Wednesday, December 23, 2015

2015 Ironman Chattanooga Race Report

My last race on my 2015 schedule was Ironman Chattanooga. I had heard great things about the race after its first year and I was excited to race a course that sounded like it suited me quite well. With a down current swim and a rolling bike course that has an extra four miles on it, Chattanooga was right up my alley. I had convinced Joel to race with me and Steve Rosinski hopped into the race last minute. It's always fun to share the course with friends.

The weather in the days before the race was less than stellar. Basically it rained all day Friday and Saturday. I didn't do any practice swimming, which was abnormal for me. I was able to get out for about a 30 minute ride on Saturday afternoon to give my bike a quick run through after the flight. Friday I drove the bike course in the morning and then did the standard registration/meeting stuff in the afternoon. I was excited for the bike course with the small, rolling hills and winding roads. It was just the type of course I like. While we were driving the course my friend, Steve Ruffin, sent me a message inviting us to dinner that night. Steve lives in Chattanooga so he gave us the inside scoop on things. We ended up going to a great little Italian restaurant and, besides being joined by Steve and Karen, were also joined by Bree Wee and Neilia Bliss. Bree is a multiple time Ironman champion, so getting the opportunity to talk with her was really awesome.

Race morning I headed down to transition early to drop my gear bags off and set up my bike. Ironman was having us carry GPS for tracking information during the race, so I had to pick that up as well. My friends and family who were tracking the race online said having that was really great. It gave real time data from the course and showed them exactly what our progress was. Hopefully Ironman continues to develop the technology to help with the spectator end of the sport. After everything was ready I hopped on a bus to go up to the swim start. I was there pretty early, so I found a spot to lay down and try to rest for a bit.

The start of the race was a little chaotic. It was dark in the morning, so we were delayed getting in to the water. Then we were told we would have a little bit of time to warm up, but no one gave an exact time. Some of the guys were swimming back up the river (since we had to stay behind the start line). I stayed pretty close to the boat and held the rope so I would be right on the line. There was no count down or warning at all. They just fired the air horn to send us off. Some of the guys hadn't even made it back to the line yet. It was all a bit of a cluster. I immediately tried to get into a comfortable rhythm and stay relaxed. I've noticed that my best swims this year have come when I have done that. When I try to swim really hard and stay on feet I tense up and it's almost like I'm fighting the water. I kept telling myself to stay relaxed, roll, and keep a nice, long stroke. I swam by myself for most of the swim, which was pretty standard for the year. I never get comfortable finding feet and following them. I could tell I was having a pretty good swim, though, because I didn't get caught by any of the female pros until after the buoys had changed color, which meant I was over half way. For me, that was improvement. I didn't see the clock as I exited the water and I didn't wear my watch for the swim, but I did see a clock on my way out of T1 and noticed it was 54:xx. Even with the current I was a little surprised at my time. Best of all I wasn't the last male pro out like in Cozumel last year. I ended up swimming a 51:52. There is still plenty of room for improvement, but it was a good confidence builder for me for the day.

Onto the bike course and I was mentally in a very good place. I moved to the front of the guys I exited the swim with and rode away from them pretty quickly. The bike course takes you out of Chattanooga and into Georgia, where you complete two loops before returning back to transition. It is rolling hills on twisty, narrow roads. I really liked the course as it keeps your attention and is set up well for how I ride. At dinner the night before I told Bree I would cheer her on when I passed her on the bike because I knew she would outswim me. I caught her just as we went over a set of railroad tracks and lost one of my bottles. I decided to stop and pick it up because it had First Endurance in it and was a pretty good chunk of calories. I didn't want to lose that in the first five miles of the bike. Once I was moving again I passed Bree and gave her a loud cheer. The plan for the bike was to take it easy and stay comfortable so I would have a good run. I was averaging around 275 watts and felt very good. I caught a group of four guys at about the 35 mile mark. Steve was in this group, so I rode to the front and told him that we should try to ride away from the other guys. We put in a little surge and dropped them, eventually catching two other guys, one of whom was Doug MacLean. I rode on the front of this group for quite a while, until we went through Chickamauga. I made my biggest mistake of the day here, as I missed special needs. I was planning to stop to grab two bottles of First Endurance and a couple Honey Stinger Waffles that I had packed, but because of traffic and one of the guys in our group deciding to ride past me at this point, I was so focused on riding that I completely didn't see where special needs was set up. As we turned left to start the second loop I skipped an aid station thinking that special needs must be just up the road. As we rode a few miles and didn't hit it I started to get nervous. I was completely out of all food and nutrition at this point. Steve and I had ridden away from the other two guys by now, so I dropped back to ask him where special needs was. He told me we had already passed it. It was like getting punched in the stomach. "I'm f----ed." That was the only thing I could think to myself. I knew where the next aid station was, and it was still 10-12 miles. That meant it would be 25-30 minutes before I could get any more nutrition. That's not good in an Ironman. I did what I could do to stay calm and try to dial myself back a bit. When I did finally hit that aid station and I had completely stop to reload my supplies. I grabbed a couple bottles of Gatorade for some liquid calories, a Clif Bar, and a couple of GU gels. Basically the plan was to grab whatever I could quickly and then figure out what my stomach would handle best once I was moving again. I got separated from Steve a bit here since I had to stop. I rode to try to bridge back up to him, but at each aid station I would have to either slow way down or stop to make sure I got enough nutrition now. They were pretty crowded with age group athletes on the second lap, so I had to be careful not to get tangled up with anyone. I almost got wiped out at one aid station and then going up a small climb a woman fell over right in front of me as I was passing her. As I went to go by her on the left she just stopped moving and fell to her left. It was a close call. I decided to stop in Chickamauga the second time through to pick up one of my bottles and a couple Honey Stinger Waffles for the final miles back into transition. It was another complete stop while the volunteers got my bag for me, but it was worth the time. The ride back into Chattanooga for the final 20 miles or so after that was uneventful as I spent the time trying to eat and drink what I could without overdoing it. The nutrition mishap was certainly a big mistake on my part and it definitely cost me some time on the bike. I'm sure the lack of calories hurt me later in the day during the run as well, but incidents like that are bound happen in long course racing. Fortunately it wasn't any worse than it was and I was able to get some stuff on course.

Heading out on the run course I really tried to pace myself. My run at Cozumel was a PR for me, but I still felt like I should have been able to do much better. I had raced conservatively on the bike intentionally so that I could have a good run here. The run course in Chattanooga is tough. It is a double loop and the back half of each loop has some good hills on it. It is definitely the most difficult run course I've ever done. The miles ticked off one by one without much incident for the first loop. I walked a few aid stations to make sure I got enough water and nutrition and held a rather consistent pace. I felt decent heading into loop two, but around mile 15 I started to fade a bit. My legs were certainly feeling the fatigue from the day and I was having trouble making myself take in food. Nothing seemed appealing to my stomach anymore so I went to my go to items in that situation - water, Coke, and bananas. I drank as much water and Coke as I could at each aid station and grabbed half a banana to eat as I ran. I'm not sure what it is about bananas, but I always seem to tolerate them well late in a race. Somewhere around the 23-24 mile mark I finally saw Joel for the first time. He was having an awesome race as well and it was great to share the course with him. The support on the run course was great and I like loop courses and being able to see my family and Becky several times. I ended up running a 3:17:52, which took ten minutes off my Cozumel run. I was pleased with the improvement, but I still know I'm capable of better. My goal for next year will be to get that under 3:10. I did not do much run mileage leading up to Chattanooga, so I know that I need to find some ways to work more miles in next year to build up my running endurance. It is something my coach and I will have to discuss and plan out.

Overall I was pleased with my performance. I set a new Ironman distance PR by about 29 minutes. I think the current assisted swim and long bike course basically cancel each other out as far as time goes on this course. If anything I'd say you lose a couple more minutes from the extra four miles on the bike than you gain from the current on the swim. I wanted to break 9 hours very badly and am a little disappointed at how close I came but ultimately ended up falling short. I'll keep working and next year I'll give it another shot, although the plan is to do Ironman Canada in 2016, which is a very challenging course that is not designed for setting PRs.

That wraps up the 2015 triathlon season. My family, Becky, and friends have been amazingly supportive and I can't thank them enough for everything they do to help me. It was a very successful first year with my new coach, Peter. I'm excited to continue our work together for next season and hopefully we can keep progressing. A huge thanks to, Honey Stinger, Towpath Bikes, and Nuun for their support this season as well. The 2016 season is going to start early, but some time off for a few weeks will be very enjoyable.

