Wednesday, June 29, 2016

2016 Ironman 70.3 New Orleans

Last weekend was Ironman 70.3 New Orleans. The lead up into this race was complicated and far from ideal. A few important details... I didn't know for sure if I would be racing until nine days before the race. Since my bike frame had been cracked by Southwest on my flight home from Puerto Rico, I did not know if I would have a bike to race on or not. I ordered a replacement frame almost immediately after discovering mine was broken, but the queue for Trek frames can be a little long. Hand laying carbon frames is not a speedy process, and you can't blame them for that.

On April 8 I got an email that my frame had arrived at Towpath, so that was the final piece to the puzzle. Backing up a little before that, I had tweaked my hamstring about two weeks prior during a long run around the Irondequoit Bay. I felt it pop and, since I had done this before, knew exactly what was wrong. Fortunately, I had my phone and could call Becky to pick me up. I went to Pittsford Performance Care to get treated that week, as I have been there for this issue and a few others before. The guys do incredible work and can get you back up and running (no pun intended) really quickly. After two treatments I tested it out on the treadmill. I was feeling alright for the first 5-6 miles, but then, just like that, it popped again. Apparently it wasn't completely fixed yet. I went in for another two treatments and then rested it. I took five days off from running and spent extra time in the pool and on my road bike. That week I was chaperoning a school trip to New York City. My favorite thing to do there is to run in Central Park. I took my running shoes and figured that's where I would finally test it out again after giving it the extra rest. Wednesday I ran a 10k, staying in the lower half of the park in case I needed to bail out and walk back to the hotel. Thankfully I made it through with no issues and my leg felt alright. It was a little sore the rest of the day, but not painful. It just felt like it was getting used to the motion again. The next day I went back to the park and figured I would try running one loop around. My leg felt much better this time, so as I completed the loop I decided to go around again and pick up the pace. I ended up running a half marathon in a time that I was pretty happy with considering the circumstances. It was at that point that I decided if I did get my bike in time, I would go. All in all I lost a week and a half of running during that stretch.

Fast forward to Friday when I found out about my bike frame coming in. As soon as we got back from NYC that afternoon, I went over to the shop to drop off a few things they needed to build it up. Then I went for a swim and, by the time I was done, so was my bike. I can't thank the guys at Towpath enough for all the work they did in getting that bike in and building it up so quickly, especially Rob and Scott. And a huge thanks goes to James Cronkwright for helping push things through Trek faster to get that frame here in time. I can't recommend this shop highly enough for any of your cycling needs. It is the best shop in Rochester, hands down.

So it's nine days until the race in New Orleans, and I had to wrap my head around the fact that I would indeed be racing. I got some decent training in over the weekend and then spent the week sharpening things up with some speed work.

Now to the actual race...

Race morning was overcast and windy. Very windy. Sustained winds around 20-25mph with the occasional gust blowing through. Some of the swim buoys were blown off course, so the race was delayed 15 minutes so they could be set back up. We were given the chance to get in the water to warm up about ten minutes before race start, which was good because it gave me a chance to try to get used to the choppy water. I was also using a new wetsuit, the HUUB Archimedes II. (As a side note, it is a great wetsuit. The neoprene is extremely soft and flexible.) On most days I don't look forward to the swim. On this day I was dreading it. The horn went and I got out to a decent start. It didn't last very long. The water was so choppy it was hard to breath without drinking a mouthful and it was hard to sight. Honestly, I was nervous and just wanted to be out of the water. I know my technique went to complete garbage and I was in survival mode. I did notice a few other guys around me the entire way, so at least I knew I wasn't last. The most frustrating part was after the final turn I was directed to a final green buoy that we were told was right by swim exit. However, when I got to that buoy I was told we didn't need to go around it and it actually wasn't really near the exit. Instead it was about 200 yards from where I needed to be. Half of the field had gone straight to the exit and half of us went to the buoy. This isn't the first race where there has been miscommunication about this exact thing and I've never come out on the good end of it. To say it's frustrating would be an understatement.

