure how it would translate in open water.
My goals in this race were to a) swim close to a 1:30/100 yd pace for the 1.2 mile swim (about a 31-32 min swim), and b) hammer the hell out of the bike to see how fast I could go. In other words I wanted to try to blow myself up on the run to see what it would take. If I could blast out on the bike and still have a respectable run time, I would therefore increase my tolerance on the bike. I had hoped this would translate into about a 2:25 bike split. A large part of me just wanted to see what this bike could do though.
|Dimond Racked and Race Ready|
For the run I didn’t have many expectations, except that I hoped to do a 1:35 or under. I have a lot of trouble running “fast” and was hoping for a bit of a breakthrough. In 2 of my previous 3 70.3’s I had done a 1:40 half marathon. I had hoped to beat that to give me a bit more confidence that I could run a 3:30 or faster IM marathon come May.
|Weather before our wave start…|
|Weather during our wave start!|
I positioned myself at the front of the line on the far right side, wanting to avoid being caught behind people as much as possible and avoiding the notion that I was going to draft some people. I recognize now, after a number of races, that the draft effect in swimming is really only effective if you can go out hard and stay with the fast swimmers. I’m not a sprinter, so I couldn’t possibly hang with the fast guys, even at the beginning. So the best thing that drafting would do for me is get me behind someone is is about as fast (slow) as me, but possibly keep me with a much slower pack. I decided to just do my own race.
I ran hard into T1 and felt surprisingly fresh. Nothing significant here, just that it was a really long run. Then off on the bike.
Bike: 2:24 – 23.33 Mph
The plan was to bike hard and see what I could do, but I would have to wait before I could hammer down. It would be at least a few miles before I would have room enough to make any sort of move. Most of the beginning of the course is pretty technical, curving around greater than 90 degree turns to get onto Camp Pendleton. With the heavy traffic it would have made things extremely dangerous for everyone if I went into hero mode this early. Instead I sat back and let my legs get used to spinning.
Once onto the base I could finally start making passes, but the crowds didn’t really ever let up on the bike. Fortunately, this was my home course, and I was riding a Dimond. This bike handles so amazingly well I can’t even describe it. It just made putting a little extra power in that much easier. With control being much simpler, I could focus more on keeping the tempo high and maintaining a solid pace.
I didn’t know what to expect on the second half of the course, since it went through a restricted area of the base, but I knew the first half very well, which was advantageous, since I could anticipate the false flats, the punchy climbs, the faster areas, and even the potholes. This led to a pretty fast bike split through this area. Going through San Onofre was a blast as it was fast and flat, with plenty of room to flex some bike muscles. I knew that I could put down some high power here because the return on the effort is huge on these flat sections. I made a lot of passes here.
One of the many no passing zones came at the end of the San Onofre section before we turned onto Christianitos. As I settled in behind a rider, who was going pretty slow, we were passed by two other racers. The first time I was passed in the race and it was illegally. Once past this short no passing zone I was able to open it back up get back into my pacing. God I love this bike. Did I mention I love this bike?
|Above photos by David Petty Photography – www.davidpettyphotography.com|
Here’s where the course became unknown to me. I was racing literally in my backyard, but I could have been racing in Nashville. Everything from here on out would be new to me. It started out rolling as we went through Christianitos, and then made a sharp right to start climbing up Basilone. This was an amazing scenery, and for those moments on the course I wished I could be among the pros so that I could enjoy this course without the crowds. The untouched foothills of California are absolutely gorgeous, and it makes me sad to think of how much this has been destroyed over the rest of the state to add more condos, office buildings, outlet malls (I’m talking to you, San Clemente!), and freeways. Alright, off my soap box.
The hills were killer, and I wasn’t prepared for the two massive climbs we would have to take on. Regardless, I mashed through them and made it to the downhill sections where I could make up some of that lost speed.
After the second big climb, there was a no passing zone where a 25 mph speed limit was enforced through radar and timing mats. Everyone was well aware of this zone, as someone was killed here in 2001. Despite this, I was passed yet again by two racers (only the second time I was passed, and again illegally and dangerously). Once through this zone, it was essentially downhill for the remainder of the race with a bit of a headwind. But I put my head down and hammered through to the end.