Swim - 51:52
Bike - 4:47:36
Run - 3:17:52
Total - 9:02:31

Thursday, September 17, 2015

2015 Toughman NY Championship

Thanks for all your help
this year coach!
Last weekend I raced the Toughman NY Championship just north of New York City in Croton-on-Hudson, NY. It was my first time racing in the Toughman series, and I think they did a pretty good job. It was certainly a challenging course. I had hopes of landing on the podium and earning some prize money since this is a smaller race that doesn't draw big name pros, but I knew there were going to be a few solid guys there racing. I would need to have a good day. As a nice bonus I got to meet my coach this weekend, as his wife was racing the aquabike. This race served as the USAT Aquabike National Championship. I had never met Peter before, so it was good to get to spend some time with him and talk about my season and training. I feel that he has done a great job with me this year and brought me some substantial improvements and am looking forward to a good winter of solid work to keep the momentum moving forward.

My dad, Becky, and I drove down Friday evening after work, arriving to our hotel around 10pm. There was no practice swim on Saturday and registration wasn't until 1:30pm, so I slept in a bit and tried to get some rest. Not knowing what the road situation would be that close to the City, I took my trainer and got a quick 30 minute ride in Saturday morning to spin my legs out and then did a quick 15 minute run. On my run I noticed that there were no flat roads anywhere. You were always going up or down,  which would be the case in the race on Sunday. After registration we drove the bike course and then went back to the hotel to rest for a bit. Then we had dinner with Mike and Rachel before turning in for the night.

Sunday morning, after a terrible night of not sleeping very well, I woke up at 4am and got myself ready. We needed to be to the park early if we wanted to be able to park close and not have to get shuttled in. We arrived at the park around 5am, which gave me plenty of time to set up my gear in transition and get a bit of a warm up in. After that I headed over to the start line with Mike to line up for the swim.

The swim start was a bit confusing. The information that was being announced didn't match what the athlete guide we had been given said. The folks in charge weren't quite sure who was supposed to be starting in the 6:45am wave. This would definitely be an organizational area I would suggest they try to improve in the future. Getting the waves lined up properly makes the start a lot smoother. Eventually it got sorted out and the elite wave, along with several of the male age group waves, all gathered on the start line on the beach. The timing wire was under a mat on the beach, so we had to run over it to get "chipped in" at the start. It made the start a little congested, but fortunately I was right up on the front of the line so it wasn't too bad.

Always glad to be out of the water.
The water temperature was measured at 77 degrees, making the race wetsuit legal in this circumstance. The Ironman professional cut off is much lower (70.5 degrees), but since this race wasn't a WTC race it follows USAT rules. I wish they could all agree on consistent rules throughout the sport. It would make things less confusing for everyone. In hindsight, it was way too warm for a full sleeve suit. I had just gotten my new Roka Maverick Pro full sleeve wetsuit from TriSports, so I decided to give it a try for the first time in this race. I had been using one they lent me, so I knew the suit was comfortable. I have the sleeveless version as well, and I really should have used that instead, but I was trying to get the little extra speed from the full suit. I became uncomfortably hot less than half way into the swim though. My plan was to stay comfortable, focus on a good roll and finishing my stroke, and not waste energy trying to save a few seconds. On the entry to the water I had my goggle knocked, causing it to fill up with water. Fortunately the water was very shallow for a long ways, so I was able to stand up and walk as I fixed it. A few dolphin dives and I was back swimming again. Once the chaos got sorted out I found myself on the back of a group of about five people. I decided to try to stay right there and get some experience swimming on some feet. I haven't been good at keeping on feet in my previous races, so this was a good opportunity for me. I hung on pretty much through the entire swim. Our group broke up a little bit toward the end because people swam in different directions. They had told us at the briefing that morning to sight off the ambulance because it would be parked at the swim exit. However, they ended up moving it over to the swim start during our swim. Some people didn't realize that and swam a bit to the left. Fortunately, I noticed pretty quickly and stayed on the buoy line. I didn't wear my watch since I was using the full sleeve suit, so I don't know if the course was accurate or not. I swam 31:08, which I think is a bit slow, but I came out of the water 16th overall. That is good for where my swim has been.

Fastest bike split of the day.
I had a quick transition and headed to the bike course. On my way out my dad let me know I was about 6:30 back on the leader, John Kenny. I knew he would be the first out of the water, but I also know I'm a much strong cyclist than him. There were a few other guys out in front that I knew would be a challenge, but I would give it my best. The bike course was completely closed to traffic, which was awesome. It was a double loop ride on a nice highway road. Overall the course was very smooth and in great condition. After the first mile and a half there was a long, difficult climb out to the first turn around. Then you came screaming back down the hill past where you entered the highway and went out to the other turn around. You then made your way back past the start before doing the loop again. In the first climb and descent I made up about 3.5 minutes on the front guy. My dad passed the information along as I rode past. I was pumped to hear that news. That was a huge chunk of time. I kept pushing hard to the second turn around, where I was able to gauge that I was about 2 minutes back. I had taken more time off the front. However, I noticed the front group had come together. I was in 5th place now and the front four were riding close. Very close. In my opinion, too close. And since I didn't see a single official during the entire ride... Draw your own conclusions.

At the start of the second loop the gap to the front was 1:15 seconds. After the climb and descent the gap held steady. At the final turn around I checked my clock to see how far back I was.... still 1:15. And the group was still all together. As I came back after the turn around one of the guys was on the side of the road with a flat. I generally don't like knowing I moved up because of someone's misfortune, but maybe karma for riding too close caught up to him. Now I was in 4th. A few miles down the road I came up behind John Kenny. He had fallen off the group and looked like he was struggling. I went by and then had a look back to see that he had tried to lift his pace to stay with me. I put a huge surge in and the next time I looked back I couldn't even see him. He was dropped. The final two miles of the course was super sketchy. They took us on this extremely narrow bike path with sharp 90 degree turns and walls and fences on either side of the path. Add in the broken up asphalt from tree roots breaking through and you had a recipe for disaster. Fortunately I was all alone on this section so I didn't have to worry about other riders. I did go into one right hand turn way too hot and almost smashed into a wall, but luckily I was able to hang on. I came into transition right as the two leaders were heading out, so I knew they were just over a minute ahead of me. But would I be able to chase them down? I had the fastest bike split of the day. I went 2:18:31 (Normalized Power of 306 watts), which honestly I think I should have been a couple minutes faster, but it was a very tough course with lots of climbing, some steady headwind, and four complete 180 degree turns. Another piece of constructive criticism for the race would come on the bike course. I saw zero officials during the entire ride, and I was right near the front of the race the entire time.

Third place finish. 
On to the run course my dad and coach both let me know I was less than a minute back. Peter told me not to try to bridge the gap too fast, but to remember it was a long run. It ended up not being an issue, because I couldn't run with those two that day anyway. My legs just didn't have it. I wasn't uncomfortable or feeling fried from the bike, but I just didn't have the leg turnover I needed. The first half of the run was essentially uphill to the turnaround, and then we turned back and had a nice downward slope to come home. There was one tough, short climb at mile 9, but it was nothing compared to the long climb from mile 5-6. That was a complete grind. We also ran on every type of surface imaginable. There was some road, some dirt, some grassy paths, some crushed gravel, some rocky paths... That made the footing interesting in a few spots. At the turnaround I could tell I was about 4.5 minutes back. The two guys out front had crushed the first half of that run. I knew there was no way I was bridging the gap. I could also tell that 4th place was over four minutes behind me. I was in no man's land. There was no reason to push to try to catch the front and there was no reason to run scared from a challenge behind me. It was probably for the best because it let me just cruise in the for second half of the run and save my legs for Chattanooga in two weeks. I ended up running a 1:27:20, which was the third fastest run split of the day. Only the two guys who beat me had better runs.

Men's podium.
I ended up 3rd overall, which meant my first prize money from racing. I was hoping for 2nd or better, but unfortunately that didn't quite work out. I would have been really disappointed if I didn't come away from the race with anything. I'll take a third with a decent swim (for me) and a solid bike for the day.

Always fun to race
with Mike!
After the race I met up with Mike and we had some lunch. The race did provide good food for the athletes. We talked our races over and hung out a bit before gathering our gear from transition. After the awards ceremony we headed back to the hotel, showered up quick and headed for home.

Overall, I thought Toughman did a good job at putting on a very good event. The few issues I do think could be fixed to improve the race are relatively simple - organize the swim start a bit more, put a few more officials out on the bike course, and, if it were up to me, I'd say take the bike path section out and just bring the bike course in on the road to the park that we left on. It might make the course half a mile short, but I think that's a better option than the craziness of that path. I'd like to thank Rich Izzo for extending the invitation to me and allowing me to race with Toughman. I'd definitely be interested in coming back and trying to improve my spot on the podium in the future. Less than two weeks until Ironman Chattanooga!

