Monday, April 21, 2014

2014 Ironman 70.3 Puerto Rico

My first race of the 2014 season was Ironman 70.3 Puerto Rico. I picked this race because it was an elite qualifying race. I set two goals for myself this year: the first was to qualify for the Ironman 70.3 World Championships again and the other was to earn my pro card. They were big goals, but focusing on them is what got me through the long winter. This race was only allotted 30 Worlds slots, so it made that task a bit more challenging as my age group only ended up getting two slots.

The trip down was a bit disastrous. We booked flights with United because it was the only flight that allowed me to leave after work on Friday. The flight took us through a layover in Newark and then on to Puerto Rico. At the beginning of April, United changed their flight plan, which switched our layover time to 35 minutes. Watching the flights over the course of the week, the flight from Rochester kept missing the connection. If I missed the flight to Puerto Rico, I wouldn’t be able to get there in time to register and there would have been no sense in going. I opted to change my flight with United and drive to Newark early with my dad to eliminate the chance of missing the flight. In hindsight, it was the right choice because the rest of my family took the scheduled flight and they missed the connection, so they spent the night in Newark and didn’t arrive in Puerto Rico until 6:30pm on Saturday. I would’ve missed registration if I hadn’t driven to Newark. It was a long couple of travel days for them, but fortunately they arrived in time for the race. It was a bit stressful having them miss the flight, but Becky was great in telling me not to worry about them and taking care of getting their flight rescheduled. I tried to just put it out of my mind since I had no control over it and focus on the race and what I needed to do.

Saturday I met Joel for a practice swim in the lagoon where we would swim for the race. We just warmed up the arms a little bit and scoped out objects/buildings to sight from and got used to open water swimming again. I hadn’t been in open water since November last year, so it was good to get a practice swim in. I love the buoyancy of salt water and it was warm enough to not be wetsuit legal, so we prepared for that as well.

After the practice swim we took care of registration, which was smooth and quick, and then went to the athlete briefing. Then it was time to go pick up our bikes from TriBike Transport. We got our bikes and I started checking it over to make sure everything was working properly, which of course it wasn’t. It’s never that easy. Again, my power meter wasn’t reading. This happened twice at races last year and is a major source of frustration and anxiety for me, so I wasn’t in a good mood. I messed with it for about 15 minutes before deciding to take it over to the bike mechanics set up at the expo. The reason I get so frustrated is that I wanted to just pick up my bike, spin around on it for 20 minutes, drop it off and then go rest and get out of the sun. Then this happens and it can end up taking a long time and wasting a lot of nervous energy. However, by a stroke of good fortune, on my way over to the expo my power meter all of a sudden started registering. I don’t know what happened, but I decided not to play with it anymore and just hoped that whatever happened stayed that way. I took it to transition and racked it before heading back to the condo for a nap.

After a nice nap I went out and drove the course with my dad before heading to the airport to pick up my mom, sister, and Becky. They arrived around 6:30pm, so we went and grabbed dinner together. Then it was home to get my stuff ready for the race and try to get some sleep.

Sunday morning I woke up before my alarm, just before 4am. The race day nerves were rocking full force. The self applied pressure from the goals I set for myself was at fault. I wasn’t there to finish and enjoy the race. I was there to finish top three amateur and I knew that was not going to be an easy task. I got my stuff together, ate some toast and a banana, and headed down to transition. I got dropped off at a spot that I thought was right near this park next to transition. It turned out that we were one street higher up than I thought, so I started walking through this park that I assumed took me to where I needed to go. In actuality, it took me into the back part of the museum or something. I had my head lamp on, lighting the way in front of me as I walked into the parking lot and entrance of the building. This security guard came out with his hand on his shooter and just stared at me. I asked him if I could get through because I was trying to get down to the stadium, but I got no response. He eventually pointed in the direction I had just come from, so I decided I would turn around and go back and walk the long way around the block. The amusing thing is that on the other side of that museum there is this giant gate and wall. If I can just walk through a park to the back side of the building, that wall isn’t very effective. I didn’t point this out to him though.

Let's do this!
Anyway, I made it to transition in plenty of time, got body marked, and went to set my area up. My power meter was still working, so that was a good sign. As I was finishing up it started to rain. Fortunately I had a plastic bag with me so I put all my running stuff in that to keep it dry in case it kept raining. As it turned out it was just a quick, island shower that only lasted 5-10 minutes and everything dried up quickly. I met up with Joel and then we went to find a place to sit and relax since he was in the second to last wave and I was in the one behind him. We had a long wait from when the pros went off at 6:50am. Right before they went off we walked over to the swim start to catch the action.

After another 45 minutes of waiting, it was Joel’s turn to hit the water. I knew he would be flying in the water, and my goal was to keep his lead to less than 11 minutes out of the water (thanks Jimmy Chase). Then my group got started. I seeded myself toward the front and on the left side of the swim start with the buoys to our right. The plan was to try to get off the front a little bit and avoid some of the congestion that typically happens. My goggles got knocked off once and someone half twisted my Garmin, so I had to stop to straighten that so it didn’t come loose and fall off and fix my goggles. All in all, not really a big deal. I drafted fairly well on the way out. I found some feet and stayed right on them. Once we hit the turn buoys and started making our way back though, I lost the feet on was on and never really linked up with anyone again. Plus we were making our way through a lot of the earlier waves so traffic was pretty tight.