For the last few miles, we faced the same meandering course that we did at the beginning, so I settled my heart rate a bit and was able to recover for a little while before getting to T2. Since we entered transition in a no passing zone, it was a perfect opportunity to bring the heart rate down and get fresh for the run.
Transition 2 was uneventful as well, and I was able to quickly get onto the run course.
Run: 1:40, 7:38 min/mile
I had left T1 in 53rd place in my age group and entered T2 in 8th. As I ran out of T2 I noticed how great I felt and looked at my pace. It showed about a 6:50 min/mile. I reassessed how I felt and realized that this pace felt really good, but decided to settle into a 7-7:15 pace instead so I didn’t burn my matches too early. I had a really good shot at a top 10 performance in a really competitive race, and I didn’t want to squander that by being too aggressive. In retrospect, I probably should have maintained the momentum and kept the pace strong. After all, the aggressive bike seemed to work this time, and I felt good on the run.
At mile 1 I grabbed some Gatorade and continued to dig, over and above the pier and on through miles 2 and 3. At mile 3 I decided to grab some Red Bull and immediately cramped up in my side. I tried to run through it, but it was one of those stabbing pains which I couldn’t tolerate. I had to walk, which was demoralizing since I was only at mile 3. I thought of solutions as I was being passed by concerned athletes asking if I was ok. I decided to take a salt pill. Unfortunately, I wouldn’t know if this was going to work for a while since it had to work its way through my system.
I’m still not sure what happened, but I have a feeling that I took in too much nutrition too early. I grabbed Gatorade at miles one and two, and I think I overdid it. Less is more, and I need to follow that mantra more often. Taking in too much in these races can often do more harm than good.
After about a half mile I was able to run again, but my pace never really recovered to my original awesome pace. I had to fight through the rest of the half marathon to maintain about a 7:30 pace. Doing the math, it wasn’t likely that I was going to hit m goal for a 1:35. I was constantly self-assessing, making sure that I was not dehydrated, calorie deficient, or about to cramp. As I ran through the last two miles I was able to steadily increase my pace until the final few hundred yards, where I saw two other racers ahead of me. The first one I knew was in my age group. The other I wasn’t so sure, but I decided that I wanted to make it a sprint finish and try to pass them both.
I succeeded in passing the guy who was in my age group and then increased my pace even more. I was able to pass the next guy just before the finish. Even though I didn’t meet my time goal on the run, the fact that I was able to sprint out the finish and pass two other people was very redeeming.
I ended up running a 1:40 half marathon, which is the very same time that I ran on 2 of my previous 3 half Ironmans. While I didn’t necessarily improve on my run, I was proud of this finish considering my strong bike leg.
|More photos by David Petty Photography (www.davidpettyphotography.com)|
My total race time was 4:44, good enough for 12th place out of 300+ athletes in my age group, and 107th overall out of about 3000 athletes overall. My best finish for a 70.3 to date, and a PR by 13 minutes. I really enjoy this distance, and want to commit myself to doing a lot more of these races next year while trying to get faster.
I have a lot of thanks to go out, especially to my wife and family for always supporting me. I want to thank Smart Triathlon Training for their guidance and effective training programs (my improvements would not be possible without them!). Thanks to Dimond Bikes for making the longest middle portion of this race so dang enjoyable. Their service and support is as amazing as their bike.
And a big thanks to David Petty Photography for taking some awesome pictures along the course. He took some great shots of a lot of athletes, and if you’re looking for shots of you, you may find them at his website. In my opinion, these are much better than the FinisherPix shots.
Next on the schedule will be Ironman Texas on May 16. I’m jumping right into my first full of the season, and it should be a hot and humid one. Hopefully by then I will have my nutrition dialed in! Until next time.
“The possibility of physical and mental collapse is now very real. No sympathy for the devil, keep that in mind. Buy the ticket, take the ride.” – Hunter S. Thompson, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
Okay, I promise that will be the last direct reference to Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas… but I can’t promise that I won’t break into fits of gonzo made famous by the good doctor. After all, Silverman is a race around the area of Las Vegas, deep in the heart of the American Dream. And “fear and loathing” were ever present during our weekend trip to the desert.
Of course, in order to participate in this race we never even had to set foot in the casino ridden lizard tank called “The Strip”. Instead, we swam at beautiful and desolate Lake Mead, biked the hilly surrounding park, and ran around the suburbs of Henderson, Nevada.