Onto the bike for a 28 mile out and 28 mile back ride. The first half was basically straight into the wind and the second half pushed us home. I have never raced in wind like that before. It really beats your body up. You have to use your entire body to try to stabilize against the wind. The deep front wheel and the disc make you feel like a big parachute. I rode solo the entire way as my swim was so poor. I kept telling myself to try to push the first half because there would definitely be opportunities for recovery on the way back. How strong was the wind? I made it to the turn around in about 70 minutes. I made it back to transition in around 57 minutes. Eating and drinking was a challenge because I never wanted to take a hand off the bars for fear of getting blown over. The most eventful part of the ride was with about three miles to go I heard a loud "ping". A spoke on my front wheel had broken. I watched nervously as the wheel spun, rubbing the front brake as it was so out of true. I figured I could make it to transition since I didn't have far to go, but I slowed way down on the climb and descent of the on/off ramp because I was scared the wheel might give out. If that had happened any early in the race my day would have been over. Fortunately I was able to make it to transition and only give up a couple of minutes.

Now to the run, which was where my focus was coming into this race. I have had not so great runs in my past few races. I needed a confidence boost from a solid run. My run training going in hadn't been great because of the hamstring, but I had intentionally backed off on the ride to save my legs a bit for the run. My goal was to run a 1:25 with all the factors involved. The run was a straight out and back like the bike, except this time the first half was with the wind and the second half was into it. I tried to keep a steady tempo going out, saving myself for the final 6.5 miles. The wind pushed me all the way out and I felt in control. The pace was comfortable and I held my position. I hit the turn around and it was like a punch in the gut. The wind was so strong, when combined with the water from aid stations, that I actually felt cold. At about the 9.5 mile mark I could feel myself starting to fade. I just needed to hold on. Occasionally I would check over my shoulder and I could tell that I was being chased down. Fortunately I was able to hold on to 14th spot as I crossed the line, which was exactly where I came off the bike. I didn't quite hit my time, but I ran a 1:26:12, which I was pretty happy with. It was my fastest run of the year and my fastest overall time this year by a solid margin.

My college soccer coach drove all the way up from southern Florida to watch the race and cheer me on. It was absolutely awesome to have him there. He has turned into quite a triathlete himself over the past year or so. I am hoping that we get to race together at some point later this year. Keep up the training, Coach!


All in all I was pleased with the race. I survived the scary swim, had a solid bike split, and put in my best run of the year so far. Hopefully I've turned the corner for the year and things will only get better from here.

Swim - 33:46
Bike - 2:07:14
Run - 1:26:12
Overall - 4:11:19  (14th professional male)

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Barrelman Triathlon

I'm extremely excited to be racing the Barrelman Triathlon in Niagara Falls, Canada this September. The race, put on by Multisport Canada, is in its third year and it has received nothing but great reviews from the first two editions. I haven't raced close to home in a couple of years, so I'm excited to have this nearby. I'm hoping to have a big crew of family and friends either race with me or come up to cheer us on that weekend!

Here are a few things to know about Barrelman, why I'm racing it, and why you should consider it:
  1. Prize money. There is a $5000 cash prize purse split between men and women. The prize money is available to anyone as well, not just for the pro field. So whoever finishes in the top five can claim some cash. Here is the complete payout allocation:
    1st – $1,000
    2nd – $ 750
    3rd – $ 500
    4th – $ 150
    5th – $ 100 
  2. Timing. The race is September 18, 2016, which is the start of the second half of my season. After racing Ironman Whistler in July I plan to take a little down time before the late part of my year. This will be the perfect race to kick off my fall racing as I build toward Ironman Cozumel in November.
  3. The swim venue. It's no secret that swimming isn't my strongest discipline, but I am pumped for the swim venue at Barrelman. The swim takes place in a canal near the Welland International Flatwater Centre (notice the non-American spelling), which looks awesome. Racers are all but guaranteed perfect, wetsuit legal swim conditions. It is a recreational canal with no boat traffic, so it should be great, clean water.
  4. Start time. I'm a morning person, so early starts don't bother me, but sometimes I feel badly making my family roll out of bed at 3:30 or 4am. Not at Barrelman. A 9am start time means everyone will be able to sleep to a pretty reasonable hour.
  5. The course/views. The course will having some stunning scenery, especially the run course, which is a double loop and will take you past the Falls twice. Everyone knows the view of Niagara Falls is better from the Canadian side, so racers will be able to distract themselves with the spectacular views.
  6. The price and the exchange rate. The US dollar is strong right now. Barrelman is a very reasonably priced race, but when you do the conversion to USD, it's a freaking steal. If you register by August 6, the price is $264 CAD, which, with the current exchange rate at the time of writing this, is $205 USD. A half iron distance race for just over $200? You'll save on hotels too.
As you can see, there are plenty of reasons to come race Barrelman this September. Check out the website at www.niagarafallstriathlon.com for more information or to register. I hope to see you there!

