Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Ironman 70.3 Florida Race Report

Ironman 70.3 Florida was a fantastic race. Here’s my little recap (edit: it turned out to be not so little)…

I flew down with my dad and Becky on Friday afternoon. Traveling with all your race gear is a bit of a hassle, but fortunately I used TriBike Transport to get my bike there, so that was one less thing to worry about. The trip down was smooth and uneventful, which is always a good thing.

Saturday morning we drove the course before anything else. I always like to do this when traveling to a race where I don’t know the course so I can get an idea of what I’ll be in for. No surprises. After driving the course I went to packet pick up and got the registration stuff done. The village was awesome. There were tons of vendors selling merchandise and food and it was a really fun atmosphere. Everything was right at the park too, which was convenient. After registration I stuck around for the athlete briefing and then headed over to the TriBike Transport tent to pick up my bike. I swapped out my rear wheel and got the Zipp Super 9 on the back and headed out for a quick spin to loosen up the legs. About five minutes into the ride my power meter stopped working. I pulled over and played with it and my Garmin head unit to see what the problem was. I tried recalibrating it…nothing. So I continued on and finished up a quick ten miles and then went to get my bike checked out. Rather than stand in the long line at the mechanics, I went over to the SRAM/Zipp tent to see if they would check it out. This awesome guy named Carl was working in the tent and he checked it out for me. It turns out that on the bumpy road on the way out of town the magnet for the ANT+ signal for my power meter bounced off. Carl replaced the magnet and the battery for good measure and got everything all set and recalibrated for me. He told me to return the favor by getting a Zipp front wheel on the bike to replace the Reynolds. I told him I’m working on it. It was awesome service from this company.

After getting my bike ready I went and dropped it off in transition so I didn’t have to deal with it in the morning. I’ll do whatever I can do reduce the hassle on race day.

Then it was time to head back to the hotel, clean up, and go grab a pre race meal.  We went to this little Italian place where we had eaten the night before and I went with my standard chicken parmigiana. It was the same thing I’d had the night before, but whatever. If it works, don’t try to fix it. After dinner we headed back to the hotel and I was laying in bed by 8pm. I slept for about an hour, then woke up for about three hours, and then slept for a couple more hours. I woke up on my own accord at 3:30am. I never sleep well before races.

I got to transition at 5am and did the normal once over check of the bike, topped off the tires, and set up my gear. It was pretty quick and easy as I had laid everything out the day before. I set things up, briefly rehearsed my transition approach, loaded on the sunscreen, and headed over to the water to get a good seat, because I was going to be waiting a while.

The male pros went off at 6:30am. My wave did not go off until 7:35am. Yuck. I ate my traditional blueberry muffin and banana breakfast about an hour before my wave and then took a gel down about five minutes before we hit the water.

The horn sounded and off we went. The water was a smoking hot 82 degrees and you could feel it. I started sweating early. The swim was in the shape of an ‘M’ with buoys on the right, which is helpful for me sighting because I breathe to the right. I did alright finding feet and drafting on the way out, but after that it was too hard because we swam in to the waves before us. It was crowded and a pretty physical swim. I took a few elbows and kicks so I generally tried to stay to myself and out of the groups. It was tough with all the corners though. I exited the water in just over 32 minutes, which is by no means quick, but it was my best half iron swim (not counting Poconos which I’m positive was quite short). I was 20th in my age group coming out of the water. Time to make up some ground on the bike…

I got through transition with no issues and had a nice flying mount (one of the volunteers even commented on it). I quickly got up to speed and got my feet in my shoes. The road right out of transition was pretty rough and there were some quick turns and little climbs, but after about two miles it got better. I went to work, but made sure I didn’t over cook myself. I kept a close eye on my power meter with a goal of keeping my power around 270, but not over. I knew with the heat I would need to save a little extra for the run. My legs felt good and the course was fast. There were a few technical spots where there were multiple, quick turns where you had to really be careful. And since I was in the 14th wave, there were also a ton of people already on the course, which was not ideal. I saw quite a bit of drafting and some really big groups that were hard to get around. It is a big frustration when I have to put on the brakes because people are riding three wide and I didn’t want to risk crossing the yellow line and getting a penalty. It is what it is though and I tried to ride as safely as I could within the laws of the sport. One of the funniest things that happened during the race was when I passed someone on one of the turns. If you’ve ever heard a Zipp disc you know it has a very distinct sound it makes as the air comes off it. It’s a loud “whoosh, whoosh” noise. As I passed this guy he looked over at me and said “That sounds awesome.” He’s right. It does. I ended up averaging 252 watts and 24.7 mph, which gave me a 2:16 bike split, and put me first off the bike in my age group. My nutrition on the bike consisted of one package of Clif Shot Bloks, three Powerbar Gels, five Saltstick pills, a bottle of Gatorade, two bottles of water (picked up from the aid stations), and a bottle of Coke.

