“None but ourselves can free our minds…”

2021 Sportsbackers Half Marathon

Race Report

1:43:22    (7:53 min/mile) 

4/22AG     25/372 Overall

March 19, 2021 – After my regrettable performance at the Richmond Marathon in November of 2020, I was reeling and my confidence was somewhat shattered. I’d started wondering if that race had been a one-off or whether my best racing days were behind me. Objectively, there were many reasons why things went to shit during that marathon, which are outlined here, but once the pain faded away, I started to question whether I could’ve or should’ve been able to push through it. Funny how that works, and my psyche is always messing with me. When I race well, then I’m only as good as my next race. When I race poorly, I’m only as good as my last race.

In any event, I learned about the Sportsbackers Half Marathon sometime over the winter. I knew that I wouldn’t be as prepared as I’d have liked to take on another full distance marathon by March, so I decided to seek redemption at the half distance. I had enough recent mileage under my belt thanks to the marathon in November, so I really just needed to focus on some speedwork for the shorter distance. My training wasn’t ideal thanks to some bad winter weather, but I was able to get in some quality miles, while still prepping for the upcoming triathlon season at the same time.

The race was on a Saturday, and would take place on the Capital Trail, starting and finishing in Dorey Park. This was almost the same course as the full marathon in November, and that race got quite lonely out on the trail with no crowd support – even with Coach Karen riding along beside me. I knew that this race would be much of the same, but at least it’d only be half the distance. Even so, I’d be pretty much alone since I wasn’t bringing anyone with me for support.

The weather on race morning was cool (around 52 degrees) with a little bit of wind. Overall, good running weather. I arrived at Dorey Park and picked up my packet, and had flashbacks to the marathon in November – where dry heaving and run-walking compromised the last 10k. I kind of felt like Bill Buckner walking back into Shea Stadium for game 7 of the ’86 World Series. After getting my packet and hitting the portapotty one last time, it was time to seek redemption.

Race

My half marathon PR was 1:44:30 at the Richmond Half Marathon in 2017, when I was four years younger and fresh off of completing Ironman Chattanooga that September. That was probably when I was in the best shape of my life for longer distance events. Nevertheless, my goal was to beat that time, so I’d need to average about 7:57 miles or better. My plan was to run slower for the first three miles and then to pick it up from there. Hopefully I could hang on until the finish.

Miles 1-3 (8:14)(8:08)(8:06)

The first three miles were a short out and back on the Capital Trail towards Richmond, which was opposite of the marathon (which finished with that out and back after initially heading away from Richmond). I planned to make the first mile my slowest of the day, and was fine with my 8:14 pace. The course doubled back around mile 1.5, and then I was running back east towards Dorey park. Somewhere around mile 2 I started feeling bad. It was nothing in particular, I just didn’t feel well and was breathing too hard and thought that I was going to have a rough day. I tried to think positive thoughts and just kept running, hoping that it would work itself out. Thankfully, after about the third mile I started feeling better and got into a groove.

Miles 4-6 (7:50)(7:54)(8:00)

I passed the entrance to Dorey Park just before the end of mile 3, and set out onto the eastern portion of the course. It was time to pick up the pace, and I dropped to a 7:50 mile in mile 4. I was feeling pretty good and hit 7:54, but ballooned a bit up to 8:00 in mile 6 for some reason. No major cause for concern though, because I was still feeling ok and was almost halfway done with the race. Still, I knew that the really tough miles were coming in the mail soon.

Miles 7-9 (7:54)(8:05)(7:52)

I got back on pace in mile 7, but mile 8 was a bit slower due to a net elevation gain. I hit the turnaround point just before the mile 8 marker, and that gave me a bit of a mental boost since I was headed back towards Dorey Park. At that point, I was on pace to PR if I could maintain my pacing plan. Unfortunately though, I was near the “bottom” of the course profile, so it was going to be an uphill run to the finish. I had barely been making my pace up to that point, and I’d had the benefit of a net elevation loss. I knew that the last few miles were going to suck.

Miles 10-12 (7:52)(8:02)(7:40)

The course had been sparsely populated with racers, but around mile 10, another guy passed me on my left. He was breathing much harder than I was, but was overtaking me. That motivated me, so I sped up and got beside him. We didn’t really speak, but pretty much agreed to run together with a couple of nods. It helped to have someone to suffer with, and I was able to turn in a 7:52 mile, even though the course was going uphill. Mile 11 was a bit slower, but had an even worse hill to climb. By the time we got to mile 12, the other runner had fallen off behind me. I knew that I was at or just below a PR pace (my brain was a bit slow with the calculations) and that motivated me to run even faster. I did mile 12 at a 7:40 pace – my fastest of the day – even with the net uphill.

Mile 13 (7:47)

By the time I got to the 12 mile marker I knew that a PR was in hand unless something catastrophic happened. I wanted to keep accelerating, but I was on the verge of blowing up and was barely keeping things together. I also remembered that there was a nice little hill to get back into Dorey Park. Eventually, I made the right hand turn in the park, and then made my way to the finish line. The final time was 1:43:22, which was a PR by over a minute.

Post-Race

Due to Covid, the race itself wasn’t all that exciting. No spectators on the course and no post-race food or beers. That’s ok though, I went there looking for a little bit of redemption and was able to find it alone with my thoughts on the Capital Trail. In a way, that made it even more satisfying since I was only really racing myself, the clock and Father Time. Father Time always wins in the end, but I’d held him off for a little bit longer. More importantly, I was able to get my head on straight for the upcoming tri season, which was only weeks away. There was some redemption needed there too, since my last triathlon (thanks to Covid cancelling 2020) had been at Ironman Louisville in 2019, which had been a monumental disaster, as described here. The 2021 tri season was beginning for me in early April at the Smithfield Sprint Triathlon, and I was determined to exorcise the Louisville demons and to win some more pig bling!

View of the starting line in the distance.