Swim - 31:08
Bike - 2:18:31
Run - 1:27:20
Total Time - 4:19:32 (3rd overall)

Friday, September 11, 2015

2015 Ironman 70.3 Calgary

I'm way behind on my race reports, so in an attempt to get caught up before my next race (which is this weekend) this one is going to be pretty quick. I raced Ironman 70.3 Calgary on the last weekend in July. It was the week after the NYC Triathlon and a week before my wedding. Needless to say it was a hectic few weeks.

My dad and I flew out to Calgary on Friday before the race. Becky didn't go because with all the wedding stuff going on we figured it would be best if she was home to avoid the stress of feeling rushed when we got home. The trip out was another crazy one, with our flight being delayed by over four hours out of Rochester. We ended up getting a flight out of Buffalo instead, but the airline paid for our taxi to get to the Buffalo airport so we didn't have to leave a car there like the Raleigh trip.

Saturday morning I did registration and the typical pre-race stuff. Sadly, Friday night there was a drowning in the lake where the swim was to be held. It was a young boy from the community that surrounded the lake. Rightfully, the lake was closed on Saturday, so there was no practice swim. I went for a quick 30 minute ride to get my legs moving and then dropped my bike off at transition.

Becky usually does all the restaurant research and finds us great places to eat. Without her there I had to try to fill that role. I think I did an alright job two of the three nights, but Saturday night for the pre-race meal I failed miserably. I don't even remember the name of the place, but it was not the best chicken parmesan I've ever had. Becky is not allowed to miss any more races! After dinner we headed back to the hotel and it was early to bed.

Sunday I woke up at 4am as usual and got my stuff together. The drive to transition was about 20 minutes. The bike course was point to point, and T2 was only about a mile from our hotel, so that was nice for after the race. Once arriving at transition I got my bike set up with nutrition and did a quick check over to make sure everything was good to go. After that I headed to the water to check out the swim course since I hadn't seen it yet. Everything about the swim in this race was a complete cluster. I completely understand how the incident on Friday could complicate things for the race. There was even talk of cancelling the swim and making it just a bike-run. I would've been fine with that. What I didn't like was the complete lack of organization in the swim and start of the race. They were behind schedule but were still trying to start the race on time, rushing people around. With five minutes to go until the scheduled race start time, they were still towing buoys out into the water. We were asking the organizers to explain the swim and the turns to us because it was an odd shaped swim due to the size of the lake. From where we stood at the start you couldn't see all of the buoys because there was land in the way. There were red, white, blue, and yellow buoys, with no rhyme or reason to how they were placed. It was a disaster. So with everyone feeling confused and not understanding the course, they hurried us onto the beach and got the race started at 6:45am.

The gun went off and we headed out. The first stretch was straight to the other side of the lake, where we would make a right turn. That part was simple. After that the land jutted in and you had to swim inward to avoid it. Once you got around the land you could see the buoys you couldn't see from the start, except you were staring dead straight into the rising sun. I could tell there was confusion from the other guys around me. I was actually able to follow some feet up to this point. However, in all the stopping and looking around I ended up losing most of the group I was with. I finally made it around the farthest buoy and made the turn. At this point we had to swim back into the middle of the lake around another buoy and then keep the rest of them on our left shoulder all the way to the finish. I stopped at one point, not being able to tell which buoy I needed to go to, and a volunteer in a kayak pointed me in a direction (not the right direction, just a direction). I started heading that way, but then was eventually stopped by a different volunteer on a paddle board who told me I needed to go out around a different buoy farther out. So I had to turn back out and head to that buoy to make the turn. It was confusing and frustrating. I never wear my Garmin during the swim if it is wetsuit legal because getting my wetsuit off over the watch is a pain, so I wasn't wearing it. I have no idea how far I swam or what my course looked like. I do know that in looking at the swim times of everyone else, I was not that only person who had problems. In fact, I would say a number of guys were thrown off course more than me.

I was happy to be out of the water and have that disaster of a swim course behind me. I grabbed my bike from transition and headed out on the course. As I mentioned before, the bike course was point to point. We headed west to start, which had rolling hills that generally trended upwards. Then we turned north for maybe five miles or so before turning east and heading back toward the city, which was almost all slightly downhill, making it a very fast second half. I picked a few guys off early on the bike and when I saw my dad I think I was somewhere around 9th place (I had come out of the water 12th). I caught one more guy around mile 15 and then I stayed in 8th for a really long time. I was motivated because I could see a group of four guys way up the road (probably between 1.5.-2 miles), and I was working my tail off trying to pull them in. I could tell I was closing the gap, but it wasn't by much. My legs weren't feeling great and I was slightly under my target wattage, so I had to decide whether I should chase that number or ride based on how I felt. I decided to back off and ride based on how my legs were feeling. I was still motivated to close the gap to the group, but I wasn't going to blow myself up in order to do so. Around mile 45 I moved into 7th place as Chris Leiferman punctured and had to stop. I ended up having the third fastest bike split of the day, behind Ben Hoffman and Andy Potts. That's not a bad pair to get out split by.

I never would complete the catch of the group I was chasing, but I came into transition while those guys were still there, so less than a minute back. I racked my bike, threw on my running shoes, and made my way to the run course. I had dropped some nutrition on the bike, so I didn't take in as many calories as I typically do. This came back to bite me on the run.

I was maybe 20-30 seconds down on 6th place running out of transition. By mile three I had made the catch and moved into 6th. That was about when things started to fall apart for me though. I could feel myself running out of steam and starting to slow. My first few miles I ticked off at a 6 min/mile pace like clockwork. Now I was starting to slow. I dropped back to 7th. I continued to slow. By the time I hit the turnaround (it was a straight out and back course) I had fallen back to 10th. I was disappointed to be in such a good position but not be able to hold it. With about two miles to go I was passed by one more person and fell out of the top ten to 11th, which is where I would ultimately end up. The couple punchy hills on the run really took their toll on me as I was already fading. The lack of nutrition certainly didn't help either. I ran a 1:25:52, which last year I would have been excited with. This year I have proven that I'm capable of running better than that though, and I expect more from myself. It was a PR for the distance for me (though the bike was about a mile and a half short).

After the race I met up with my dad. When I grabbed my stuff from transition I told him I would just ride back to the hotel since it was so close to save having to put my bike in the car. However, when I got on my bike I realized my rear tire was completely flat. I have no idea when it went flat or if it happened after I racked it, but that was the first time I've ever had a flat on my race bike (knock on wood). It was a good time to have it I guess, since I never noticed it during the race. When I took the tube out  to replace it I noticed the hole was right by the valve stem on the inner side of the tube. I hadn't picked up road debris or anything . Maybe I had a slow leak all day and didn't realize it. Either way, let's hope for no more punctures!

That night my dad and I had dinner together (it was much better than the night before) and went to the casino attached to the hotel to play some blackjack. We both lost, but there were some entertaining people down there. On Monday it was time to head back to New York and get ready for my wedding! The trip home had zero travel issues. It never does. It's always on the way to the race. Why is that?

Swim - 28:32
Bike - 2:06:25
Run - 1:25: 52
Total - 4:04:52

Saturday, August 8, 2015

2015 NYC Triathlon

It has been a very busy few weeks, causing me to fall behind on my race reports. I'll try to get myself caught up before my next race, which is 70.3 Timberman on August 16...

On July 19 I raced the NYC Triathlon. I hadn't raced an Olympic distance triathlon since I did this race in 2013, so it would be a bit of a different test for me. I'm used to grinding it out over longer distances. It's pretty rare that I race at or near threshold like Olympic distance racing requires. It is good for me to mix it up occasionally and the speed work was part of the plan for the build up to 70.3 Calgary the following week.

I headed down to NYC with my family and Becky on Friday before the race. It was a pretty uneventful trip down. Saturday morning I went for an easy run in Central Park because there is no opportunity to get in the swim venue (because it's the Hudson River) and I didn't want to ride in the Park with it being as busy as it always is. I don't love running the day before a race, but I don't like doing nothing even less. So a run it was. After running I really just spent the day with my feet up and trying to relax. At 4pm I had to go to the required pro athlete meeting where we got briefed on the course and rules. After that we went out for an early dinner and then it was an early bedtime because it was a very, very early start Sunday morning.