I got my feet out of my shoes with plenty of room to spare before coming into T2. After my debacle at Flower City I made sure to be prepared this time. I hopped off my bike as I rolled up to the dismount line and ran into transition. It was another long run with my bike and I had a little trouble finding my spot because the tree I was using to help myself locate it had a twin that I went to first. I threw on socks and shoes, grabbed my race number and visor, and headed out to the run course.

I knew I was in for a little bit of suffering because the bottoms of my feet already hurt. I think I had a lot of sand on my feet when I put my cycling shoes on, so the constant rubbing while I rode had started to take its toll and gave me some blisters. The heat from the road and the soaking wet feet from all the water I doused myself with were not going to help the situation. Regardless, I went to work and told myself to run comfortably and not go out too hard. The run was a triple loop, which was nice because my dad and Becky got out on the course so I got to see them quite a bit. The run course had two pretty good hills in the first mile and a half of the 4.4 mile loop. These hills were destroying people in the heat. So many people were walking up them. I even saw a male pro (probably on his third lap) as I went up the first time that was staggering up it from side to side. They started 65 minutes before I did, so this guy was clearly tapped. I kept my salt intake up on the run to make sure my electrolytes were replenished by taking another salt pill at the start of each run loop, so three more total. At every aid station I had the same routine: water, Coke, water (mostly thrown on my face to wash off the Coke that spilled all over me), and grab as much ice as possible and stuff it down my shirt and shorts. I saw my dad and Becky for the first time about three miles into the run. They let me know at this point that they were pretty sure I was first off the bike. That gave me a little confidence boost and some additional motivation. As long as I didn’t completely blow up, I was getting a Vegas slot. Pace yourself. That’s what I kept saying to myself. Lap one was finished in 27 minutes and change, 6:22 min/mile pace. Lap two started with those hills again and there were lots of people on the road now because more people had finished the bike. It was getting hotter and people were suffering. I refused to walk at any point but I definitely slowed to an 8 min/ mile pace climbing those hills as I didn’t want to take too much out of myself. About half way through the second lap I saw Ali Rutledge, a teammate!
Ali and I post race.
We spoke briefly, gave each other some encouragement, and I continued on. Not far down the road I saw my dad again and he confirmed I was definitely in first place for my age group and I had a 3.5 to 4 minute lead….more confidence. I finished lap two in just over 29 minutes. I had slowed slightly, but that was still 6:47 min/mile pace and I only had 4.5 miles to go. My blisters were now killing my feet and my legs were starting to hurt. I knew this lap was going to be a “grit your teeth and embrace the suck” experience. I continued my aid station pattern and suffered through the last lap, keeping my pace at 6:55 min/mile.

I turned the corner and headed for the finish line, 98 percent sure I had won my age group. Since my wave was split in half, I had to wait five minutes to make sure no one from the second wave caught me. Time passed and no one came in, so with a time of 4:20:19, I won my first ever Ironman 70.3 age group. I ended up having the fastest bike and run splits, which was really rewarding for me and something I definitely would not have been able to do a year ago. I have been a strong biker for the past year in races, but I always gave up time on the run. Opening up my lead on the run shows all my work on that sport is paying off. I have to thank Steve Rosinski and Mike Hoffman for all the runs we’ve done together since January. Those two are phenomenal runners and have really pushed me.

After the race I took my shoes off to reveal some nasty blisters. Some were normal blisters with fluid, some were blood blisters, and some had already ripped completely open and were raw. Lovely. I drank some water, grabbed a Coke and a banana, and headed over to medical to get them cleaned out and put some bandages on. The medical tent people were great. They got me fixed up and on my way.

Eventually my stomach settled and I ate some real food while we waited to claim the Vegas spot. I got that taken care of and waited for the awards ceremony. I even grabbed a picture with women’s winner and top five Kona finisher, Mary Beth Ellis.

Me with Mary Beth Ellis!
Overall, this was a great event. Everything was well organized, the course was fast but challenging with the hills on the run and the heat, and the park had great vendors and food options for spectators. I signed up for this race with the goal of getting a Vegas spot early in the year and fortunately the day went my way and I was able to get that done. Thanks to Towpath Bike Shop and for all their help and support in my training and racing. They are both great companies.

Eleven days to Keuka…

Friday, May 10, 2013

Tan Lines

As spring rolls around in upstate New York it’s an exciting time of the year. It means that race season is upon us, but it also means I can finally get outside and off the trainer/treadmill routine from the winter. And with the resurrection of outdoor training and racing come the inevitable tan lines. There are lots of tan line possibilities depending on what you train and race in, and I would venture a guess that most of us have a few different lines from the variety of activities we do.