Thursday, March 3, 2016

2016 Ironman 70.3 Panama

My season opener did not go the way I had hoped or planned. Leading into the race I had a solid block of training and was feeling great. I had been doing big volume in the pool, was putting up great numbers on the bike, despite not riding a ton, and had had some strong runs. I was excited to put the training to the test and see where I landed in a competitive field at the 70.3 Latin America Pro Championship.

The day before the race we were told that there would be a change to the bike course because of some permitting/safety issues. Originally it was intended to be a double loop course, but not it would become a triple loop course. That means all the athletes would be on an 18 mile stretch of road. But really it was even tighter than that, because the road was closed to car traffic, but bike traffic was both ways on parts of it. More on that later...

As always on the trip down, there was some nervousness. Flights were delayed and we barely made connections. I think we were in the Miami airport for less than 18 minutes total. Fortunately we did make all our connections and so did our luggage.

Race morning I woke up early and got ready. Joel and I caught an early shuttle to the race site because I don't like to be rushed and I'm an early riser anyway. It turned out to be a good thing that we did, because when we got there Joel realized he had forgotten his tri top at the hotel (#amateurhour). He ended up having to run back to get it, but made it in plenty of time (especially considering the race started about 45 minutes late).

The race was scheduled for a 6:30am start in the Panama Canal. I was hoping for a strong current. Two years ago, which was the last time this race was held, it was a super fast current and guys were out of the water in 16 minutes. We didn't quite get that strong of a current this year, but there was definitely a bit of a push. As noted earlier, the race was really late to get started. We went out on the pier at about 6:20am, ready for an on time start. And then we waited. And we waited some more. And then we kept waiting. We never really were given a reason why the delay, but there was nothing we could do about it. It wasn't ideal to have to stand around waiting in the heat with no food or liquid, but at least everyone was in the same boat.

Finally we were told we could get in the water. At the prerace meeting the day before there was a big debate about where to keep the buoys and when you could make the turn toward the swim exit. It was finally decided that it would be too difficult to police people, so we were told "A to B". The buoys are there to guide you, but pick any line you want. I don't think I picked a great line. I also had the wrong goggles on. It was slightly overcast and the sun hadn't come up yet when we were supposed to start. After 45 minutes of waiting, however, we were swimming dead into the rising sun. I couldn't see much of anything and wished I had been wearing tinted goggles. I had a decent swim, but still came out of the water about six minutes back. I was hoping to be more in the 3-4 minute range. I still have a long way to go in the water.

Out of the water there was a 300 meter or so run to transition, which I hustled through as I pulled up my race kit and took off my swim skin. I wasn't the last guy out of the water, so I guess there's that... Onto the bike and I felt good. My coach and I had talked numbers and we had targeted 320 as a good goal that should let me run fairly well. The biggest question mark was the heat, but we had done some tricks to try to acclimate back home in Rochester. If I saw my heart rate rising, I would back off on the power. As I rode the first loop I felt great. With the course u-turning so many times it was easy to watch the race unfold and see what the time gaps were and how I was riding compared to everyone else. I was riding very well and was closing the gap to the main groups up front. Through the second lap and I still felt great. My power was slightly above target but my heart rate was low. I was fueling well and I didn't feel like heat was going to cause me to explode. On the second loop the traffic had picked up was there were lots of people on the course now. By the third loop it was extremely busy and even congested at spots. I hit the far turn around of the last loop and started to head back. This section was slightly downhill before going up through a no passing zone. As I passed the final couple of age groupers before heading into the no pass zone a woman, out of the blue and for no apparent reason, swerved hard to the left. I don't know if she was eating/drinking, trying to avoid a bad patch of road, of just was not paying attention, but I had to swerve hard to the left to avoid her. I lost control and the next thing I knew I was on the pavement. My bike was 20-30 meters down the road.