Race morning I rode my bike over to transition from the hotel. It was strange to ride through the dark streets in what was essentially still the middle of the night (somewhere around 4:30am), but I made it safely and it was easier than getting shuttled over. As I racked my bike and got my gear set up I was a bit frustrated because in the giant, grassy lawn that was transition, my spot landed right in the only dirt spot where there wasn't any grass. I've had bad experiences in the past with dirt being on my the bottom of my feet while riding and didn't want that to happen again. There wasn't much I could do about it, so I hoped for the best. After setting everything up I started the long walk down to swim start. Since it's a point to point swim in the Hudson River, you have to walk over a mile to get up to the start. Once I got there I hung out in the tent for pros until it was time to hit the water.

This race uses a gender equalizer where there is additional prize money for the overall first place finisher between the males and females, so the women started first. The equalizer was 11:36, so the women were spotted that much time before the men started. There was a slight delay before the start as the organizers needed some extra time getting water safety personnel in position. The women ended up starting at roughly 6am, with us following after. I was hoping to have a solid swim since my pool sessions had been improving and with the aid of the current I hoped to come out not too far behind the leaders. Unfortunately, it didn't go that way and I had another crap swim. I didn't feel comfortable and I don't think I swam straight. My pool speed has not been transferring to the open water. (After reflecting on this race I decided that I needed to get to Kershaw Park in Canandaigua and get more open water practice in, which I have done.) I came out of the water about four minutes back to the lead males. More frustration.

As I made the long run to transition I decided I was going to take that frustration out on the pedals of my bike. I threw on my helmet, grabbed my bike, and headed out. I made a quick pass of one guy before we hit the West Side Highway. Immediately I could feel the dirt on the bottom of my feet and in my cycling shoes though. That didn't bode well. Since I figured the ride would be about an hour, I decided to push towards my threshold and hope I would be able to run off the bike. I knew there was potential for cracking hard on the run with this strategy, but figured I'd gamble. When I did this race two years ago the highway was in terrible condition. It was concrete that was falling apart. This year, though, about 85 percent of it had been resurfaced and was asphalt, so the ride was much less bumpy. I kept picking guys off on bike and slowly moved up to 9th place by the end of the ride. I averaged 334 watts and rode a 59:29. Only six people broke an hour on the day, so I had a solid ride, especially considering that course is a mile long. The hope was that I could run well for 10K. I should mention that after the turnaround in the Bronx my toes had had enough of the dirt in my shoes. As I descended down a hill I took my left foot out of my shoe and could feel that the blister had already ripped open from the rubbing. I ripped the skin off, brushed off the dirt as best I could, put my shoe back on, and got back to riding. That was going to feel great for the rest of the day.

In T2 I made a poor choice. My coach and I had talked about ways to save time in transition since they tend to make more of a difference in short course racing. I decided to run without socks for the first time ever. It turned out to be an awful decision.

My poor toes...
Anyway... exiting T2 I was quickly passed by the last guy I had passed on the bike. I could immediately tell he had a running background and knew there was no way I could stay with him. At about mile 2, once we were in Central Park, another guy came up and passed me, which put me out of the top 10. I tried to hang with him for a while, but the pace was a bit too much. However, as I climbed the last big hill in the northeast part of the park I was able to make a pass and move back into 10th, which is where I would ultimately end up, posting a run split of 35:31, which is 5:42 per mile. I was pleased with that. The last three miles were killer on my feet though. Every step I took I could feel blisters forming on the outside of my little toes. When I finally crossed the finish line, the first thing I did was take my shoes off. There was blood from the blisters all over my toes. It was pretty bad. I ended up heading into the medical tent to have them cleaned up and bandaged.

After that I met up with my family. I finished in 10th place with a time of 1:55:25, which I was generally happy with. Being a minute or two faster in the water is the only thing that could have really made me happier with the day. That and not having blisters all over my feet. The 11th place guy finished only 12 seconds behind me though, so I think the time saved from not putting socks on kept me in the top 10. Was it worth it? If you asked me the afternoon after the race I would've said "no way." If you asked me today, now that the blisters are mostly healed up, I'd probably say "I'm not sure."

That afternoon I was able to have lunch with one of my former students, Ryan, who is now living in New York City and working at the Lincoln Center for The King and I. It was great to get to catch up with him and hear about how well he has done since moving to NYC and pursuing his passion. It's not often that I have gotten to see such a wonderful success story and as a teacher it reminded me why our profession is important. I wish him the best of luck as he keeps working and I know that he will continue to achieve great things.

That night we went to see Something Rotten on Broadway. It was hysterical! Despite it being a long day and a late show (maybe 7:30pm isn't late to most people, but in my world it is), I had no trouble staying awake. I would definitely recommend it to anyone who has the chance to see it.

Swim - 15:55
Bike - 59:29
Run - 35:31
Total Time - 1:55:25 (10th overall)

We recreated the picture we took two years ago. Two weeks
until the wedding!

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Lyndonville 4th of July 5K Race Report

For the past several years we have done an unofficial 5K back home in Lyndonville the morning of the 4th of July to raise a bit of money for the fireworks that night. The firework show is one of the most incredible shows you will ever see. My father heads up the fundraising for it and, for a town as small as Lyndonville, he really gets the community to support the show. A town of less than 1,000 people puts out a 4th of July firework show of over $20,000. I recommend you get out there and see it some year if you haven't. You'll be impressed.

Anyway, the run is headed up by Penny Plummer Barry, and she put the word out that we would be doing it again this year. To try to accommodate people who were marching in the parade at noon, this year we moved the run up to 8:30am from 10am. That way people could run and then be on their way in plenty of time to march. I actually liked having the run earlier, but it made for an early morning as I had a 2.5 hour ride I needed to get in first. For the past couple of years I rode my bike to Lyndonville from Rochester that morning and timed it just right to hop off the bike and do the run. This year, since I'm doing my riding primarily on the trainer, I drove out Friday night and set my stuff up in my parents' garage. I got on the bike at 5:15am and got a solid ride in with some hard intervals in the last 40 minutes - 4 x 6 minutes at 364, 364, 365, and 368 watts. I finished up just in time to head over to run. 

We met in one of the church parking lots in the town and it was the usual faces that come every year. I enjoy the tradition and that everyone comes back each year for this. It really is a lot of fun. Becky and Jen also were running, and it's always great to see and talk with the Hughes family. We took the traditional group photograph, lined up on the road at the chalk line, and got the "ready, set, go" send off.

The route is a out and back to the White Birch Golf Course. The actual turn around spot is a little unofficial, so I just went to 1.55 on my Garmin before turning to head back. I wasn't sure how great I'd feel considering the hard bike ride I had done that morning, but I didn't feel terribly as we took off, so I just figured I'd roll with whatever came from my legs. I went through mile one in 5:51. I definitely didn't expect to feel that well, especially since I didn't feel like I was laboring. I figured I would just try to maintain that pace. I hit the 1.55 mile mark and turned to head back. Mile two split - 5:48, which kept me right on pace. This is the point where we were getting back into the village. People were setting up their chairs for the parade and putting finishing touches on getting their parties ready. There were American flags lining the light poles all down Main Street. It's an awesome little town on the 4th. Seeing all of this made mile three pass quickly. Split - 5:47. I made the left hand turn back down Lake Ave. toward the parking lot and hit 3.1 miles at 17:57 and was pleased with the sub 18 minute effort.

Everyone started rolling in and the group came back together. We all chatted for a bit, had some water, and of course some delicious cookies provided by Penny. They were as amazing as always. I even got my own plate for winning. Thank you, Penny!

After that we went on our way to celebrate the 4th with friends, family, a parade, too much food, and an amazing fireworks display. I already can't wait for next year!

Thursday, July 2, 2015

2015 Ironman 70.3 Mont Tremblant

I love this venue. After racing in Mont Tremblant last year in September I immediately knew I wanted to return for this race this year. The area is beautiful and the course is fantastic. It's a good mix of being challenging (i.e. not pancake flat) but also quite fast. The water is clear and refreshing. The roads are smooth and fast. The run is a good mix of spectators through the village and peacefulness on the trail. If you haven't been up to race in Mont Tremblant, I can't recommend strongly enough that you get up there and check it out.

I drove up to Mont Tremblant Friday after work. Becky and I left right from work, which saved us quite a bit of time as going home first would have caused us to do some backtracking. It ended up saving us about an hour total, which was really nice. The drive up was uneventful (unlike last time we went up there). My parents, sister, and Kathie and driven up earlier in the day, so they were already there. We arrived just before 10pm, so I was able to get a good night of sleep and not have to deal with all of the craziness that occurred before Raleigh. Being able to drive to a race really does take a lot of potential stress out of the equation. After flying to my first three races this year, the drive up was a welcome change.