“My feet is my only carriage, so I’ve got to push on through…”

2020 Richmond Marathon Race Report

4:13:12     (9:40 min/mile)

36/61 AG     317/912 Overall

November 21, 2020 – Thanks to Covid, all of my triathlons had been cancelled in 2020, including my trip to Milwaukee for Age Group Nationals. I signed up for a few (Olympic distance) virtual races through Ironman to stay motivated, but it just wasn’t the same. Ironman announced a full-distance virtual race in October, and I toyed with the idea of doing that for a few weeks until I was talked out of it since I wasn’t in 140.6 shape. Eventually, I learned that Sportsbackers was putting on the Richmond Marathon as a quasi-live event on the Capital Trail. I hadn’t run a standalone marathon since 2016, so on a whim, I decided to sign up.

That decision didn’t come until October, with the race looming in November. I’d been training consistently during Covid, but I wasn’t trained up for 26.2 miles. I figured though, that I could get myself ready with a solid month of training, which was stupid decision number 1. Stupid decision number 2 was thinking that I should try to PR by beating my time of 3:48:01 from 2016, which I’d run a month after completing Ironman Maryland (and being in really good shape to go long). Stupid decision number 3 was targeting 3:45:00. I’m not sure why I thought that was doable, so I guess I’ll just blame the Covid crazies.

I escalated my long runs pretty quickly, and had done a few 15 milers and one 19 miler by the end of October. Still, I just wasn’t getting enough weekly mileage in, even counting my long runs. Busher was doing a virtual marathon in his neighborhood on November 7th, so I decided to run a large portion of it with him as his support crew. Between running at my house that morning and running with Busher in the afternoon, I did 20 total miles and felt pretty good. The next morning when I woke up, though, it felt like I’d been beaten with a 2×4 on the left side of my rib cage. I have no idea what happened, but for a week I was in severe pain and couldn’t work out at all. If I moved wrong, I’d have a sharp pain, and even sleeping was difficult.

I didn’t workout again until November 14th, when I did 6.5 slow miles with moderate pain in my ribs. At that point, I didn’t even know if I’d be able to race. The pain was slowly improving, but the race was only a week away. It was going to be a game-time decision. I continued to improve over the next week, but still refrained from working out. The night before the race, after a Covid scare that left me in limbo as to whether I’d be able to race until about 8 p.m., I decided to give it a go. Coach Karen agreed to ride her bike with me on the Capital Trail as my support crew, so at least I wouldn’t be alone.

Pre-Race

The marathon started at Dorey Park, and then there was a long out and back on the Capital Trail. The turnaround point was just after mile 12, and then you’d come back to the Dorey Park entrance just before mile 24. There was then a short out and back in the other direction, before running back into the park. There would be some self-serve aid stations along the way, but I’d given Karen some Powerade and gels to put in her backpack to carry for me.

The weather was abnormally warm for late November, and was supposed to get into the high 60’s. I was in shorts and a tank top, and met Karen at Dorey Park around 8:15 a.m. By the time that I got my bib, hit the portapotty and was ready to take off, it was about 8:45 a.m.

A 3:45 marathon equates to about an 8:35 min/mile average. I wanted to run the first three miles pretty conservatively, somewhere near a 9 minute pace, and then descend from there. The course was mostly downhill during that stretch though, so I knew that I really needed to run a tad faster at the beginning.

Race

GPS Data

Miles 1-3 (8:45)(8:50)(8:43)

Since the 8k, the half marathon and the marathon shared the same course, the beginning of the race was relatively crowded on the Capital Trail. The going was pretty easy early on, particularly since it was mostly downhill. Karen stayed a bit ahead of me on her bike, and thankfully, I wasn’t feeling any pain in my left side (for the first time since I’d injured myself). So far, so good.

Miles 4-6 (8:38)(8:44)(8:34)

After passing the three mile mark, I accelerated just a tad to try to move down towards my 8:35 goal pace. The crowd on the trail thinned out quite a bit after the 8k turnaround point, but there were still a decent amount of people around. I took a gel around mile 4.5, and continued to sip Powerade from my handheld bottle to stay hydrated. After 6 miles, I was still feeling really good.

Miles 7-9 (8:40)(8:24)(8:40)

By mile 7, the first signs of mild fatigue were beginning to set in, but nothing major. I still felt good and was on track with my pacing. Mile 8 was my fastest of the day at 8:24 thanks to another downhill portion, but there was a bit of a climb in mile 9, which slowed me down. By that point, the half-marathon folks had turned around, so it was getting pretty sparse and lonely out on the trail. I wasn’t overly fatigued, but I was missing the crowd support for sure. It really would have been lonely without Karen pacing me on her bike.

Miles 10-12 (8:29)(8:44)(8:32)

As I began to near the half-way point, I could definitely feel the fatigue creeping in on me. I still felt like there was a chance of making my goal pace, but the first doubts were coming on. I kept this to myself and continued moving foward. The turnaround point came just after mile 12, so there was a huge mental boost in knowing that I was headed back towards Dorey Park.

Miles 13-15 (8:40)(8:29)(8:31)

I hit the halfway point not long after turning around and told Karen for the first time that I was beginning to struggle. I told her that I felt like I was at mile 18 instead of 13, and she “encouraged” me to suck it up and keep going. Even though I wasn’t feeling great, I was still able to maintain my pace, but doing so was getting harder and harder.

Miles 16-18 (8:37)(9:17)(9:36)

I kept it together through mile 16, but there was a fairly long climb in mile 17 that brought it all crashing down on me. I’d kept my pace up longer than I thought I could, but halfway up a hill I gave out and started walking. This took Karen by surprise and she said something like, “hell no, keep running.” I got back to trotting, but not at the pace I’d been making before I began walking. Mile 18 was even worse – my quads were just giving out on me. To top things off, I started getting nauseous as well. It had gotten hotter than the forecast anticipated, and I was getting really overheated. I’d been drinking a fair amount of Powerade, but for some reason, I was starting to get repulsed by it. I was thirsty, but was having a tough time wanting to drink it. A full-on blow up was about to ensue.

Miles 19-21 (9:39)(10:46)(12:15)

I continued to run into mile 19, albeit at a reduced pace. Still, I was running sub-10 minute miles, which would have led to a pretty decent time if I’d been able to continue that way to the finish. Alas, the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry. Karen had dropped behind me a bit on her bike since she was talking on her cell phone to one of her daughters. At mile 19.7 I took a swig of Powerade and then immediately began vomiting on the side of the trail. It was only liquid coming up, but when that ran out I began to dry heave. I rallied and began to run some more, but then got sick twice more within the next mile or so. The proverbial shit had hit the fan.