The gods were adamant on me not participating in this race. Days before we were slated to make the drive through the desert, my skin began to feel like it was being eaten by a million tiny parasites. My entire body from my face to my legs was covered in welts which felt like a horrendous sunburn. The bearded doctor that I visited made the brilliant proclamation that I had an adverse reaction to something. Mind blown, I went home and tried desperately to figure out what was wrong.
I chose not to take the medications that the doc provided, knowing full well that the antibiotics and steroids prescribed to me were meant as a placebo only, but would not address the main cause, which is what caused the reaction. I was hoping that whatever it was would go away over night, as we were set to go early the next morning.
I felt much better that evening as I went to bed, but soon began to toss and turn, itch like crazy, and feel nauseous. Not a good start, since a bad night of sleep two days before the race would not reflect well on race day.
The 3 am alarm went off and I was feeling terrible. Every time I got up I got light headed and felt like I was going to puke. At that time I made the difficult decision to forego the race and end my season rolled up in the fetal position feeling sorry for myself. So back to bed I went with a combination of guilt and relief.
Around 9 am, true to form, I changed my mind again. While I still felt like an addict in the grips of withdrawl, I decided to get out to Vegas in a hurry and try to make it to the race. So before we knew it we were on the road driving through the old familiar desert.
It turns out that vinegar was the culprit for my skin rash. It’s common that vinegar is used in cleaning and laundry products. It appears as though the use of one of these products in our laundry affected my skin and got worse as I tried to sleep in my bed. Needless to say, all of our laundry has been resoaked thoroughly.
We made it out to Henderson in the late afternoon just in time for check in. It is a surreal trip for an out of towner like myself, who used to frequent Las Vegas in the past for all its charm and revelry, to jump on the 215 and turn away from this despicable temptress, and land myself in a seemingly hospitable suburb. Something seemed not right about that, but that’s my problem. I recognize full well that my presupposition is part of my own prejudice, brought about by years of experience visiting a small and unreal subsection of Las Vegas called “The Strip”. In reality, the Strip is the exception, not the rule. There is lot’s more to see and do in this area besides lock yourself to a blackjack table and drink yourself into oblivion.
Check in was a breeze, as I assume everyone had already done so. It was very nice to have the run gear drop off right next to check in, but we had to head out to Lake Mead to drop off my bike. That process too was very easy. Once we got to the lake it was not crowded at all, and racking the bike was a very easy process.
The sun was still out, and the water looked inviting, so I decided to take a practice swim. This was an important thing for me, since this was looking to be the first non-wetsuit swim for me. While I was on edge about this, it was important for me to get through it as I continue to obsess about it. I won’t have a chance to do a non-wetsuit open water swim until Ironman Texas, which will likely not be wetsuit legal. I knew I needed to conquer that fear. So I had a nice little dip in the water, which was very nice and helpful to my confidence. But I was still frustrated with my swim time. Dang, I’m slow.
|Sarah got to enjoy the water as well!|
After enjoying our tradition of pre-race dinner sushi, we went to bed. I was still feeling the effects of the rash, and my heart was still racing trying to fight whatever it had to. I pretty much resigned myself that this race was not going to be my best. I decided that if worst came to worst, I would jog it in and focus on next year.
Race morning I was still pretty itchy, but feeling okay. Once we arrived to the swim start, we were shocked to learn that it was going to be wetsuit legal. We thought a glacier must have melted overnight nearby. It certainly didn’t feel like it would be legal the day before, but something magical must have happened during the course of the night. So I donned my wetsuit and got in the start line. Official water temperature was stated at 75 F.
Swim: 39:50; 101st in 35-39, 704th Overall… Ugh
|Rockin’ my lucky Vegas horseshoe mustache. (Quickly shaved shortly after this race due to creepiness factor)|
Fortunately, my age group was one of the first to begin the swim, after the pros, the AWA wave, and the 35-39 women, so I wouldn’t have to make a ton of passes on the bike like I did in Boise. Once they let our group into the water, I noticed that the temperature still seemed pretty warm. But this was in the mucky shoreline area, surely it would cool down once we got out into the depths. After the gun went off and we began hacking away at the water, I realized within 100 yards that there is no way this race should be wetsuit legal. I was swimming in a hot tub with a quarter inch of neoprene to hold in even more heat. Immediately I regretted wearing the wetsuit and had to allow water into my collar every few hundred yards.