Saturday was a bit unique because there were sprint and Olympic distances races held at the venue that morning, causing the normal pre-race stuff to be pushed back a bit in the day. Being a morning person who likes to get all that stuff done early in the day this was a bit of an adjustment for me, but it was alright. I went and registered right at 11am when they opened up and then went over to the lake for a practice swim. The lake was chilly (about 62F), but it was tolerable. I have to send a huge thank you to Debbie from for sending me a full sleeve Roka Maverick Pro wetsuit the week of the race. I had ordered a Huub suit in April and it still hadn't arrived. They kept telling me it was back ordered and should be in the following week. I guess it's shame on me for not drawing the line sooner, but they really jammed me up. I was disappointed with the service and them promising me the suit the week before only to be told the day it was guaranteed to ship that they "ran short." So thanks again to TriSports for bailing me out. Anyway... I felt great in the practice swim and was hoping that that would lend itself to a solid swim on race day.

After swimming I had to head to the athlete briefing. Being in a room with Jesse Thomas, Lionel Sanders, Richie Cunningham, Cody Beals, Paul Ambrose and a bunch of other top level triathletes is still pretty intimidating. The meeting was the usual stuff - here is the course... these are the rules... It was over quickly and we were on our way. I wanted to get a quick spin on my bike to make sure everything was running smoothly, so I grabbed it and headed out for short ride. After riding there was time to get a little rest before heading to dinner. We ate at the same little Italian place in downtown Tremblant where we ate last year. The food was delicious. After dinner we headed back to the condo so I could get my race gear together and get to bed early.

The race at Mont Tremblant is an 8am start, which meant we gott to sleep in. I set my alarm for 5am and woke up on my own before it went off. I'm used to a 4:15 start so this was like a lazy morning for me. I got ready, ate breakfast, and walked down to transition to rack my bike. Then we walked over to the swim start, which is about a 10 minute walk from transition. We were plenty early, so we found a spot to sit and relax for a bit before putting the wetsuit on. At 7:30am I got into my wetsuit and headed into the water to get warmed up. For some reason, though they told us it had warmed up a degree or two overnight, it felt colder to me, but after a few minutes of getting used to it I felt alright. It wasn't comfortable, but it wasn't so terrible that I thought my feet would freeze.

Just before 8am we lined up on the beach, which makes for a bit of a different start from many of the races I have done in the past few years where we have mainly been waist or chest deep in the water to start. When the gun went we charged in to the water, running and dolphin diving to get through the shallow water. For not having much experience with it, I was pleased with my entry into the lake with a few dolphin dives and then getting into a relaxed form. My goal was to break 30 minutes. I still had yet to do that in any 70.3 I had raced, and I needed to have that happen if for nothing else but the mental aspect of it. I focused on reaching and extending my arms to get good hip rotation and keeping my shoulders and arms relaxed in the water. I didn't try to make a group to swim with and find feet because I have been stressing myself out with that the past couple of races and I think it tenses me up. The course is a rectangle with two right hand turns, so it's very simple to navigate. I did actually manage to stay on the back of a group for the first 400 meters or so, but then I slowly fell off the back. I decided rather than try to push to stay with them I would just take whatever the swim gave me and keep relaxed, saving my energy for later. As I approached the end of the swim I did a couple more dolphin dives to get to water shallow enough to run in. I looked up at the clock and saw 29:xx. I will admit that when I saw that, I made a dash for the arch. I sprinted to make sure I got over the timing mat before 30 minutes hit. My official swim time was 29:45. It's still not great, but I finally cracked 30. Baby steps. I was pleased with that.

On the long run to transition I started peeling my off wetsuit. When I got to my bike, though, it got stuck on my ankle. I ended up really struggling and fighting to get it off. The one guy I beat out of the water exited T1 before me. Ugh...that was frustrating. He didn't stay in front long though, as I passed him back in the first half mile of the bike.

Once I got on my bike and into my shoes I pushed the pace. My coach had given me a target of 295 watts, but I was feeling good so I pushed a bit harder. For the first hour I averaged 317 watts. I had pulled a few guys back and was moving myself slowly back through the field. It started to rain lightly about 30K into the ride. It wasn't pouring, but it was enough to make the roads damp and slippery. With three u-turns on the course, I made sure to take them carefully. With about 20K left on the bike I had moved into 13th place. With the out and backs and u-turns it was easy to count people and gauge where I was in the race. I could see 12th place up the road, but wasn't able to pull him back. The stretch from 72-82K on this course is really though. There are a lot of steep climbs up to the final turn around. They aren't terribly long, but they are quite challenging. The nice part is once you get to the final turn around you get to come back down those same hills. After the final turn around I headed back toward transition. While I normally keep my intensity and power up on descents, I decided to take the opportunity on this stretch to rest my legs a big and let them recover on the fast downhills. With the wet roads I figured it wasn't worth the risk to hammer this section out to save maybe 30 seconds to a minute.

I came into transition still in 13th spot. I had ridden well, but this was by far the biggest effort I had put out on the bike to date. My normalized power for the ride was 307 watts. Transition was pretty clean and quick, and I headed out onto the run course.

My goal was to replicate my run from Raleigh. I started a little bit slowly there and built into a comfortable pace. I decided to take the same tactics here, and with a tough hill coming almost straight out of transition, keeping my heart rate under control was important. After that hill we ran past the lake, through the village and then out to a bike/run trail. The first part of the course was the same as the 70.3 Worlds course from last September, but once we hit the trail it was new to me. The trail was great pavement and shaded by trees, so it made for a cool run, which I enjoyed. The rain had stopped and the temperature was comfortable. On my way out I got to see the battle for the podium taking place between Lionel Sanders, Taylor Reid, and Jesse Thomas. The three of them were running together when I saw them and they were flying. I knew the overall time was going to be fast because those guys were racing hard. When someone is alone at the front sometimes they can just cruise in because they aren't being pushed. That certainly wasn't the case here.

Just before moving into
11th place.
I had been running steadily behind 12th spot on the way out. By the turn around I don't think the gap had really changed much. I continued to focus on him and tried to pick up the pace just slightly as we headed back toward town. It took me until 17K, but I was finally able to reel him in and make the pass. As we ran back along the water toward the resort part of town I could see 11th a bit up the road. I wasn't sure if I could make the catch or not, but I kept pushing. At the 20K mark of the run we went back past the exit from transition before running the final kilometer up the hill to the top of the resort and then back down to the finish line at the bottom. At that point I had pretty well resolved myself to 12th, but as I ran by the run exit my dad and Becky were standing there and I heard Becky yelling for me to go catch him. How could I give up now? I dug a little bit deeper and as we made our way up the climb I moved into 11th. I was nervous for another sprint finish because the course is quite narrow through the village on the way back down, so I kept pushing to the top of the resort and opened a big enough gap that I knew I was safe heading back down.

I crossed the line very proud of my effort and the 11th place result. In a three week time period I was able to throw down back to back 4:09 races and walk away with 10th and 11th place finishes. I was consistent and felt I biked and ran very well at both races. My confidence on the run has grown quite a bit as a result of these two races, but I will continue to work at it. The new goal is to crack the 1:20 mark, which I know will take some serious work, but I'm ready for the challenge.

As always, thanks to my family and Becky for all their support. It was great having them all at the race. Kathie Same joined us for this trip as well, so it was great to have her there. Again, a huge thank you to Debbie at TriSports for the help with the wetsuit and getting that to me so quickly. Next up is the NYC Triathlon on July 19 and then Ironman 70.3 Calgary the following week. July should be an exciting month!

Swim - 29:45
Bike - 2:12:25
Run - 1:22:39
Overall - 4:09:50

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

2015 Ironman 70.3 Raleigh

My third race of the 2015 season was Ironman 70.3 Raleigh. It was a late addition to my schedule, but after Challenge cut the pro fields at several of their races (including Quassy, which I was planning to race on June 7) I signed up last minute for Raleigh instead. It was a week earlier, but it actually fell into my training block nicely.

Our flight to Raleigh was scheduled to leave Rochester at 6:50pm Friday night. It was great because I could make the trip without missing any work. However, Friday afternoon as we were packing the car we received a message that our flight was delayed by over an hour. This meant we would miss our connection in Baltimore. We decided to go to the airport anyway, even though it meant we would be really early, to see what the options were. When we got there the agent at the desk told us there was no way we would make the connection and we would have to be rescheduled. The earliest flight wouldn't get us there until late Saturday afternoon. That wouldn't work with the meetings, bike check in, and everything else that needs to get done the day before a race. We asked him to look for other options. He told us there was a 6:40pm flight out of Buffalo that would get to Baltimore where we could catch our scheduled flight to Raleigh. It was 5pm. We decided to go for it. We grabbed our stuff, threw it in the car, and headed to Buffalo. It was going to be very, very close. About half way there we found out via a flight tracking app that the Buffalo flight was delayed by about 30 minutes. It was just enough time to allow us to get there comfortably and still make our connection in Baltimore. Things were looking up. We made the flight and things were good. Upon arriving in Baltimore, however, we found out that that flight was also delayed. Very delayed. As it turns out we could have taken the Rochester flight and still made it in time. This meant we were going to arrive in Raleigh very late. There was nothing we could do about it, so we got some dinner and watched game 7 of the Rangers vs. Tampa Bay. Sadly it didn't end well for our Rangers. Maybe next year will finally be our year...