By mile 21 I had ballooned to more than 12 minute miles and was reduced to a walk/run. I would run for a couple of hundred yards, then my body would revolt, so I’d have to walk for 30 seconds or so. I was really overheated and really thirsty, but just thinking about taking in more Powerade made me nauseous. Thankfully, Karen had some water in her bag, and I was able to drink some of that and keep it down. Not enough to re-hydrate, but it was better than nothing.

Miles 22-24 (12:29)(11:58)(12:33)

It was a slow trudge back to the Dorey Park entrance, and then I had to run past the park on a short out and back. I told Karen that she could leave me, and I really felt bad that I was taking so long and holding her up. I think she was worried that I could go even more sideways at any moment, so she stayed with me to make sure I could finish. The last 10k was a total shit show.

Miles 25-26 (12:06)(12:18)

The last part of the course was back to the east again to Dorey Park, and then into the park to the finish line. As bad as I felt, I was at least able to keep running somewhat, and my pace was stable around 12 minute miles. As you can see from the heart rate chart below, my HR was the highest at the end of the race when I was running the slowest and maxed out a 198. That pretty much tells the tale of the dire straits I was in after things went sideways on me.

Mile 26.2

Eventually I found myself back in Dorey Park with the finish line in sight. There was no finishing kick in this race, only a slow trudge across the finish line and hanging my head in utter defeat. In the end, I finished in 4:13:12 – nearly 30 minutes off of my goal time. I was hot and bothered, and wondering where it all went wrong.

Post-Race

In hindsight, I think a lot of factors went into my explosion in this race. First and foremost, I was undertrained for a marathon. I decided to run it very late in the game, and simply did not have enough weekly mileage to run the race I wanted. I had some good long runs for sure, but not enough total mileage.

Second, I not only decided to shoot for a PR, I decided to shoot for a time about 3 minutes faster than my PR. That decision, coupled with mistake #1 above made for a bad time.

Third, I injured myself a few weeks before the race and hadn’t been able to run pain-free until race day. While the injury didn’t affect me on race day, it definitely cut down my training, and probably my mental state as well.

Lastly, it was too hot to run a marathon well. The forecast called for high 60’s, but it got into the low to mid-70’s on race day. I’d take that any day of the week for a triathlon, but not for a standalone marathon where I’m trying to PR.

Looking back, its easy to see where it all went wrong, but sometimes you just have to live and learn. I’d forgotten just how hard a marathon was, and I took my ability to run one well for granted. After the dust settled, I planned to shoot for a PR at the half marathon distance in the Spring. That attempt would go slightly better.

“Drink a hope to happy years…”

2020 Shamrock RVA 5k

Race Report

21:58     (7:04 min/mile)

5/35 AG     20/302 Overall

March 8, 2020 – My last race before Covid conquered the world was the Shamrock RVA 5k at Hardywood Brewery downtown. I still hadn’t gotten completely back into shape after my surgery in December, but I’d been training consistently and was hoping to have a reasonably good showing. Several of my ProK teammates decided to run, including Leigh Anne, Candace and Mindy. On top of that, our neighbor Kim decided to make this her first 5k, and somehow I was selected as the designated driver to the brewery.

After arriving at the race site, I ran into my friend and fellow triathlete, Jim Rosen, who was also racing. Historically, Jim is a faster runner than me, but I have a slight age advantage on him. He and I did a short warmup and then headed over into the starting corral. It was a self-seeded start, and Jim and I positioned ourselves near the front, but behind the super fast runners. My goal was to average just under 7-minute miles, and I knew that would be a tough task since I was still getting back into shape after the surgery. Still, the course was pretty flat, so I thought I had a chance.

Race

Mile 1 (7:04)

When the gun sounded, Jim and I took off, and he settled in right behind me. There was a bit of a crowd at first, but it thinned out pretty quickly. After the first few 100 yards I checked my Garmin and noticed that we were running at about a 6:40 pace. Too fast for sure, and that seems to happen more often than not in short races due to adrenaline and nerves. I backed off a bit, and Jim did as well. He was content to ride along in my wake for the draft. We saw Coach Karen spectating somewhere in the first mile, who gave us some Karen-style encouragement. I’m pretty sure it was something like, “go faster.”

I felt fairly good at the end of the first mile, and finished it in 7:04. That was pretty spot on for trying to average a 6:59 pace since I wanted to get faster with each mile.

Jim is 553 with the backpack.

Mile 2 (7:09)

The course took a left turn towards the west at mile 2 and the wind hit us right in our face. It wasn’t horrible – probably about 10-12 mph – but it was coming right at us and definitely slowed me down. Jim stayed tucked in behind me to stay in the draft, and I think I made a couple of comments to the effect that it was his turn to take the lead, which he politely declined.

We turned back towards the east around the 1.5 mile point, and I was happy to have a tailwind. By that point though, I was really starting to hurt, and I knew that the last mile was going to suck. The last mile of a 5k always hurts if you do it right, but I felt like the hurt came earlier than normal this time around. I finished mile 2 in 7:09, which wasn’t where I was aiming. The wind definitely hurt the pace, but I felt like I was fading pretty hard and didn’t know whether I was about to explode. Jim was still right behind me, and while I wasn’t really racing him, I certainly wanted to beat him if I could. I figured he felt the same. I knew he was sitting back and waiting to make a move near the end, but I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to go with him when he did.

Mile 3 (6:59)

The course turned south near the start of the third mile and I felt like I was hanging on for dear life at that point. Jim and I saw Karen again around the 2.5 mile point, and she yelled to me that I’d better get moving or Jim was going to beat me. No shit! I knew what was about to transpire, but I couldn’t go any faster and I couldn’t drop him.

