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