We arrived to our hotel in Raleigh just before 2am and I went straight to bed. I didn't set an alarm, figuring I should prioritize sleep over any activity the following day. I was able to sleep in later than normal, so that was good. Saturday was spent doing the typical pre-race stuff... registration, dropping the bike off at T1, driving the bike course, and getting an early dinner. Since this was a point to point bike course we also swung by T2 to check it out so I could get a feel for the layout. After dinner it was back to the hotel for an early bedtime.

The logistics of this race made for an early start Sunday morning. We had to drop our run gear off at T2 and then take a shuttle 40 minutes to T1. Fortunately I was able to relax and take a little nap on the shuttle ride. Once we got to T1 I  got my bike all set up with nutrition and my bike gear before heading over to the lake to check out the swim course. The swim was a triangle, so there were only two right turns. We never had to swim directly into the sun either, so that helped with sighting the buoys. The water temperature was 78 degress, so it was a non-wetsuit swim.

I had researched a lot of the guys on the start list to try to get an idea of who swam times around what I've been swimming. I was hoping to find someone slightly faster than me and hop on their feet early and have them pull me to a good swim split. Unfortunately it didn't go quite as planned. When the gun went off I did a pretty good job staying on someone's hip for the first 300-400 meters, but then I drifted left and lost sight of him in the dark, dirty water. I could feel someone on my feet though, so I just kept swimming. Just after the first turn the guy on my feet came around me and I slid over and followed him until almost the second turn buoy. Then the swim got ugly for me. My left calf and quad cramped up really badly. I couldn't point my toes. I had to completely flex my foot, making it almost like a brake in the water, to try to stretch it out. I swam like that almost all the way back to the swim exit after the second turn, so probably for 400 meters or so.

When I got out of the water I looked at my watch and saw another slow swim time. In fact, that was the slowest swim time I've had in a couple of years. It turned out that times were pretty slow across the board. My Garmin had the course about 175 meters long, but I am still frustrated with how much time I am giving up in the water. However, I wasn't last out of the water (I was 20th out of 24), so I guess that's a good thing. Transition was long and narrow. I ran through, grabbed my bike with no issues and headed out on the bike course, passing one person in transition. I hopped on my bike and immediately thought my legs felt heavy. I felt like I couldn't get into a rhythm and wondered if I was going to suffer through the day. My power numbers were where I wanted them though, so I just kept pushing the pedals and hoped that I would eventually snap out of it.

Getting back up to speed. 
I loved this bike course. The roads were in extremely good condition. In the reports I read before heading to the race I was a little bit nervous about them, but there was no need to be. There was one stretch of road that was a little bumpy, but it was only about a mile and a half long. Otherwise I would say they were excellent. There were rolling hills through most of the ride and lots of turns, making it a pretty technical course. I feel like I do fairly well on courses like that, so I pushed my pace hoping to make up some ground on the guys in front of me. My dad and Becky didn't go to the swim because of the shuttle situation and the fact that they would have had to wait there until all the swimmers were out of the water and on the bike. Instead, they headed out to a spot on the bike course which was a little over 10 miles into the ride. By the time I saw them I had moved into 16th spot, so I was headed in the right direction. We made a right hand turn when I saw them and headed south for a bit, which was about the point where my legs finally started to feel better and less like they had bricks tied to them. The course set up was nice in that they could drive to another spot on the course without actually driving on the course to see me again near mile 25, by which point I had moved into 15th spot. After seeing them there they headed to Raleigh for T2. I moved into 14th spot around mile 35, and that is where I would stay for a long time. I pushed the back half of the course with my legs feeling better and kept an eye on my power meter, targeting the number my coach had given me prior to the race. I rolled into T2 with a great ride of 2:10:07, the third fastest bike split of the day. I was hoping I hadn't overcooked my legs and set myself up for an implosion on the run.

Loving the rolling hills.
My transition to the run wasn't great. As I was heading out I dropped my salt tabs and gels, so I had to stop to go back to get them. With as hot as it was and knowing it would only get warmer, I didn't want to not have the salt tabs for the run. The run course was a double loop, out and back set up. It trended generally uphill on the way out and back down on the way back. My legs felt pretty well as I started the run and I settled into a comfortable pace, a little bit slower than what my coach had told me. I was apprehensive about blowing up too early in the run, so I may have played things a little too conservatively. As I headed back out for the second loop I saw my dad and Becky, who informed me that 13th place was just 40 seconds ahead of me and then 12th place was about 2.5 minutes ahead of me. Hearing that I was gaining and only 40 seconds back gave me a boost of energy, though I was still feeling well and running solidly. At mile 8 I moved into 13th spot and kept pushing to try to catch the next guy. As I approached the turn around I kept an eye out to see what the gap was looking like and to see if I could gauge the guys to see how they felt. It looked like the 12th and 11th guys were struggling a little bit, so I set my mind on trying to catch those two in the final 3.5 miles back to the finish. I picked up my pace and started to really put the hurt in my legs.

Heading back out for the second lap.
Trying to reel in a few spots. 
The aid stations and volunteers were fantastic. At each aid station I would grab as much water as I could, dumping some on my head and drinking whatever I could without slowing down. I would also make sure to get some Coke and a few times I grabbed half a banana. That is, hands down, my favorite run course nutrition.

Back on the run course I was pushing the final few miles. I made my way into 12th place and up the road could see two more guys, as one was passing the other. I figured I could run my way into 11th if I really went for it and my legs held up, so I kept pressing my tempo. As I moved in on 11th I wondered if maybe it was possible to catch the other guy I could see. I was definitely closing the gap, but I didn't know if I had enough course left (there was only a mile to go at this point). I decided to give it everything I had, and as we got back into downtown he looked back a few times. When we made the final right hand turn he was still a good 75-100 meters in front of me, but that stretch of road was fairly long (probably .4 of a mile or so). As he drifted to the left side of the road to run in the shade from the buildings, I stayed on the right side because it was a straighter shot the the finishing chute. I was nearly sprinting at this point and figured that someone on the side of the road would yell to him that I was coming. If that had happened and he picked up his pace even a little bit I would have had no chance. Fortunately for me, no one told him and I sprinted up beside him. As soon as I did, he responded and started sprinting as well. We were in the finishing chute now, with less than 100 meters to go, and either I was able to somehow respond to his kick or he cracked a little, but I came back around him and made the pass just as we approached the finish line, beating him by one second. I collapsed instantly as I crossed the line with my legs and lungs not having anything left to give. I have never been able to dig so deep during a race before. I know that will serve me well in the future as far as the mental aspect goes and knowing how hard I can push through.

My run split came in at 1:22:02, which was more than a five minute run PR for me. I have really been working on my running and my coach has been challenging me with some difficult run sessions, so to see the results of that work was extremely rewarding.

The sprint to the finish.
After a couple of minutes recouping on the ground I got up and found my dad and Becky. They were beyond excited from that finish. I have to say that I was too. A top ten finish was extremely rewarding and our sprint finish hopefully made it exciting for the people there spectating as well.

My coach, Peter Cummings of Plan2Peak Coaching, gave me my targets in an email a few days before the race. Here is a bit of what he told me... "I have a feeling this could be that top 10 finish I was suggesting a few months ago .... I think 285-290 watts is a conservative power output with times on hills at 330 .... If you are fresh, which this week should have helped you with and we fuel right and the temps aren't brutal on the run you have a shot at 4:10 or slightly better. I wouldn't be shocked to see a 4:09. Anything slower than 4:17 and I would say it was a bad day." My normalized power for the day was 294, so I went just a touch high there, but overall I really tried to stick to his targets. He definitely put together a great plan for me based on what I've been producing in my training sessions. 

After the race we went to get some lunch before heading back to the hotel. Our flight back home left late Sunday night, so we didn't have to rush. We had a couple delays flying home, but it is much less stressful when you are heading home to go back to work than when you are headed to the race. Overall I would say it was a great weekend and I was very happy with my result. The venue was terrific and I would definitely like to go back and race in Raleigh again. A huge thanks to my dad and Becky for their support and for enduring the travel and lack of sleep for the weekend. 