At mile 2.6, we took a right to head towards the finish – back to the west and into the wind again. That stretch seemed to last forever. At about mile 2.9, Jim took off from behind me and I tried (ever so briefly) to go with him. With his burst, he was past me and leaving me behind pretty quickly, which was pretty demoralizing. I did run a bit faster, but I didn’t have enough juice left in the tank to catch him. He finished in 21:51 and I was seven seconds behind him at 21:58. His time was good enough for 3rd in his age group, and I was 5th in mine – missing 3rd by a measly 10 seconds. My overall pace was 7:04/mile, which was 5 seconds per mile over my goal. For still being in surgery-recovery mode, though I’d take it.

Mindy was super fast, and was the first female finisher in 19:53. Candace won her age group in 24:18 and Leigh Anne also won hers in 24:18. So yeah, I was the only ProK sad sap going home without any bling. That’s ok, I was pretty much just happy to be back to racing at that point after the cancer scare and surgery. Unfortunately, Covid was about to hit and shut down pretty much everything for the rest of the year. We weren’t really worried about that at the moment though, there were post-race beers to drink and bling to collect.

Taking Stock – 2019 Year in Review

2019 was a weird year for me – it started off really well, took a turn for the worse and then finished with a wimper. There were also swim cancellations – lots of swim cancellations. Tri season started with the Smithfield Sprint, where I was 3/16 in my AG and won, perhaps, the greatest trophy in the history of triathlons.

I was then 3rd Masters Men (3/77) at the RTC Sprint, which included a 5k PR. That result actually qualified me for Age Group Nationals. I followed that up a week later with a huge Half-Iron PR of 5:04:02 at Ironman Virginia 70.3, and flirted with sub-5 hours for a while, before withering in the humidity on the run. That was the good.

The not so good began at the Robious Landing Triathlon in June, where a competitor in the first swim wave drowned about 50 feet from me and several other people in the second swim wave. Not a good day. The swim was ultimately cancelled, and I finished 2/14 in my AG, but I’d just assume forget that race entirely. The OBX Half-Iron Triathlon was next in September, which was a deferral from the 2018 race, which had been cancelled due to a hurricane. Well, another hurricane came through the week before the 2019 race, leading to the swim being cancelled due to high levels of bacteria in the water. The bike and the run still went well though, and I managed 1/11 in my AG. Still I was pretty disappointed in the swim cancellation.

The culmination of my season was supposed to be Ironman Louisville in October, but that turned out to be a shit-show from start to finish. First, I crashed my bike during my last century ride before Louisville, leaving me and my bike a bit beaten, bloodied and bruised.

Once I got to Louisville, the swim was cancelled due to toxic algae, leading to a time trial start on the bike. I made it exactly 1 minute into the ride before having a mechanical due to my rear tire rubbing the frame, then another rider pushed me over into a ditch around mile 50, leading to a neck and right shoulder injury and a bleeding hand. I ultimately managed to get off the bike in one piece, only to be hobbled by my left Achilles for the entire marathon. I finished in 11:05:19, but that was not how I wanted my Ironman to go after working towards it for two years.

Immediately after the Louisville debacle came my melanoma diagnosis, which resulted in surgery in December, including the removal of a lymph node under my right arm for a biopsy. Thankfully, 2019 ended on a high note when I received the biopsy results on Christmas Eve, confirming that the melanoma hadn’t spread to my bloodstream. The silver lining to that affair was the not-so-subtle reminder that racing is a privilege and not a right, and that it can all come crashing down at any time. No matter how well or how badly any particular race may go, I need to keep in mind that what really counts is just being out there and being able to compete.

Heading into 2020, I was convinced that the year would be full of races and good cheer…

Huge fitness dropoff after IM Louisville in October, followed by surgery in December.

“The smell of hospitals in winter…”

December 11, 2019 – Surgery to remove malignant melanoma on my right shoulder and to remove and biopsy a lymph node under my right arm was set for first thing in the morning at MCV. I’d been diagnosed with melanoma (again) in October just after Ironman Louisville, and it’d been hanging over me for 6 weeks. Before the surgery took place, they had to locate my lymph nodes, which meant an injection of radioactive dye. That process took about a hour, and then we were sent down to the surgical waiting room.

Eventually I was taken into pre-op, where I was told that my surgery wasn’t scheduled until 1:30 p.m. – contrary to what I’d been told before. It was about 10:00 a.m. at that point, so there was going to be a long wait – particularly since I couldn’t eat or drink anything. It seemed like dozens of doctors and nurses came to see me in pre-op. I finally saw my surgeon after what seemed like forever, who told me that it would be best if we did the surgery under general anesthesia. He’d previously told me that a local was possible, but strongly urged putting me under. I was shot up with “happy juice,” said goodbye to Leigh Anne, and was then wheeled back into the OR.

Upon arriving in the OR, my first thought was, “wow there’s a lot of people in here, this has got to be really expensive.” On went the anesthesia mask, but I was told that it was just oxygen for the moment. After a few minutes they said that the anesthesia was starting, and the next thing I knew, I was poking fun at a nurse in recovery since she was wearing Patriots scrubs. Recovery lasted a couple of hours, and then Leigh Anne was cleared to drive me home. The hospital had put nursing home style grippy socks on my feet, and I recall arguing with Leigh Anne that we had to take the socks home with us since they probably charged $50 for them. At least I had my priorities in order.

The pain at my incision sites wasn’t terrible, but I had a weird pulling sensation in my right arm from my armpit to my elbow for several weeks – presumably due to the lymph node removal. Obviously, I couldn’t work out at all, which drove me half insane. All I could do was mope around in my $50 socks. Thankfully, my friends Kim and Trish brought me get well gifts that were spot on for what I needed.

More than a week passed, and I was still awaiting the biopsy results on my lymph node. If the melanoma had spread to my bloodstream, it wouldn’t be good. If it was clean though, I was in the clear. I tried to stay positive, but I’m a worry-wort by nature, so that was tough.

On Christmas Eve, Leigh Anne had planned the “12K of Christmas” with some of her running buddies, and I decided to try to run since I couldn’t take sitting still any longer. I hadn’t done much for two weeks, so I had no idea how it would go. Other than feeling a bit heavy on my feet, the run went pretty well and I was thrilled just to be doing something physical again. There was still some tightness in my right arm, but nothing too bad.