I came out of the water in 31:27, which is a distance best for me. I was hoping to go under 30 minutes, but my Garmin did register 1.31 for the swim. The important thing was not really my time, but my position. I was 12th out of the water in my age group and 64th among males. That is much better than my previous races, so it left me with less ground to make up than before. I also felt comfortable in the water the whole time and didn’t get out feeling exhausted. The six months of swim work with Joel paid off.

The run to transition was long – probably 400-500 meters. It was actually a good thing because it gave me time to peel my speed suit down half way and then get my tri suit on. I was racing in a Pearl Izumi Octane Tri Suit because it has sleeves down to the elbow and would keep the sun off my extremely white, upstate New York winter body. I didn’t want to burn and suffer from the sun, so that was why I went with that suit. Plus there is a fair amount of research that shows the sleeved suits being quite a bit faster on the bike and, although I’ve never done any wind tunnel testing, I’m buying the hype. Since it was a non wetsuit legal swim, I couldn’t have my arms covered at all according to WTC rules. So my tri suit was rolled down to my waist underneath my speed suit. Getting it up over my shoulders when I was wet was a little difficult, but not too bad.

Notice the speed skin on my bottom half...
After I was all situated I took off for the remainder of the run to where my bike was racked. I threw on my sunglasses and helmet, grabbed my bike, and off I went. I had a good flying mount and started riding to get up to speed. This was where I realized mistake number one. I had forgotten to open my shoes up, so the Velcro was closed. It wasn’t a big deal, but it made getting my feet into my shoes a little more difficult. After I got that all settled I started to ride pretty hard. I was excited and wanted to start hammering, but tried really hard to hold myself back. Then I noticed a strange flapping sound. What the heck is that? I looked back and saw my speed suit flapping in the wind. I was in such a hurry when I got to my bike that I had forgotten to take it the rest of the way off. Brilliant. I guess I was a little bit rusty with a few things. I found a spot to pull over and stopped to take the suit off. I had a decision to make: do I chuck it and throw away $200 or do I stuff it in my suit and ride uncomfortably for the next 53 miles? My financially sensible side kicked in and I decided to stuff it down my suit. I shoved in down the back of my suit and got it arranged as best as I could before jumping back on my bike. The whole thing probably cost me around 90 seconds, which didn’t put me in a good mood. Hopefully it didn’t come back to bite me.

Fortunately, the rest of the bike was pretty uneventful. I rode fairly well, it wasn’t as crowded as I thought it would be, and I kept moving my way through the field. I stuck to my nutrition plan and took in as much water as I could, grabbing a new bottle at each aid station because it was hot. Very hot. And I was not used to that kind of heat at all. I rode myself into second place in my age group and third place overall amateur, so if I could hold onto that I would be where I needed to be.

I am not a happy man in this picture.
But this volunteer was super nice.
I had a good dismount and ran into transition to rack my bike. I threw on my running stuff, pulled my speed suit out from my back (it was much more comfortable to not have that back there for the run), and headed out to the run course. My legs felt good and the first few miles ticked by pretty comfortably. Then I’m not really sure what happened. My splits started dropping hard. I don’t know if it was the heat or dehydration or the hills or not enough calories, but I was struggling to hold on. There is usually once in every race where I ask myself “Why am I doing this?” That happened just before the end of the first loop. At this point I was running like garbage and I figured top three had already slipped away. I felt like stepping off the course at the turn around and wallowing in self pity, but I would never let myself do that. So I made the turn and tried to pull myself back together a little bit. I kept taking in water and Coke at each aid station and pouring as much ice as possible down my shirt. The two major climbs on the second loop almost undid me. I tried to run them, but I’m not sure you could call what I was doing running at that point. The heat and the hills were taking their toll. I actually dropped my splits back down a little bit from the second split and numbers three and four were a little bit better. I think it was because I saw Sophie Goos running in towards the finish as I headed back out for my second and I wanted to try to impress her. I did give her a nice clap has she passed and she returned a smile and a thumbs up to me. That must have spurred me on. Anyway… I crossed the line not a moment too soon and got assistance from a nice volunteer. He dumped water on me and got me some water and Gatorade. I had set time goals for myself in each of the sports and hadn’t hit any of them, so I was filled with disappointment. Plus I was sure top three amateur had slipped away during that run.

Joel gets high fives from the kids!
My family came over and my dad started telling me what he thought the case was from tracking. I had finished second in my age group, which meant I was pretty sure I would get a slot for worlds, but he also thought I had slipped to 5th or so. At least I had met that goal, but I was still really disappointed. I really thought I could go top three. Joel came in not long later and we hung around with his family to see him finish. It was great standing there and cheering with Kelly and his kids. Best of all, he set a new PR for the distance. I kept telling him, PR in PR. Awesome race for him.