Otherwise, the swim was very comfortable. With the wave starts, it’s easy to avoid being pummeled. Plus, when you’re a weak swimmer like me you tend to avoid all of the aggression. Despite that, the only physical issues I was having was my burning rash under my wetsuit. I had fits of scratching at it, only to realize that I couldn’t effectively provide any relief.
On the back half of the swim, it felt like we were facing a current going outward. It just felt like forever getting back to the beach, but finally I made it back in under 40 minutes.Not fast, but adequate to end this year. I allowed myself this last race to swim poorly. This off season is the time to really improve my swim.
But now out of the swim and into transition, this would be the time for me to shine if I could.
Transition 1: 2:54
Nothing exciting here, ran to the bike, got the helmet on, got on the bike, and went.
Bike: 2:52:27; 20th in 35-39, 145th Overall
This was where my race really started. Fortunately, my bike split was still within the top 10 or 11 in my age group despite not feeling my best. I took it very easy on the bike to start because I knew it would be hilly and hot. Not only would it be hilly throughout the national park, but then we would climb all the way out of Lake Mead and all the way to Henderson.
I didn’t begin making passes on the bike until we were about 5-10 miles in. At that point I found a rhythm (albeit a conservative rhythm), and gained some ground. This was definitely a climbing cyclist’s course, and it was filled with some aggressive riders. I chose not to push it as I didn’t want to risk injury or burnout to move from 20th place to 15th. I have had a tough recovery since Boulder, and I’m ready for some off season rest.
|Obligatory pirated race pic. Me riding the Vincent Black Shadow (so named for the sake of this report)|
The bike around the national park was pretty amazing, but at times a little sketchy, since we were sharing the two lane road with trucks and trailers. At times, a car would pass me only to settle in behind a bike in front of me. I am glad that some of the cars were playing it safe in this way, but it made passing difficult. At one point I pulled up next to a car who was following a cyclist and told them that I was going to make a pass. Fortunately they were courteous enough to let me by. You couldn’t ask for a better day though. Perfect weather and not much wind. The rolling hills were challenging, but fun.
After the turnaround, we did get our first dose of wind, and it would be in our faces all the way to the finish. Fortunately, it was not nearly as bad as it could have been. This race could be made much harder with a stronger wind and hotter temps. All in all it was fairly mild.
Once we got out of the park and started toward Henderson, the climbing started to become annoying. With about 15 miles to go it started to “flatten” out. But these were false, steady climbs which burned down the legs even more.
Transition finally came, and I was grateful to be off the bike and done climbing. Total climbing was about 4,000 ft by my Garmin’s estimates, which is about as much as the Boulder full. Here’s the Garmin File.
Transition 2: 3:53
No big story to tell here either. Almost ran out with my helmet on, and then stopped at a porta potty. Ran out feeling pretty good.
Running out of transition I felt great, which was odd to me. My run had really been poor since Boulder, and I was having a tough time getting it back. But out of transition I began running in the high 6 minute miles to start. Granted, it was downhill for the first half mile or so, but it still felt good.
Essentially, the course is never flat. It resembled an old Nintendo cheat code. Down, up, up, down down, up, up, down, down, up, up, down. Then you get an extra life (or in reality, the exact opposite). As we made the turnaround to start heading uphill the first time, I still felt great, and was able to cruise the uphills at around 8:30 miles. Heading back downhill to complete the first lap and start the second, I could already feel myself slowing. I was able to run at sub 8, but fatigue was setting in.
By the halfway point of the run, my fatigue and sickness was starting to catch up with me. I was starting to struggle to keep pace, and the heat and hills were getting to me. I walked the last few aid stations and shuffled my way through the rest of the second lap and third. My goal became to get to the top of the hill at mile 12.5 and then coast downhill to the finish (without puking). Finally at the top of the hill, I was able to run downhill at a low 7 minute pace and finish “strong”. While I didn’t have a specific goal for this race because I didn’t know what to expect, given the hills, heat, and my general fatigue, I wanted to beat 5:30. I ended up at 5:29. Mission complete.