Later that day we had plans to go to my parents’ house for a Christmas Eve get together, and we had to stop at CVS for some reason. Leigh Anne went inside and I stayed in the car with the kids. My phone began to ring, and I recognized the number as coming from MCV – presumably my oncologist. I figured he had my biopsy results, so I answered the phone and pretty much held my breath. After some initial pleasantries, he finally told me that my lymph node biopsy was clean and that the melanoma hadn’t spread. I exhaled fully for the first time in over two months. There was still recovery to be had for sure, but things were looking up for 2020.

“All at once the ghosts come back, reeling in you now…”

2019 Martinsville Turkey Day 5k

Race Report

22:06     (7:06 min/mile)

1/8 AG     12/156 Overall

November 28, 2019 – The Turkey Day 5k in Martinsville is one of my favorite races of the year, particularly since we make a family event out of it.  For years now, all four of us have run the 5k and then we hit up the local Biscuitville after the race.  Honestly, I think Jackson loves the event just because its the one day a year he gets a red velvet chocolate chip muffin.  After Ironman Louisville just about did me in on October 13, 2019, I needed a more lighthearted event, so I was really looking forward to the 5k.

I’d had a routine dermatology appointment the week after Louisville, where a spot on my right shoulder had to be cut off and biopsied.  That’s pretty routine for me since I had malignant melanoma on my neck in 2006, but I got a call from my doctor on October 22nd, and she told me that I had it again.  This time around, they were going to have to do surgery under general anesthesia so they could remove a lymph node under my arm and biopsy it to see if the cancer had spread.  If it had, then the future was pretty uncertain.  If you Google “melanoma and bloodstream,” you’ll see that those two things don’t go together very well.  Well actually, the problem just might be that they go together a little too well.

Its pretty sobering to visit a surgical oncologist at the Massey Cancer Center at VCU.   Of course I looked completely healthy, and was a stark contrast to most of the other patients I saw there, many of whom were older or visibly sick.  I can’t say that my surgeon had the greatest bedside manner, so that didn’t really help allay any of my fears.  Since I was still experiencing the post-Ironman blues, and since everything moving forward health-wise would be uncertain until after the surgery in December, I can’t say that I was in a great place mentally.  Thus, my training and motivation pretty much fell off of a cliff.

Anyways, that’s my long round-about way of saying that I hadn’t trained much since Louisville, so I wasn’t in top shape and was over race weight.  Still, by the time we rolled into Martinsville the day before Thanksgiving, I was excited just to be racing, and was looking at each day moving forward as a blessing.  After the initial shock had worn off, I’d made peace with the situation during a bike ride in late October and was prepared for whatever came next.  If you know me at all, then you know that’s not my typical mindset since I’m a glass half-empty type of person.  Still, I really was just happy to be racing.  Its easy to let training (and even races) seem like a chore sometimes, and to take it all for granted.  I figured that I might have 1 race or 100 in my future, but I was going to savor every moment of this one.

Race

GPS Data

20191128_141559 (2)

turkey elevation.jpg

Mile 1 (6:56)

The course is super hilly, and really isn’t conducive to a PR if you run a lot of 5ks.  Its all downhill at the start, and then the back half of the first mile is all uphill on a paved trail.  From past experience, I know that I have to go out fast and make good time in mile 1 if I’m going to have a fast race, because mile 2 sucks.  I took off at the gun and felt like I was making pretty good time.  You run a few blocks around the YMCA, and then head down onto the trail.  There’s a bridge that’s pretty slippery, so you have to be careful not to fall.

Around the .7 mile mark I started going uphill, and I tried to keep running hard, but I knew that I needed to pace myself since it was all uphill until about the 1.5 mile mark.  I was feeling pretty good, all things considered, but I knew that I wasn’t quite as quick as the year before.

Mile 2 (7:41)

Mile 2 is the worst, and after getting off the trail, you take a left and head up a steep climb on Franklin Street.  I could definitely tell that I wasn’t in top form, and I was getting tired a lot quicker than in years past.  There is a bit of a respite after passing the 1.5 mile mark, but the course is nothing but up and down from there.  There really aren’t any flat parts.  I kept chugging along, but I was struggling pretty hard and was worrying about blowing up.

Mile 3 (7:14)

Mile 3 is all rolling hills, and I was able to recover a bit and put together a solid finishing mile.  I tried to let gravity do its magic on the downhills and then I pushed as hard as I could on the uphills.  The course finishes with a climb of about .3 miles, and the finish line is just beyond the crest of a hill, so you really can’t see it or hear it until you’re right on it.  I felt like my legs and lungs were about to explode at the line, and came across in 22:06.  I’d finished in 21:41 in 2018 (my 5k PR), so I was only 25 seconds slower in 2019.  I’d take that for sure.

After I finished, I circled back and to check on Leigh Anne and the kids, and I found Jackson and ran with him to the finish.  Leigh Anne ended up finishing third overall female, and Jillian was first in her age group.  Jackson was in a competitive age group and didn’t medal, but he finished with a smile on his face and qualified for Biscuitville, so he was happy.

My surgery was scheduled for December 11th, but for the time being, I was going to try to put that out of my mind and focus on the present, which was pretty good.

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“Til there was nothing left to burn and nothing left to prove…”

2019 Ironman Louisville Race Report

11:04:19

 113 AG     737 Overall

Thanks to the swim cancellation due to toxic algae, my alarm wasn’t set to go off until about 5:45 a.m.  I partook in my standard pre-race breakfast of oatmeal and coffee, and after applying my race tattoos, I was out the door.  I was dressed in multiple layers since it was about 40 degrees outside and dark, and walked down to the transition area near the river and found my bike on my rack.  I needed to inflate the tires before racing, so I headed over to one of the bike techs since I hadn’t brought my pump.  As he unscrewed the cap of my rear valve I heard a whooshing noise, which was the complete deflation of my tire.  Apparently, the removable valve core had unscrewed with the cap, and both had promptly fallen into the grass, never to be seen again.  Thus, I needed a tube change before the race even started.  I should have realized then and there that thing’s weren’t going to go my way that day.  Instead, I naively told myself that I’d exercised all of the demons before the race even started.