I was in shock for a moment and didn't know what to do. I knew I needed to get out of the way as there were lots of cyclists going in both directions. Some spectators grabbed my bike for me and we got off to the side of the road. I got my bike and looked it over: flat front tire, banged up base bar on the right side, damage to the rear derailleur, and the right pedal was broken with about a third of it missing. I took inventory of my injuries: bloody hand, bloody leg, really bloody shoulder, ripped race kit with road rash on my butt, but nothing felt broken. Someone had called medical and they showed up. Decision time. If medical touches you, your race is over. Could I finish? Should I finish? I decided to fix my flat to give myself some time. In the midst of changing the tube, my spare exploded. I was too hasty and it had been pinched against the rim. I didn't have another spare with a long enough valve. I waited for a bit and saw Joel go by. I waited for him to hit the turn around and on his way back flagged him down to see if he had a spare I could use. He didn't. I kept waiting, hoping eventually tech support would go by. After a long wait, they did and I flagged them down. We had to swap some valve extenders, but eventually we got something just long enough to work with my front wheel. At this point I had decided I was going to finish up. I was sore, but I was functional. I didn't think I would hurt myself any worse by carrying on. I had tried to call my dad and Becky using a spectators phone, but I hadn't been able to get ahold of them. I knew they would be worried because by now I was way behind when I should have arrived. The whole incident took about 40 minutes. I had about 12 miles to go after the crash, but I didn't push hard. I just rode it out nice and easy. My watch time when I finished read 2:03. It had stopped when I crashed, obviously. I had averaged 328 watts up until the crash and was probably going to have the third or fourth fastest split of the day. Sadly, it wasn't to be.

I racked my bike when I made it to transition and walked over to see my dad and Becky. I talked to them about what happened and then looked for a race official. They had told me they heard I had DNFed. I wanted to make sure with an official that that wasn't the case before heading out to run. He did some checking around and eventually told me I hadn't been DQ'ed or DNFed, so I started out on the run course. I wasn't going to run hard, but I felt like I needed to finish. I'm not really sure why I felt that way. I knew I was going to be the last male pro to finish, but it didn't seem to matter to me.

Out on the run course I saw one of the men who had helped me when I crashed. He had ridden his bike over to the run course and found me. He had done all of the interpreting between me and medical and tech support. We talked for a little as I ran. I ended up seeing him a few more times throughout the run. He was an awesome guy and kept cheering me on for finishing up. I also saw Joel as I passed back by transition. He was just coming in off the bike, so I stopped to talk to him for a minute as well. He had an awesome ride, so that was good for him. Considering the circumstances, I still ran a 1:27 in the heat, without really pushing myself, and with some sore and bloody body parts. That's not too bad.

To top off the day, after Joel finished we caught a shuttle back to the hotel. We were 2-3 miles from the hotel and something went wrong with the bus. The engine died. We all had to get off. Joel and I rode our bikes the rest of the way and my dad and Becky caught a cab. I had to work up some courage to get in the shower because I knew how badly the road rash was going to hurt. I took my coach's advice and bit a towel when I got in to get through the initial sting. Then Becky bandaged me up before we grabbed some dinner and packed up to leave the next morning.

Despite not having the race I wanted to have, there were still a few positive take-aways from the day. I had a solid ride leading up to the crash and I felt like I could have had a strong run if things had gone differently. Fortunately, the only training I missed when I returned home was a week of swimming. I managed to get through everything else as my body healed up. I'm feeling well again and am just over two weeks out from 70.3 Puerto Rico on March 20. I love that race and hopefully will be able to go get a little redemption by having a solid day there.

This shower is going to hurt. A lot.