I was so relieved at that point to be done with this absolutely great season. This training season was long, with two seasons tied together in one, and so it is absolutely necessary for me to take a break for a few weeks before getting back into training. This will be hard for me, as I’m conditioned to keep working, and I’ll likely be climbing the walls until I can start training again.
Silverman, while still not the original race it once was, is not a race to be taken lightly. This is not just a end of season jog around the park. If this race is treated as anything other than an “A” race, you’re setting yourself up for a lot of pain. I made that mistake this year, feeling a general amount of apathy prior to the race and not being fully prepared, but fortunately I was still able to finish strong-ish. If I do this race again (which, due to it’s beauty and challenge is likely to be the case), I will certainly treat it with the respect it deserves. Every other time I have made the trip home from Vegas, I had left feeling exhausted and defeated. This was no exception. But unlike the other times, I was actually pleased with how I performed on the trip.
But now it’s time to enjoy a few weeks off, and then begin a maintenance program prior to my build up to IM Texas 2015!
|For those of you who don’t want to read the full report, this says it all|
Finishing Time: 10:37:01, 89th/2,343 Overall, 22nd/300 35-39 AG
Boulder, Colorado is such an entertaining town. It reminds me a lot of Santa Barbara – both are meccas for fit people who seemingly don’t work, yet have access to a hidden tree with unlimited leaves of money. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t find the tree, but I did find a lot of things to like about Boulder. Most significantly, there is a strong sense of community in this little town. So many friendly people and great support from the locals. Additionally, there is really something for everyone. It is a little bit of urban nestled in rural surroundings. It’s flat plains among the Rocky Mountains. It’s a place to race, as 2400 of us did this weekend, and become Ironmen.
We opted to stay in the more rural part, East of Boulder, since the hotels in town were pretty expensive. To give you a sense of what it was like, here was our home for the week. It was incredible with some lovely views, lots of chickens, and a turtle. It was also right on the bike course, so I could hop out and train on the roads.
|This was the property we stayed at. The little place on center right is the house|
The week of rain and cold and rainy weather had passed and left us with mild temperatures and a cooled reservoir – perfect for a wetsuit swim. Saturday was an absolutely perfect day, with no wind and cool weather. Too good to be true, and I was already anticipating this to be the calm before the storm. Despite the perfect conditions on Saturday, I was certain that the wind would kick in on Sunday, blowing us around on the swim as it did in St. George 2012, and that lightning bolts would take out half the swim field. Those of us who would make it to the bike would be greeted with tornadoes at the far eastern portion of the course. If we didn’t get lifted into a twister, we most certainly would have been taken out by a projectile in the form of a triathlon bike. Those things are aero, and they’ll take off body parts. I didn’t even concern myself with worrying about the run, but the very few that made it there would be pelted with golf ball sized hail stones, or fry in 100 degree heat, but nothing in between. As you can see, I’m always thinking about the worst case scenario. The common theme? All of this was out of my control. I had done everything that was within my control. I was well trained, it was just time to execute.
|Pre race ritual of sushi dinner. Hasn’t failed me yet!|
After a dinner tradition of eating sushi, and a surprisingly good night sleep (4-5 hours), I was up at 2 am on Sunday morning to get some yoga and meditation in. This always serves to give me a little morning flexibility and calm before a swim. Breakfast was a blueberry/banana/quinoa/oatmeal smoothie to be followed by a banana/oatmeal/almond butter smoothie two hours before race time. The whole day would consist of a liquid diet. This keeps it very simple for me, and has given me great success in the past.
We were out the door by 3 am to get down to the high school to catch the shuttle. Well, I was going to catch the shuttle, my wife and kids were going to get more sleep in the car. Just a quick word about that. As Ironman athletes, we have to hand it to our families. My wife, kids, and parents woke up hours before the sun would rise to simply spectate at a triathlon. The times they would see me over the next 10+ hours could probably be counted on one hand, and would be brief. Yet they had smiles on their faces all day and enjoyed the hell out of it. It meant a great deal to me that they enjoyed the race, and that they chose to be there to support me.
At the high school, I noticed that the breeze was picking up. Not heavy, but still a bit breezy. “Oh great,” I thought. “Here it comes. I’ll be fighting white caps the size of houses out there.” I told myself to shut up and focus on execution. This is called “Ironman”, not “Porcelain Boy”. It was time to grow a pair.