Since we weren’t swimming, the bike was going to be a time trial start, with two racers going off every five seconds or so.  We were starting lowest bib number to highest, and since I was bib 1651, I had a long time to wait.  Essentially, I was in transition for two and a half hours freezing my tail off, so I had ample time to put in a new tube and to look over my bike.  I didn’t want to be on my feet the entire time, so I sat on the ground near the fence for a long time and tried to stretch.  About 20 minutes before my start, I shed my extra clothes and immediately started shivering.

Since it was going to be in the 40s and 50s for most of the ride, I was wearing an Under Armor shirt and leg warmers that I’d bought in the Ironman Village the day before.  I had my normal finger-less cycling gloves, with an extra pair of Dollar Tree gloves on over those (to shed when I warmed up).  Since I was shivering so much before the start though, I made the executive decision to put on my arm warmers as well.  I’d rather get hot and shed clothing than be too cold and unable to warm up.

Around 9:45 a.m. it was my turn to take off, and as I approached the starting line I gave my bike a quick once-over one last time.  I then crossed the timing mat, hopped on and started my day-long descent into physical and mental torture unlike any I’d experienced in a race before.

GPS Data

Swim (Cancelled)

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Bike: 6:13:15  (18.0 mph)  

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The bike course is an out and back “lollipop,” where you do the lollipop loop twice.  Basically, you bike about 20 miles out of town to the northeast.  The first 10 miles are flat, and then its pretty much all uphill until you turn right to start the lollipop loop.  The loop is nothing but hills, one after another.  After doing the loop twice, you then head southwest back into town.  Historically, the wind blows from the southwest, so you’re supposed to have the wind at your back going out, with a headwind coming back in.

As I took off down River Road, I quickly noticed that I was getting passed by a lot of people.  Nothing was noticeably wrong with my bike, but guys were going by me even though they seemed to be putting out very little effort.  At first I didn’t think too much of it since the wind was a right quartering headwind instead of the tailwind I was expecting.  Still, after about two miles, I felt like I was working way too hard, but was still getting passed by pretty much everyone, and I couldn’t get above 17 miles per hour.  Eventually, I realized that I was working so hard that I’d never be able to make it 112 miles if I maintained that effort.  Something had to be wrong with my bike.

My first inclination was to look at my tires to see if I had a flat.  I did that while continuing to ride, but saw no issues.  Around mile 4 I knew I needed to stop, so I pulled over.  I picked my bike up so the rear wheel was off the ground and spun the crank.  The wheel was spinning, and I couldn’t see any issues.  After about 10 seconds, however, the wheel began to spin much faster and it felt like I needed half as much effort to spin the crank.  I had no idea what had just happened, but when I climbed back on, getting up to speed seemed effortless.  It was only after the race that I would realize that my rear wheel had been rubbing the frame.  There’s not much room for error with 25 mm tires (I’d mostly ridden 23’s in the past), and it must have been rubbing just enough to cause a problem, but not so much that the wheel wouldn’t spin.  During the race, though, I had no idea what the problem had been and I didn’t know if it would come back.  Thus, it was in the back of my mind for the remaining 108 miles.

After getting back up to speed I tried to tell myself that it was a long race and that I didn’t need to blow it apart by trying to make up the time I’d lost from the mechanical.  I was perturbed by the headwind since I’d been expecting a tailwind out of the gates, and I was warming up quickly and was ready to ditch the arm warmers at the first aid station.  I only managed to get one off though, and would have to wait until the second aid station to ditch the other one.

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I continued to fight the headwind for the first ten miles, and then the course went sharply uphill at mile 10.5 and was generally uphill rollers for the next ten miles.  The going was slow, but I figured that I’d make it all up on the downhill portions.  Around mile 20 I took a right turn onto Route 393 and started my first circuit of the “lollipop.”  There was a very steep downhill portion, and I immediately started getting a bit nervous as the speed built up.  It was only the second time on my bike since I crashed on my last century ride during training, and the rear disc was getting squirrelly on fast descents – particularly if there was a cross wind.

The lollipop was nothing but hills, which included rollers, long grueling climbs (like Grandma’s Hill) and short quad-crushing climbs.  There were several 90 degree turns at the bottom of steep hills, which forced you to lay on the brakes and lose all of your momentum just to make the turn – only to be faced with a nasty climb immediately after turning.  There was also a 180 degree turn near the aid station at mile 37/72, which killed your momentum, so the course wasn’t really set up for a fast ride.  One of my least favorite aspects of the course was that it was open to traffic, and I got stuck behind vehicles several times.

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I was doing okay making my way around the first loop until I got to about mile 50.  I was set to make the turn onto Route 393 to start the second loop at about mile 56, and I knew that doing so would give me a mental boost.  I was just starting to climb one of the many hills on Route 42, when I heard someone yell “whoa” to my left.  I felt a hand push into my left shoulder which seemed to be from someone on my left who’d lost control.  While I don’t think the shove was intentional, it had the effect of knocking me off the road to my right into the ditch.  I fell down to my right, with my right shoulder and head slamming into the V-shaped ditch, and then my legs and bike went over the top.  When I came to rest, I was laying on my right side with my neck contorted a bit and my legs up the other side of the ditch above me.

I was too pissed to feel anything at that point, and the adrenaline was pumping, so that probably helped.  The guy that pushed me over was nowhere to be found, but a girl who was behind me pulled over to see if I was okay.  My first concern was my bike, because I sure as hell didn’t want to be done for the day, and I was hoping that it was still in working order.  The chain had come off, and after getting it back on, I spun the wheels to make sure they were still true.  The bike seemed to be okay, and I told the girl thanks for stopping, but that she should go on ahead.

After getting back on my bike and under way, I tried to assess the situation.  The adrenaline wore off after a few miles and then my neck and right shoulder started getting sore.  I also realized that my hands were bleeding and that blood was dripping everywhere.  Honestly, I didn’t even feel the cuts on my hands, but my hands started turning black as the blood dried.

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Injuries aside, I started getting into a pretty bad mental funk on the second loop.  With the mechanical at the beginning of the race and then the crash, my time goals for the bike were way out the window.  I knew that everyone tracking me would see that something was wrong, and I had no way to let anyone know what had happened.  I tried to “ride angry” on the second loop to make up some time, but I got stuck behind some more traffic, which only made things worse.