Monday, January 25, 2016

2016 Season Preview

The 2016 race season is getting an early start, with my first race in less than a week at Ironman 70.3 Panama. Starting so early will likely make for a long season, but I'm ready for it. I took a bit of a break after Chattanooga before starting to ramp things back up, and at this point I feel recharged and have been working hard for the past two months preparing for Panama. Training through the holidays was a bit of a challenge, not just for me but for Becky as well, but she was great and put up with my healthy food requests and time training. At the end of this season I'm going to plan for a nice break for all of December so I can really enjoy the holidays.

So how did I spend my winter training? I spent it working on my deficiencies - swimming and running. For the past seven to eight weeks my time spent swimming, biking, and running has been almost exactly evenly split. Generally triathletes spend the most amount of time riding because the biggest percentage of races is spent on the bike. My riding has always been my strength, so I am working to try to bring my swimming and running up to speed. I also spent quite a bit of time focusing on strength and flexibility. My coach had me doing a strength program twice a week and performing functional movement exercises five days a week in an attempt to correct some muscle imbalances. Hopefully that all translates to more power on the bike and run and increased muscular endurance.

I was in the water generally four days each week, swimming 4-5,500 yards each time and averaging between 18-21,000 yards. That was quite a substantial increase in volume for me, and I saw it pay some dividends. I dropped my 1000TT time by about 25 seconds over the course of the winter. That still leaves me with a long way to go, but seeing the improvement was motivating and kept me wanting to put in the yards each week. Mike was home from Boston for two weeks in December, so swimming with him and Joel for those two weeks were a great opportunity for me. They beat me up pretty good, but swimming with guys like that is only going to help me in the long run. I did finish up a few workouts with tears in my eyes I think though.

My running has been predominantly done on the treadmill, which honestly I don't mind. I like the controlled workouts and the consistency from session to session. I also like having the ability to push myself and not let myself slow down during intervals even when I feel fatigued. I averaged 45-50 miles per week, with a solid mix of intervals and tempo work included. I am feel good about my run right now and am confident I am going to see improvements on the course in that discipline this year.

Despite my "lack" of time on the bike, I am still really excited about how well I'm riding right now. The volume has been lower, but the intensity has been high. There has been a lot of riding at 85 percent or higher of my FTP, and I tested twice over the winter and saw that number increase each time. In my last 20 minute test I was able to maintain 396 watts, putting my FTP somewhere in the 375 watt range (see file here: http://tpks.ws/PErB). Again, riding the trainer and controlling the workouts as I have been doing appears to be paying off. There is no time wasted on the trainer and there is no coasting, so every minute you spend there is productive.

It is hard to say what to expect in Panama this week. There are some unknowns, like how I will fare in the heat and humidity since all of my training has been indoors due to the Rochester winter, but I've been doing a few things recommended by my coach to try to help prepare for the heat and I will be sure to keep on top of my nutrition and hydration during the race. Since this is the 70.3 Pan America Championship race there is a solid field of professionals on the start list. It will be a solid test for me to see how I stack up early in the season against some of the strongest guys in the sport.

I wouldn't quite consider 2016 to be a "make or break it" year, but it is definitely going to be a year where I want to see some solid growth in the professional field if I'm going to continue to race up there. Last year was a good starting point to see what racing in the pro field was like, and I was able to have a few decent results, with my best finish being a 10th place at 70.3 Raleigh. This year I feel like I need to some growth and improvement, breaking into some top 6-8 spots. If I can do that, I will definitely keep my license and race up there for a few more years. If not, I'll have to consider the idea of returning to age group racing. The biggest allure of that being the 70.3 World Championship returning to the USA in 2017 and I'd love to battle for AG World Champion. I would also love to race Kona some day, and making it to the top 50 in the world as a professional is pretty unlikely for me.

There is plenty to consider down the road, but for now the focus is 70.3 Panama and going as fast as I can. Being a championship race I would imagine there will be live GPS tracking like what we had in Chattanooga last year. If not, there will at least be the Athlete Tracker to give splits during the day. Follow along Sunday morning starting at 6:30am!