A little bit later my dad went over and got a print out of the race results from the timing area. The results were not official yet, as we had to wait until the referees came in to make sure I hadn’t been given a penalty and not realized it, but on the print out I was third place overall amateur. Apparently everyone struggled on that run. My disappointment started to fade but I didn’t want to let myself get too excited in case something happened. After claiming my worlds slot and the awards ceremony it was finally official. I finished second place in the M30-34 age group, third overall amateur and 11th overall. I achieved my goals and qualified for my elite triathlon license. I couldn’t have been happier. All of the time and work and sacrifices paid off, even if I didn’t feel like I raced to my full potential.

My plan is to race the majority of this season as an age grouper. I’m signed up for 70.3 Syracuse and 70.3 Timberman and then I’ll race 70.3 Worlds in Mont-Tremblant in September. Then I will apply for my license and begin my racing as a professional. There is a lot of work to be done between now and then so I don’t get it handed to me too hard, so that time will allow me to keep working with my coach and be better prepared for racing with the big boys.

The race chasers.
As always, thanks to my wonderful family for all their support and making the trip to be there cheering me on. Seeing them on the course always lifts my spirits. Thanks to Joel for all the hours and hours of work in the pool and helping me with my swim stroke. Thanks to Doug Bush of Endurance Factor for working with me. He is a great coach who really knows his stuff. He has pushed me hard since January and prepared me extremely well for this race. Thanks to and Towpath Bike Shop for everything they do in supporting me, providing great race and training gear and making sure my bike is running smoothly. Thanks to Michael Hoffman for suffering along next to me on the long and difficult training sessions. The company makes it suck a little bit less (he just went 2:40 at the Boston Marathon by the way). Thanks to all my friends who encourage and inspire me and make sharing the journey with more meaningful. And finally, thanks to Becky for putting up with all the hours I’m gone or in the basement training, money spent on triathlon, meals she has ready when I get home, and everything else she has done to support me over the past three years.

Since I was a little kid I wanted to be a professional athlete. Granted, I wanted to play either soccer or hockey at the time, but it was always a dream. Now, at 30 years old, once I submit my paperwork to USAT and make it official, I will be able to say that I achieved that goal. I may never win a race or earn a dollar from triathlon, but I have reached a level and accomplished something that is pretty difficult to do. I won’t be able to give up my teaching job, but I’m still pretty happy with that. From completing my first triathlon, Musselman half iron, in July 2010 in just over 7 hours and finishing in the bottom five percent to earning my elite license at Ironman 70.3 Puerto Rico in 2014, it has been an awesome journey. Now it’s time to start the next chapter!

Swim – 31:27
Bike – 2:16:19
Run – 1:32:54
Total – 4:25:42

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Race Season is Here

It is finally time to emerge from a brutal winter in upstate New York and get the 2014 race season started. My first race of the year will be Ironman 70.3 San Juan. I’m excited to test my legs and see how the winter training has paid off. I really focused on my swimming and running more this winter than ever before, and I’m hoping to see the results of all that work in this race. There has been a lot of time in the pool with Joel McFarland, making changes in my swim stroke and trying to improve efficiency and speed. In March I had three 50+ mile run weeks in a row, which was exhausting but definitely good for me. I was running more during that build phase than I ran in preparation for Ironman Florida last year. It was nice to have Mike Hoffman keep me company for a lot of those miles as he prepares for the Boston Marathon. Will the extra miles translate into speed on a hot, hilly run course in Puerto Rico? Time will tell.

It’s always nice to share the course with friends, and I’m excited that Joel is racing in Puerto Rico too. It’s a pretty safe bet that he is going to crush the swim, but I’m most excited to see how well he runs in this race. I know he’s been racking up the miles this winter and it’s time for him to see all the fruits of his labor as well.

I have a few concerns/unknowns going into this race that help increase the already torturous pre-race anxiety that I inflict on myself. 1) I have ridden outside a total of 65 miles this calendar year. With the winter being as cold as it was and with all the snow we got, I wasn’t able to get outside nearly as much as I did the last two years. We were spoiled with two mild winters in a row and this year made up for that. 2) Acclimating to the heat will be tough. Coming from 30 degree weather to race in 80 degree weather is no easy task. I’ve done my best to prepare for it by leaving the fan turned off for my trainer rides and letting the sweat flow freely. Maybe I’ll get lucky and we will have some cloud cover… 3) Starting in the back. I’m the very last wave to go off on Sunday (minus the relays), which I’m really not a fan of. Hopefully the roads won’t be too crowded and people will ride to the right so it doesn’t get too congested. At the end of the day though, I have things I can control and things I can’t. I’ll do my best to focus on what I can control and maximize those things and not waste energy worrying about the rest.

Despite those things, I have had some really great training sessions during the past several weeks. My coach, Doug Bush, has pushed me and given me better structure than I’ve ever had before. Having seen the results he has produced in other athletes, it was easy to put my faith in him and simply do what workouts he gave me. The accountability factor definitely pushed me to not quit on any session and to hit my target numbers on big workouts. As I come into prime taper time these last few days before the race and I definitely feel the “springiness” coming back to my legs and my body is starting to feel fresh and rested. I’m excited to see what this race and the rest of the season have in store.