At the reservoir the weather was lovely. Light breeze, cool weather, water temperature of 74. Bike tires were inflated, nutrition was at the ready, toilet was used (about 4 times). All systems were go.
I headed over to the corral where I was sure I would be overwhelmed by claustrophobia among the 3,000 other athletes jockeying for position. That wasn’t the case. It was more like walking into a cloud of nervous excitement. As it was in Cabo, it was much like an out of body experience, as if I was watching it from the sidelines thinking “these people are crazy.”
And then the cannon fired.
The rolling start is like a pressure control valve, only allowing a limited number of athletes to enter the water at a time, as opposed to the mass start which is a free for all. The rolling start really helps to spread out the field. I very leisurely followed my group standing within the 1:00 to 1:15 seeding area into the water and my race had begun. Very quickly I moved wide right to stay away from others and get clear water. This was great in that I had virtually zero contact the entire swim. Unfortunately, it also meant that I had no feet on which to draft. However, I knew that at this point my swim was a lost cause. I will focus on improving my swim in the off season, but for now the goal was to survive and get in between 1:15 and 1:20.
The swim was relatively uneventful. It consisted of two turns, which made it very easy to navigate and break into parts. I would focus on getting to the first buoy, then the second, and then the finish. I counted my strokes and sighted every 20 – 40 strokes. This was effective and made for a pretty straight swim. Since I wasn’t sighting very often, I accidentally jammed my finger tips into some poor woman’s neck. She was resting in a vertical position, and my right hand came at full force like a Vulcan death grip into the back of her neck. She screamed in pain, and all I could do was apologize. I felt so terrible about that, but I really hope the rest of her race went well!
After the second buoy, we ran into a lot of weeds. My arms had to come way up to avoid getting them tangled, and most of the 1,000 athletes which had already passed through had ripped it all up so that it was getting onto my face. The issue was very brief, and I continued to swim toward the exit. Getting up from the swim I saw my time and was disappointed, but it was what I expected. On my feet I felt very fresh for the bike leg.
Swim Time: 1:20:53, 1,089th/2,343 Overall; 177th/300 35-39 AG
The first transition was a bit disorienting. Since I’m a slow swimmer, yet still want to go fast for the rest of the race, I am very out of place. Most of the people coming out of the water at this point are taking their time. I, on the other hand, want to get on my bike as quickly as possible where I can start to race strong. This is 100% my problem, so I have no right to be rude or pushy to those who are going slower. Once again, it just comes down to the fact that I have to improve my swim.
I ran to the transition bag area and couldn’t immediately locate my bag, and the volunteers were busy with other racers, so I had to backtrack a bit to get it. Running toward the tent, I noticed a lot of people changing outside the tent. I decided to follow suit, on the assumption that the tent was full of people. I got my helmet on, and nearly forgot my glasses (had to backtrack for those too) and carried my shoes toward the tent. It was my intent to run through the tent and get to my bike, but someone in front of me had other ideas. Note that above I mention that I don’t want to be pushy, but in the middle of a race, if you’re going to stand and rest for a while, don’t do so in an active runway. I said “coming through” no less than three times before finally nudging my way by him. He wasn’t too happy about that, but hopefully he had a little more consideration on the bike course. Blocking is against the rules. No matter, I was off and on to the bike.
Over the past year, cycling has become my strong event. There are some difficulties associated with being a fast cyclist and a slow swimmer when there are over 2,000 people racing. I finished the swim behind nearly half the field of racers. I had a lot of passing to do. The rules state that once you enter a person’s draft zone (within 4 bike lengths) you have 20 seconds to complete the pass. Additionally, once you enter the draft zone, you can’t drop back again, you have to make the pass. This means that a lot of energy has to be exerted to make a pass on another racer, since you can’t sit side by side with someone and take your time making a pass. I passed over 900 athletes on the bike leg, which came to a rate of one racer every 20 seconds or so. Essentially, over the first 60-70 miles, I was constantly in passing mode.
Perhaps I was biking too hard at the beginning but I was feeling good. Around mile 40, I ended up losing one of my aero bar pads. After going back to retrieve it (which cost me about 2 minutes), I realized that the Velcro was completely gone. I would have to ride the next 75 miles with no aero bar pad on my left side. Fortunately, it didn’t bother me too much. If that was the only issue on the bike I was going to have, I would take it!