My tan lines say lot about me and where I’m at with my training. When the weather first warms up I get on my bike and ride as much as I can. I want to up my mileage and it’s way more fun to explore the countryside than stare at my basement wall. With all this outside riding come the “biking tan lines.” Included are the straight, precise lines across my biceps (or where they would be if I had any muscle in my arms) and quads and the high sock line. Then there is the watch line on the left wrist and the Road ID line on the right. I wear these lines proudly. They are an indication that I have been putting in the time and work required on my bike. I take care to make sure I properly set my sleeves and shorts in the correct position each day before I head out to avoid the gradual fade line. It’s simply not as impressive or funny looking and it is a violation of Rule #7 of the Velominati

I also have a set of running tan lines. I wear shorts and socks the same length as my bike stuff so as to reinforce those lines. I usually run without a shirt because it saves on laundry (seriously, do the math… 4 runs per week x 1 shirt per run = 4 shirts per week. 4 shirts per week x 4 weeks per month = 16 shirts per month. 16 shirts per month x 5 months where it’s warm enough to run shirtless = 80 shirts), so this implements the heart rate monitor line. I understand that I am sunning my torso slightly which will have a small impact and lessen my bike lines, but I can assure you it is not enough to take away from effect.

My pool is indoors, so I get no sun when swimming. For those of you who train at beautiful, outdoor pools, I am jealous.

Finally, there are the race tan lines. Depending on the length of the course, these usually end up more as burn lines for me despite my greatest efforts of sunscreen use. It washes off in the water and because, by nature, I sweat like a pig. Water and sweat proof my ass. These are the lines that make it look like I went and played beach volleyball in a sports bra for 10 hours using tanning oil instead of sunscreen (see photo below). I’ve also had the writing on the back of my legs burn in nicely, reminding me for a month how old I am and what my race number was. The absolute worst is when your top rides up a little bit and the small of your back burns giving you a very questionable looking tan line, especially for a male (Yes, that's me. And no, that's not an undergarment.)

Some people work hard to avoid tan lines (i.e. wear different suits, sun bathe in skimpy outfits, or spend time in the skin cancer box at Sun Tan City or the like) but I embrace them. When I take my clothes off, I want it to look like I’m still wearing my cycling kit. It's good for a laugh or two if nothing else. 

What do your tan lines say about you? Have you been outside earning them by putting in the hours? If not, it’s time to get to work. Mine are coming in nicely.

(Post IM Cozumel burn)

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Flower City Race Reports

Flower City Duathlon - Saturday, April 27

The Flower City Duathlon is a race I’ve wanted to do for a couple of years because it’s Rochester’s first real multisport race of the season, but never had the chance because for the past two years, I’ve had class on the Saturday of the race. This year it finally worked out so I could race and I figured it would be a great way to work out some cobwebs before 70.3 Florida. Considering the last time I raced was September 30 of last year, I was quite ready to finally toe a starting line again. After seven months of hard work, it’s fun to test yourself in a race.

Race morning was a little chilly, so the decision of how much to wear was a little difficult. I opted to take the chance of being cold and just went with arm and leg warmers under my race kit and gloves. Usually if my hands are warm the rest of me can deal. It turns out that I chose well because I was never too warm or cold during the race. Bonus for me.

There were lots of friends and teammates racing, so the prerace was spent talking with people and trying to stay relaxed. No matter how big or small a race is my nerves are always crazy before a race.

My goal for the first run was to not get dropped too badly by the strong runners. I knew there were a few guys who could definitely outrun me and I didn’t want to start the bike knowing I had a lot of work to do catching guys. I wanted to use the bike to build myself a cushion for the second run. We took off on the first run and I stayed with lead group through the first mile. I felt pretty good and didn’t feel like I was struggling too much to keep up with them. At that point I decided they weren’t going to put a huge gap on me in the next two miles, so I felt safe just running what was comfortable for me and figured if I was within 30 seconds coming into T1 I’d be in good shape.

The rest of the run went according to plan and I came in 11 seconds back after the first run. My Garmin had me at a 5:34/mile pace which was a pleasant surprise. A decent but not great transition had me out on my bike in around 40 seconds. Somewhere in there I passed three of the four guys who entered before me, but I didn’t realize it. I thought Mike Hoffman and Nate Lowe beat me out. I must have passed the other guy within the first mile of the bike too, so I had an early lead riding out. But I was riding like I was trying to chase guys down so I went to work on the bike. I averaged 312 watts for the first ten miles and was in the process of building myself a nice lead. At this point I realized I must have passed people in transition and assumed I had the lead. I didn’t think any of the strong runners had a strong enough bike to ride away from me. The second half of the bike was generally flat and there was a nice tail wind pushing us home, so I cruised in trying not to hurt myself too badly. I finished the 20 miles in 48:39 and averaged 301 watts for the bike.