All smiles post race. 
Swim - 33:50
Bike - 2:10:07
Run - 1:22:02
Overall: 4:09:27

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Wildflower Triathlon Festival: A Race Like None Other

This is just a small part of the awesome festival that goes on
during Wildflower. It's an experience like no other race.
Several years ago I made a list of races that I wanted to do at some point in my life. After everything I had read about Wildflower and after learning so much of the history of triathlon, I knew this was a must do event. It has been around since before I was born and is one of the oldest triathlons in the country. It has launched careers with breakthrough performances by many now world class triathletes. It is known as an extremely challenging course that will test your legs on the the bike and run courses. And it is known as one amazing weekend where thousands of people converge in the middle of nowhere in California for this Woodstock-like event.

Tri-California puts on an amazing event. Wildflower certainly lives up to the hype and their employees are all wonderful. The amount of work they put into making sure this is a great experience for everyone is second to none. For the professional field nothing is left unattended to. They help take care of lodging and food for the entire weekend. They promote the athletes and given them plenty of opportunities to represent their sponsors. Their communication leading up to and throughout the event is excellent and greatly appreciated. I can't speak highly enough about their professionalism and courtesy, and I would absolutely say that this is a must do event for any long course triathlete. It is something you have to experience for yourself.

The travel for the race was a long day. We flew from Rochester to San Jose Thursday night after work. We got into San Jose pretty late, so we stayed there and saved the more than two hour drive for Friday morning. We arrived down to the park just before noon on Friday. I unpacked my bike and then took it for a spin. After watching the Southwest baggage handlers throw it around on the tarmac as they loaded the plane I was fortunate to escape with only a broken rear draft box and not a cracked frame or wheel, but that's a story for another time. I rode for about an hour, which felt good after a long day of traveling and sitting in uncomfortable airplane seats. Then I did the normal pre-race registration stuff and went to the athlete meeting. That all wrapped up a little after 5pm, so we headed for dinner and then to our hotel in Paso Robles, which was about half an hour from the race site. Many athletes camp out at Wildflower, and Tri-California offers to put professional athletes up in home-stays or cabins, but since my dad, Jen, and Becky were all there we opted for the comfort of a hotel a little further away.

Race morning we made the drive down to the park without any issues. Getting in to the park was much easier and quicker than we planned for, so we ended up being a little bit early, which was fine by me. I'd rather be early and have time to carefully check everything over than to feel rushed and use nervous energy hurrying around.

Because the area has experienced such a horrible drought, the format of the race has had to be slightly modified. The lake is completely dried up where the swim normally is, so they had to move the swim down to where there is still some remaining water, which is a little over two miles from transition. We got shuttled down to the start after setting up transition. After the swim you then have to run the 2.2 miles from the lake to transition before heading out on your bike. Then you finish with a 10.9 mile run and your two runs are added together for your run split. It is unique but they did a great job of making it work. As you exit the water there is a second transition area set up where you can place a pair of running shoes to have for the first run, which goes through the dried up lake bed. It was crazy to think as we ran through there that there should be water 30 feet above our heads. Hopefully the area gets the rain it needs to restore the lake and end the drought for everyone who lives there. It looks like a wildfire waiting to happen.

The actual race:

Wildflower. The One and Only... 
The race was an 8am start, so a little later than most races. The weather was perfect with light winds, a clear sky, and temperatures starting around 60F. It warmed up throughout the day, but it probably topped out at about 80F. I got in the water for a warm up and then lined up with the other professional men. I tried to put myself right in the middle of the pack so I would have a good opportunity to find some feet to draft on and have a better swim. Unfortunately, I swam like garbage again. It was so frustrating to come out of the water and see that I was on 30 minutes again. I have been stuck there for an entire year, despite having significantly better swims in the pool lately. I just can't seem to crack that barrier and mentally it is taking its toll on me. Obviously I need to make adjustments, but I just don't know what those are right now. Hopefully I can find some answers sooner than later.

The uphill run out of the water. OUCH!
Coming out of the water you had to run up a pretty steep boat launch that really jacked up your heart rate. I got my wetsuit off and put my running shoes on for the run to the other transition. It was mainly through dirt trails where the lake bed was. I beat one professional male out of the water and about three quarters of a mile into the run he came flying by me like I was standing still. He turned out to be Ryan Hall's (the US Olympic marathoner) younger brother. Awesome.

So I ended up being the last professional male to head out on the bike, which is a place I've been before and am not fond of. It actually took me a while to reel anyone in, but eventually I started picking a few guys off. This bike course is no joke. There are some serious climbs and the first one comes about two miles into the ride. Patience is important. I made sure not to blow my legs up too early. There was also a really bad patch of road around a mile in where I hit a bunch of potholes, causing my front water bottle to explode out of its cage. Perfect. By mile 20 I had caught five guys and was feeling pretty good. And then the worst part of my day occurred... An official on a motorcycle pulled up next to me and told me to "stand down." I knew I was receiving a penalty, but I had no idea what for. I pulled over, stopped, and waited for him to come back to me. I asked him what the penalty was for and he told me it was for not being staggered enough as I passed the last person. Basically, I needed to be wider when I went by him than I was. I could not believe it. The pass took place as we made a right hand turn, so I thought the penalty was a bit harsh, but there was nothing I could do about it so I stood there and waited as he counted down the time until I could resume riding. As I stood there, four of the guys I had passed went back by me. It was so disheartening to have that happen and it sort of broke my spirit for the race for a while. I wanted to quit in frustration. Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, my time was served and I could resume. It was a long, straight road, so I could see a long way ahead. I could see three of the guys way out in front of me and the frustration got worse. "I should be up ahead of them," I kept telling myself angrily. After a lot of self talk I finally pushed it out of my mind and let myself accept it for what it was. I learned from my mistake and will be careful to not let that happen again.

Done with a difficult and frustrating ride.
I kept riding and re-passed each of those guys again. Around mile 40 I was in for another surprise. This is the first course ever that I have not driven ahead of time to give myself an idea of what it is like and do some recon so I know what to expect. There simply wasn't time for me to do that with the travel for this race. As I rounded a left hand bend in the road I came abruptly to a steel deck bridge. I locked up my brakes and froze in place. I haven't ridden over a steel deck bridge since my crash in October of 2012. I had flashbacks and a bit of an anxiety attack. I debated getting off my bike and walking across, but it was a pretty long bridge and walking across it with bike shoes on would have been a nightmare. Slowly, I started riding over it. I think my knuckles were white from how tightly I was gripping my handlebars. I made it over without incident. When they are dry and not icy, they really aren't that bad to ride across, but I still don't like it. Immediately after the bridge you start the climb called "Nasty Grade." It was a long climb (a little over three miles) with parts that were quite steep. After reaching the top you get to do some nice descending, but with not knowing the roads that well I held back a little more than I probably needed to. If I ever do this race again I will know that and be able to ride differently. A few more hills and it was back into transition. With the penalty I rode a 2:30:43 bike split on 286 Normalized Power. I'm definitely pleased with being able to put out those kind of watts for that long. All the riding and hard trainer sessions are clearly paying off.

After a quick transition I headed out on the run course. It was kind of nice knowing we already had a little over two miles in the bank and the run would be a bit shorter. It was a good thing, too, because this run course was brutal. Probably 60-70 percent of it was on dirt trails, and it was soft dirt trails. Parts of it were almost like running on a beach. It sucked the life out of your legs. And there were hills that were so steep up and down I think I would rather have had someone kick me in the teeth repeatedly than try to run up or down them. My average pace for the run was 6:54 per mile, which isn't great, but for this course it was respectable and I was decently pleased with it. There was one mile of the course that took me 9:02 to cover. Ouch! The course finished with a downhill section that tore my quads to shreds. It was by far the most demanding run course I have ever raced on and it is one that I will never forget, which is what Wildflower is all about.

The finishing chute was awesome.
I crossed the line in 4:36:25 and was the 23rd professional male out of 32. Not exactly where I wanted to be, but in looking at the results the penalty cost me about three spots. I might have been able to sneak up one or two more if I had known the course and didn't waste free speed in a few spots and stop at the bridge, but that's all speculation. At the end of the day, I ended where I did and that's what I have to continue to work from.

Here is a link to my Garmin file from the race: Wildflower Bike Course

All in all, Wildflower was an awesome experience. It was a bucket list race for me and the energy and atmosphere there was unlike any other race I have ever done. I would absolutely recommend it to every triathlete. It really is like the Woodstock of triathlon and will be an experience you'll always remember. Despite my frustration from another poor swim and receiving a penalty on the bike, I am glad I picked that race and got to experience it. Plus it was my first ever trip to California.