Since I was going pretty hard at the beginning of the bike, I noticed my stomach nausea starting to pop up around mile 50. Fortunately at this point I was beyond the big packs and could back it off a bit. I dropped my heart rate back to the high 130’s to let my digestive system catch back up. After this I found a really good rhythm.
You couldn’t have asked for better conditions on the bike course. It was sunny, but mild with not much wind. The wind we did have only gave a slight benefit as it was never really a head wind, and thus helped to propel me forward. The support out there was absolutely great. In the middle of nowhere we had people in lawn chairs cheering us on. This is what makes this sport fun.
In the later miles of the course I was beginning to be all alone, which is how I like it. It was actually really nice and peaceful out there. I made it up the last couple hills, descended into town, and headed toward T2.
Bike Time: 5:12:00, 21.5 MPH
After a flying dismount on the bike, I ran into T2, which was located in the Boulder High School stadium. After I handed off my bike to a lovely volunteer, I proceeded to run through the bag transition bag area. One of the things I don’t think the race director’s anticipated was the fact that the sharp, black running track would be hell on racers’ bare feet. They were on mine. It felt hot and sharp, but I didn’t really feel it until I got into the tent (with adrenaline and all). It was at that point that I noticed a couple blisters forming on each feet from the track. It was beginning to feel like walking on needles as I began to run out of transition. Uh oh…
After running out of transition, I decided that bloody feet were bloody feet and that I would push it as much as I could. Again, this was supposed to hurt!I felt great initially, and headed downhill along the creek path. The initial miles were good, and I was running low 8’s while trying to keep my heart rate below 150. At this point on the run I was pretty much all alone. I became a little worried at one point and had to ask if I was going the right way. Thankfully I was, and I continued. I anticipated that the second time down this course it would become much more crowded.
I was able to see my family about 4 times on the course which was awesome. I was really stoked that they could be out there to watch me suffer. They seemed to be enjoying it too! 🙂
|High fiving my kids|
At the bottom of every hill you have to run back up, and that’s just what we had to do after the first 10K. I decided to pace myself on the way back up and make sure I stayed hydrated. It was about here that I started to walk the aid stations also. I was beginning to start hurting early. I was able to keep my heart rate down, but I was just having trouble firing my legs. But, I kept running, albeit at a slower pace. With the punchy hills and false flats, this was truly a tough run course.
Once at the top of the creek again, I was able to turn around and enjoy another downhill, but I was still hurting. Once at the bottom of the hill around mile 17 or so my legs were starting to shut down. I was having a lot of trouble getting my calories in simply because the honey stingers mixed with salt began to taste like bile. I did what I could, but at the remaining aid stations I began to take in coke.
I was looking forward to the aid station on Pearl and Foothill because a video was supposed to play of my wife and kids at the Newton Running Lab. Unfortunately, my video didn’t get triggered so I never got to see it. But the good news was only a 10K to go. 10K left was a place I was fantasizing about getting to at the beginning of the marathon, but once I got there I was dreading it. The next 4.5 miles would be up a gradual hill which ate me up the last time I climbed it. This time it would destroy me for sure.
The marathon of an Ironman destroys your spirits. In each race, here and in Cabo, I got the feeling that I was blowing up and not feeling well at all. It was a demoralizing feeling that it would be impossible to finish with even only a small relative distance to go. But that’s how this marathon is different and more significant than any other marathon. This marathon is all about a person’s ability to suffer and persist. In this marathon you are going to have pain, you are going to feel like crap, you are going to want to quit. But you don’t, and that’s what makes you an Ironman. It was at the trough of this hill, looking at a 4.5 miles of uphill that I finally remembered this and continued to push through the pain. Even though there was 10K to go, I took it an aid station at a time, walking it and then running between them. People said I looked strong, and I wondered who they were looking at, because it certainly wasn’t me.
The last little hill was the hardest. It was about mile 24 that brought us to the very crest of creek path. At the top of that hill was a golf cart which signified the last turnaround and the last couple miles to Mike Riley’s silky smooth voice. At the top of the hill I broke into sprint as I went downhill. I began to feel reinvigorated and full of energy. The pain had left me and I kind of felt a bit cheated, like I wish I had felt like this for the rest of the run.