At mile 80 I turned left onto Route 42 to head back towards downtown Louisville, and I’d been waiting for that part of the ride for a while since it was generally downhill.   I knew that historically its a slow grind due to a headwind, but I was hoping that the elevation loss would outweigh the effects of the wind.  I was sorely mistaken.  The wind was blowing right in my face and on the flat sections it as hard to do more than about 16-17 mph.

Route 42 is nothing but hills, and I just felt like I couldn’t make any progress.  By that point, my neck was killing me from the crash, so much so, that I couldn’t lay in aero more than a few minutes at a time.  The aero position is tough on your neck in the best of times, and I was having to alternate between laying in aero and sitting up.  When I was in aero, my neck was killing me.  When I sat up, it was like I was wearing a parachute because of the headwind and I wasn’t going anywhere.

Miles 90 to 100 on Route 42 heading back into town were, by far, my worst time on a bike in my life.  I certainly never considered quitting, but I was completely consumed by pain and self-pity.  There was a five mile stretch in there when the water works started up, which tells you how bad it got for me.  The physical pain was a part of it for sure, but there was also the mental part where you train for a race for a year, only to have everything go to shit on you.

Eventually I made it to mile 100 and finally hit the nice downhill portion that I’d climbed about five hours earlier on my way out of town.  Ticking over the century mark helped my mindset quite a bit, but the ride back into town was still pretty slow due to the headwind.  As I got back near the river, the scenery improved a bit, and there was another mental boost when I finally saw the Louisville skyline.

I’d wanted to ride the course in about 5:45, and certainly under 6 hours, but between the mechanical, the crash, the hills and the wind, it took me 6:13 and some change.  I guess that’s not terrible under the circumstances, but it wasn’t what I set out to do for sure.  In hindsight, there was too much climbing for the rear disc and it was catching too much of the cross-winds on the downhills.  My Zipp 404’s or a 60/90 combo would have been a much better choice, so I’ll have to chalk that up as a learning experience.

As I coasted back into town, I’d already lost the swim because of algae and I’d had a craptastic time on the bike.  I had no idea how my neck would hold up on the run, but I was trying to channel my frustration into a solid run split in a last ditch attempt to salvage some part of the day.  Unfortunately, that just wasn’t in the cards.

T2 (9:55)

I’ve never been so happy to get off of a bike as I was heading into T2.  I saw my dad soon after dismounting, and told him that I’d crashed and showed him my bloody hand.  I didn’t really go into details, but he asked me if I was going to keep going and I told him that I was.

There was a long run down towards the river to get into the transition area, and I noticed a lot of tightness in my left Achilles as soon as I got off the bike.  I’ve never had Achilles issues before, and I was hoping that it would just loosen up as I ran.  I headed into the changing tent and took my time re-applying Bodyglide everywhere.  I put on a fresh pair of socks, then threw on my hat and glasses and headed out of the tent.  I did hit the portapotty quickly on the way out of transition, and was hoping that I could make it through the run without having to stop again.

Overall, it wasn’t a speedy transition, but I wanted to make sure that I got everything taken care of properly before starting the marathon.  A simple lack of Bodyglide in sensitive areas can be enough to make for a tortuous run.

Run: 4:41:29    (10:45 min/mile) 

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My super optimistic goal for the run was 4 hours, but I knew long before I got off the bike that that wasn’t going to happen, and that shooting for it would be a fool’s errand.  4:15 was more realistic, and I thought that I’d have a shot to hit that target, particularly since the course was mostly flat and since the weather was cool enough to turn in a good run split.  The run course had changed in 2019, and was 3 loops of about 8.5 miles each.  You’d get a wrist band once you started each loop, and after the final time around the loop, you could head up to the finish line.

Miles 1-3 (9:29)(9:39)(9:40)

As I took off out of transition, I noticed that my left Achilles wasn’t loosening up like I’d hoped.  In addition, the right side of my neck was really hurting since I’d rolled over into the ditch on the bike and jammed my head into my right shoulder.  I’d taken a couple of Tylenol during transition, but so far, they weren’t helping.

There was good crowd support in the first two miles, but then it thinned out after that quite dramatically.  I wasn’t having any trouble hitting a 9:30-9:40 pace, but I had initially planned on running 10 minute miles for the first three miles.  Honestly though, I was kind of pissed off about the entire day up to that point, and wanted to see if I could push it a little to compensate for the shitty bike split.

Miles 4-6 (9:45)(9:49)(9:47)

By mile 4 I realized that I had a big problem brewing with my left Achilles.  It just kept getting tighter and tighter and it was getting painful to run.  My neck continued to hurt, but that was really just salt in the wound.  I began having trouble with my pace, and it degraded a bit to about 9:46/mile.  I really started thinking about stopping and stretching, but I wanted to keep moving for a couple of reasons.

First, I was worried that it would be tough to get running again if I stopped.  Second, I knew that my wife, my coaches and my family were tracking me, with my splits being posted every mile or two when I crossed a timing mat.  As soon as my pace dipped I knew that the warning bells would start going off at home, particularly since they wouldn’t know what was going on.  Thus, I kept trudging on hoping for a positive change of the status quo.

Miles 7-9 (10:13)(11:05)(11:00)

Change for the better just wasn’t in the mail, and everything continued to go downhill into mile 7.  I was still running, but I was now visibly hobbling due to the left Achilles.  I made it close to the end of the first loop between miles 8 and 9 before I finally broke down and stopped to stretch.  It helped a little, but not much.  As I set off onto the second loop, all I could think about was that I still had two more full loops to do before I could head towards the finishing chute.  The way I was progressing (or regressing), I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to keep running, and the thought of a very long walk began to weigh on me.

Miles 10-12 (10:46)(11:27)(11:15)

Loop number 2 was pretty much the darkest point for me in an Ironman race to date.  I ran as much as I could, but I was having to stop, stretch and walk more and more.  By that point I knew that everyone tracking me knew I was in trouble, but didn’t know what was going on.  I didn’t see my dad when I finished the first loop, so I had no way to let anyone know what was going on with me.