My entrance into T2 was wretched. I started taking my feet out of my shoes too late, so I got off my bike with one foot out of my shoe and the other still in my shoe and clipped in. Embarrassing. I got through that mess without falling over or screwing anything else up, got my runners on, and off I went for the final run. At this point I was hoping I had given myself a large enough lead to hold off any strong runners who might be able to chase me down. My legs felt a little heavy from the big effort on the bike, but my Garmin told me that I was moving right along. After the first mile I saw my dad out on the course and he told me that I had a good lead out of T2. I backed it off a little at that point for a couple of reasons: 1) I had to run the half marathon the next day and 2) I had put my timing chip on too tightly over the zipper of my leg warmers and it was digging into the tendon on my left ankle and was killing me. Oops. I ran the second run at a 5:38/mile pace and crossed the line in first, excited for my first win of the season, in a time of 1:25:06.

Huge thanks go out to Towpath Bike Shop for all the help in preparing for the race. They got my bike ready to race with a tune up and upgraded my Speed Concept with some new parts to get my new Zipp Super 9 on. The bike felt nice and tight and rode great. The guys there always do an awesome job on it. There were lots of teammates out on course rocking their Towpath kits as well. It was great to see so many of them out there and we claimed a lot of age group podium spots. A great job by the entire team!

Flower City Half Marathon - Sunday, April 28

It was pretty safe to say my legs were a bit sore after the duathlon. I signed up for this race because it’s only like an extra $20 to do both races and since I would have done a long run on Sunday anyway, I figured I would challenge myself and push a little harder than I normally would. I don’t do many open running races, so this was kind of new for me.

Prerace was pretty mellow. I drove down to the start with my sister, who was also running. I ate my standard blueberry muffin on the walk to the start. The weather was beautiful and perfect for running. It was slightly warmer than the day before and the sun was shining. I was happy just to be there.

I lined myself up near the front and off to the side, not knowing how fast people would take off from the start. My plan was to hold back a bit for the first half and then, if my legs felt alright, to push it a bit harder the second half. I was hoping to run in the 1:22-1:23 range, which was mostly based off a 1:27 I ran in a half ironman last year. When the gun went I settled into a rhythm that felt comfortable for me, knowing that adrenaline can take over and often sends people out too hard.

Mile 1: 6:03 – I figured that was a little faster than the pace I was targeting, but chalked it up to the excitement of the start and trying to get clear of the mass of people. Mile 2: 5:41 – This mile trended downhill a little bit, so I figured that accounted for the fast time. Then miles 3-5 just ticked off at sub-6 minute pace and I felt alright, so I went with it. I was watching a group of four guys in front of me those first few miles and slowly was pulling them back in. I made the pass just after mile 4 and didn’t see them again for the rest of the day. One of the guys I knew had raced the duathlon the day before as well.

Miles six and seven were the hardest two in terms of elevation. That was where most of the climbing took place for the race. My pace slowed down to about 6:08/mile these two miles, but once I got through them I mentally knew the rest of the race was not as bad. I ticked off a few more miles, moving at sub-6 minute pace again and knew I was going to beat my target time unless something awful happened. I took one gel at about 45 minutes to try to give myself the little boost I needed. My friends, Steve and Mike, were out on course and I saw them at three points throughout the race. It was great to see them and run past giving high fives to build my morale because the legs were feeling it. Mile 11 was probably the toughest mentally for me, because that was when the pain settled in from the day before. But I saw Steve and Mike again during this mile and that gave me a little pick-me-up. At that point I was so motivated I just blocked everything else out and focused on the guy in front of me just down the road and trying to reel him in.

Mile 13: 5:37 – I finished strong and gave it a good kick. I was able to chase down the guy I had been tracking and passed him in the last quarter of a mile. Total finishing time: 1:17:23, which was good enough for 14th place overall. It might have been more satisfying than winning the duathlon the day before. I know I’m a pretty strong cyclist and can do well in that sport. I’m still trying to convince myself that I’m a good runner, both in open events and in multisport. I worked on my running really hard over the winter, aided by Steve and Mike who are awesome runners, and motivated by my blow up at 70.3 Poconos at the end of last year where I ran a 1:35 half. I’m happy to see the improvements and hopefully, with some smart racing, I will be able to put in some good runs in my races this year.