Once back at the high school, I hit the fork in the road with the two signs going to the left and right, “2nd Lap” and “To finish”. As I turned to the right the people cheered me on as if I had won the race. Turning onto Arapahoe I saw the mass of spectators lining toward 13th and the finish line. I saw nobody ahead of me as I approached 13th. As I turned left toward the finish I looked behind me. Nobody. I was going to have this moment all to myself!
I began to tear up at that moment. Thinking about all that I’ve been through to get here. The poor decisions I’ve made in the past, as well as the decision to improve my life culminated in this moment. This finish line was not a finish line at all, but a celebration of all that was accomplished. The big “Ironman” arch that I began to approach didn’t signify an end, but a continuation. A doorway to a greater chapter of life.
I heard the cheers and took it all in with a final spin at the finish line. I couldn’t quite hear what Mike Riley had said, but it was along the lines of “a few years ago he was out of shape and abusing alcohol, but today he’s an Ironman.” It wasn’t the trademark “You are an Ironman!”, but it’s a better message, and more personal. It reminded me of why I had done this, and hopefully inspires people that they can make a dramatic and positive change in their lives.
Run Time: 3:53:35, 8:54/mile
After the finish line I found my wife and hugged her and cried. It was a long and hard day, especially with the run, but I had done it. More than 2,000 others would do the same that day for their own reasons, big and small.
I had hoped that I could run a 3:30 marathon, but it wasn’t my day for that. The run course was just too tough. I know that a lot of people had a hard time with the run course, and the times reflected it that day. I am very happy with my time, and only hope to continue to improve over the next year so that I can meet Mike at the finish line again in Kona. By my math, I was about 6-7% off of a Kona time at this race. Looks like 10% improvement is still in order!
A big thanks to everyone who supported my fundraising goal for charity:water. Also, to my wife, kids, and parents for coming out to support me. Boulder was a wonderful city to host this event, and I’m sure it will only improve next year. I am signed up and will see you then!
It’s official. It’s been one year since my first triathlon. How did I celebrate? By doing the same triathlon I did a year ago, of course! And what a great day it was.
Unlike last year, where I had signed up for this race to get my first experience in triathlon before I jumped deep into the world of iron distance racing, I signed up this year to give myself a good speed race/warm up leading up to Ironman Boulder. The main purpose? Don’t screw up and hurt yourself 3 weeks out from race day. Primary mission accomplished.
Carlsbad is an interesting sprint triathlon because it is a bit longer than traditional sprints. It’s a 1 km swim followed by a 25 km bike followed by a 5 km run. But the pace is still fast and furious.
|Racked and Ready|
In a nutshell, the race went great. I won’t go into great detail, but over the course of the year I improved on my time by about 10 minutes, all of which was realized on the bike and the run. I finished in 6th place in my age group out of 68 overall, missing a podium by about 3 minutes.
In fact, I had the fastest bike split out of anyone in my age group. I was pretty proud of that! The run is also steadily improving with slower gains, but gains nonetheless. My swim has had zero improvement. It is becoming clear that this is my limiter. With a respectable swim I would have been on the podium. My swim was much slower than respectable. It is apparent that I will need to find additional help with my swim if I want to get to the next level in this sport.
I think what it is coming down to is that I still have an element of discomfort in the water. While I have been a water person all my life – surfing, swimming, etc., only recently have I ventured into actual “swimming”. I’m learning that, much like golf, a lot of things have to line up in order to have good form. As an adult onset swimmer, I’m finding it very hard to improve.
So the next stop is Boulder, Colorado and over a weeks worth of training at altitude prior to taking on the Ironman for the second time this year. Should be a fantastic week filled with all sorts of fun, silliness, and inspiration. I’ll keep my journal up as we get closer.
Swim – 18:14
Bike – 41:01
Run – 20:33
Overall – 1:19:50 – 6th/68 AG, 45th/743
By the way, this was the second race in a row where I was racing with Apolo Ohno. Turns out he was local training here for his big day in Kona. I am hopeful if these things happen in threes, then perhaps I will race with him there as well (very, very wishful thinking). In Boise I beat his time by about 2 minutes. In Carlsbad he smoked me, and actually won his age group. Clearly a world class athlete!