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