Awesome support from my family, as always.
After the race we headed back to the hotel to clean up and then out for dinner. We decided to make the drive over to the Pacific Ocean and I'm really glad we did. The coast was beautiful and is so much different than the Atlantic. We were even able to stick our feet in the (really cold) water. It was nice to spend time there watching the sun start to set with Becky, my dad, and Jen. As we were getting ready to leave we even saw a whale breaching out in the water. It came up above the surface a few times and was really awesome to see. We enjoyed a nice dinner in a quiet little restaurant in the town of Cambria and then called it a night. Sunday morning it was time to pack up and head back to New York.

A whale!

I get to marry this girl this summer!

Thursday, March 19, 2015

2015 Ironman 70.3 Puerto Rico

My first race of the 2015 season was back in Puerto Rico for the 70.3 race there. It was great to go back to the race where I earned my pro card last year to race my first professional 70.3 event. They moved the event up a month earlier on the calendar this year, so it was a pretty early season test in mid March. Having this race to look forward to helped get me through the long winter months and all the indoor training this year.

The trip down was uneventful, which was appreciated. In fact, all of the days leading up to the race were pretty low key with no overly stressful incidents. I traveled with my bike to this race, which is the first time I've flown with it, but the Scicon Triathlon travel bag was fantastic. The packing process was quick and easy and there is almost no disassembling of the bike required. I would definitely recommend looking into this bag for people who need to fly to races.

This was not a priority race for me, so going in I wondered how my body would respond. I had trained hard through Monday and had a couple harder efforts during the week, so there wasn't complete recovery. On the other hand there wasn't as much pressure from myself either because I knew I wasn't fully tapered. It was just an opportunity to test myself out, gauge where I was at from the winter training, and get some experience racing in the pro field at a 70.3 event.

In the two days before the race I went through my normal routines, checking out the swim course, running a loop of the run course, and spinning my legs on the bike to make sure it was running smoothly. This was my first opportunity to ride my new Trek Speed Concept outside, so I was really looking forward to that. Friday night I got to have dinner with Steve and Karen, my friends who I met last year, at a great restaurant in Old San Juan called Al Dente. I hadn't seen them since Ironman Cozumel last year, so it was nice to have an opportunity to catch up with them.

Race morning I went to transition to rack my bike and set up my gear. Being on the pro rack is really nice because there is a lot of space and it was really close to bike out and bike in. The little stuff like that can be nice perks. After setting everything up we walked over to the swim start, which is about a 10-15 minute walk. Once we got over there I actually warmed up! I've never done any kind of actual warm up for a race before, but I did some running and dynamic stretching this time. I definitely felt warm and ready to go when we hit the water.

We were allowed in the water about ten minutes before the race start, so I got some swimming in to loosen up my arms. I worked really hard in the pool over the winter and was motivated to have a good swim. I lined up near a big group and was hoping I could hop on the back of the group and get a good draft to help me out. It didn't work. My goggles got kicked off in the first 50 meters and then I just had a crap swim. I don't know what went wrong. I do know I was not swimming very straight, which was the first issue. I could see at big group ahead of me up until the first turn, which was at 700 meters, and they weren't that far away. After the second turn to head back I was all over the place and I ended up losing a lot of time there I think. I didn't wear my watch in the water, so I don't have the map to see what it looked like, but I'm fairly certain I swam way wide a few times. I opted to leave my watch on my bike synced up to my power meter already to avoid any issues like what happened to Cozumel last year.

They used new timing straps at this race that were disposable. They were awful. Mine came off in the water before the first turn buoy, so in less than 700 meters. Apparently about half of the pro field lost them in the water. It was kind of funny because when someone asked about them in the meeting the day before the organizers kind of came off rude about it saying "Of course we have tested them and they work great. Do you think we would use something that we didn't try out first?" Not so much...

Anyway... I came out of the water in 31:07 according to my father's watch since I didn't have mine and I lost my timing chip. Good enough to be about 20 seconds faster than last year...ugh. Fortunately, I wasn't last out of the water, so at least there's that. It's still not nearly good enough and is really frustrating because in the pool I felt like I was making good progress. I had even cracked 14 minutes in a timed 1000 yard TT the week before, which was by far the best swim I'd ever had. Clearly I need to keep working in the pool though. I can't be giving that kind of time away right off the bat. It is just too much to come back from.

When I came out of the water there was a volunteer standing nearby with extra timing chips. Apparently since so many people had lost them before me they were well prepared. I was handed a new one as I ran by and I continued the long run to T1. The new strap didn't have Velcro like the first one, so I wasn't sure how it was supposed to go on. After grabbing my bike I stopped at another volunteer and she gave me a different strap. Apparently on the new ones you had to peel off the back and then they were like a big sticker. It was a bit of a cluster, but eventually it got sorted out and I was on my way. (This year I remembered to take my swim skin off in transition rather than riding away with it still half on. That was good progress...)

Once on the bike I got pretty dialed in to the power number I was targeting. I started taking in nutrition and fluids early since I knew it was going to be a lot warmer than the temperatures I was used to. All in all it was a pretty uneventful ride for me. I was all alone for almost all of the first loop. I caught a couple guys on the way out to the first turn around. Having the turn arounds was nice because it let me see how far ahead people were and let me gauge where I was in relation to the field. On the second loop the roads got a little more crowded with age groupers, but I pretty much just stayed to the left and didn't have any issues. The biggest issue I had was at the one aid station the volunteers were handing out water bottles with no tops. They didn't have sport tops or regular tops. How is that supposed to be useful? All the water just spilled right out. It forced me to drink my second bottle of Nuun earlier than I had planned. The second time past that aid station I had to grab two bottles of Gatorade to make sure I had enough hydration to get me back all the way to transition. Fortunately it all worked out.

Coming back into the city I caught a group of three guys and rode with them into transition. No point in trying to push hard past them with only a couple of miles left to go. We cruised into T2 and I knew I had PRed the bike split. I had gone through 25 miles in about 58:40 and then through 50 miles in 1:57. I ended up with a 2:11:24 split, averaging 273 watts. My new LG Course tri suit and Kask Bambino helmet, along with my new bike of course, made for a very fast and comfortable ride. I am definitely going to enjoy racing in that gear this year. It let me focus and racing and never distracted me with discomfort.

On to the run and I had thoughts of last year. I melted on the run course last year. I was hoping to have a much better experience this time around. I remembered the course very well and had actually run almost the entire loop once on Friday, so that was helpful. I exited transition with the guys I had come off the bike with. One of them took off, one got dropped really quickly, and I ran with the other guy for a bit. We kind of went back and forth until I ended up pulling away from him. I could see another guy well up the road, so I set him as my target to try to reel him in. By the turn around I caught him, we had a brief conversation, and then he took off again. I knew I couldn't go with him, so I held my pace. At the end of the first loop I had almost caught back up to him. Then, on the way back out to the run turn around, we went back and forth a couple of times. Finally I put in a solid surge and moved well past. He must have really cracked because by the time we made the final turn I was over half a mile ahead of him. During all that though another guy came flying past both of us, so I ended up not moving forward but not moving backward either. Heading back to the finish I knew I couldn't catch anybody and there was no one closing in on me, so I just held my pace consistently to the finish line. I ran a 1:27:55, which was 23 seconds per mile fast than last year. I still have some work to do on my running, but given that run course and the heat I was pleased with it.

After crossing the finish line I got some water and met up with Becky and my dad. I was happy with my performance and had taken ten minutes off of last year's time on this course and set a new 70.3 PR, finishing in 4:15:24. There was not a ton of time to relax though, as our flight left for home at 3:45pm. I went right to transition to grab my bike and gear and we headed back to the hotel. I packed my bike back up in my case, cleaned up, and we headed for the airport. It was kind of strange to not stick around at all after the race. This is the only time this year I have to catch a flight the day of the race, so fortunately I won't have to do that again.

Thanks to Nuun to keeping me hydrated in the heat, Honey Stinger for fueling me with their delicious bars, HUUB for the extremely comfortable swim skin, for my training gear, Towpath Bike for taking care of me in Rochester and doing all my bike maintenance, and Trek for making an awesome bike. And of course thanks to my dad and Becky for traveling with me and all their support, even though it was such a quick trip without a ton of time to enjoy the beautiful island. (They both did manage to get some sun though). Time to get back to work and prepare for Wildflower!

Swim - 31:07
Bike - 2:11:24
Run - 1:27:55

Finish Time - 4:15:24