On top of the Achilles, my neck continued to get worse and I pretty much fell into a well of self-pity, which was captured in the picture below.  An overwhelming sense of loneliness also crept in, which is hard to explain.  I was surrounded by people, but I felt like I was on an island.   The water works started up for the second time that day.

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Miles 13-15 (12:13)(13:16)(11:29)

Miles 13-15 sucked even worse, and my bouts of walking and stretching continued to increase.  On the upside, my pain levels pretty much had maxed out and weren’t getting worse.  On the downside, I still had a long way to go.  I did hit the portapotty one last time in mile 14, which was my slowest split of the day.  I probably would have skipped it if I was running faster, but figured that I might as well be more comfortable bladder-wise since everything else was a shit show.

Miles 16-18 (11:31)(11:28)(11:23)

Somewhere around mile 17 I finished the second loop and got my third and final wristband.  One more time around the loop would end it for me, and that gave me a little mental boost.  Now, every time I passed a landmark it would be the last time I’d see it.  I was also encouraged by the fact that there were so many people who were still on the first or second loops of their runs.  A few people jokingly asked if they could steal one of my wristbands, but I would have fought to the death for them at that point.

By then, I’d settled into my run-walk-stretch routine, so my pace stayed pretty much the same.  I wanted to run faster for sure, but was encouraged by the fact that I wasn’t getting any slower.  It was also pretty much dark outside and I was starting to get chilly.  I had a long sleeve shirt in my special needs bag, but I felt like I could make it through without it.

Miles 19-21 (10:50)(11:06)(11:16)

I was in pretty bad shape by mile 19 pain-wise, and one of the other runners was nice enough to give me a couple of his Advil.  The Tylenol in T2 had done nothing, so I wasn’t expecting much from the Advil, but it couldn’t hurt.  As bad off as I was though, there were others fairing even worse than me.  I went through an aid station with a couple of guys around mile 21 and one of them vomited loudly and violently just behind me.  He stopped for about 5 seconds and then round 2 hit him. All I could think of was, “glad I’m not that guy.”  I wasn’t wishing ill will on anyone, but there was a little mental boost to knowing that some people were worse off than me.

It was completely dark at that point and I didn’t have a headlamp or a flashlight.  Most of the course was lit well enough, but there were a few spots that were almost pitch black, and you really had to slow down and and watch your step.  There were some mobile lights on generators, but they definitely needed more of them.

Miles 22-24 (11:18)(11:05)(10:45)

By mile 22, I was headed back into town along the river.  Barring another unforeseen setback, I knew that I would be able to finish without having to walk it in.  Any and all time goals had gone out the window long ago, but I was still motivated to finish as quickly as possible.  I was able to pick up my pace a little bit, and looking back, I’m super proud about how I handled loop 3.  Loop 2 was the lowest of the low, but I was able to pull myself up out of the well somewhat on loop 3.

Miles 25-26.2 (10:48)(10:53 pace)

After passing mile 25, I came to the end of loop 3.  Instead of taking a left turn to begin another loop, I showed my three wrist bands to the volunteer and was allowed to keep straight so I could head to the finish.  There was a left turn shortly thereafter, and then a long climb up from the river towards downtown.  This part of the course was pretty dark, and by and large, I was alone.  I knew that I was close to the finish, but it was eerily quiet and dark.

Your brain knows when you’re almost done, and I’m pretty sure that it tells your body to go ahead and start shutting down.  In the last half mile I started getting dizzy, even though I hadn’t been dizzy all day.  My limping got worse, and it was tough to keep moving forward.  Eventually, I began to hear the finish line crowd, but there was still no one around.  There were two right turns in quick succession, and then the finish line was right in front of me.

The Ironman Louisville finish is touted as one of the best on the Ironman circuit, and the last 100 yards or so was packed with people.  As I ran towards the finish line though, I swerved to my right and ran up against the barrier since I was pretty dizzy.  That can be seen if you watch the finish line video.  I wanted to feed off of the crowd and finish on a high, but honestly, the day had completely taken it out of me.  Between the physical pain in my neck and Achilles, combined with the emotional toll of the race, I was done.  I was angry, depressed and defeated, but mostly just defeated.  I crossed the line with my head down and was promptly approached by some of the volunteers since I was unsteady on my feet.

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As I took my post-race photo, I was pretty unsteady, which can be seen by my lean to the side. A “catcher” was just off camera, and I was offered a wheelchair since I looked like I was about to pass out. I declined, and then saw my dad for the first time since entering T2. He helped me get to the post-race food, which helped alleviate the dizziness.

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Looking back at the race, I’m still conflicted about the day. It pretty much went wrong from start to finish, and I was disappointed by my bike and run splits. On the other hand, I was confronted by things outside of my control and managed to get through the race, even though I felt like it nearly beat me into submission.  In some ways, I guess I could consider it one of my best race accomplishments, but its just really hard for me to do so.  Honestly, I have nothing but bad thoughts when I think back about Louisville, and just “getting through” a race isn’t in my DNA.

Needless to say, it was a long 8 hour car ride back to Richmond the next day, and my thoughts varied from quitting Ironman altogether to wanting to race another full again as soon as possible for redemption. Part of the reason that these races take such an emotional toll is that I train for them for so long, and then have to live with the outcome for a couple of years before I get to have another go at it.

After Louisville, the next race on my calendar was the Turkey Day 5k in Martinsville, which is always a fun race to do with the family. Unfortunately, life was about to go sideways on me with another skin cancer diagnosis shortly after getting back from Louisville. Surgery under general anesthesia would be needed, and a lymph node was going to have to be removed to find out if the cancer had spread. The surgery wasn’t going to be until December, and I wouldn’t get the lymph node biopsy results until weeks after the surgery. Thus, there were a lot of unknowns for the future, and I’d gone from wondering if I’d race a full Ironman again to wondering if I’d ever race again. So, things got put back into the proper perspective pretty quickly.

“Waiting on this for a while now, paying my dues to the dirt…”

Officially, Ironman Louisville 2019 had been on my calendar since I registered for the race in the Fall of 2018.  Unofficially, I’d been thinking about Ironman #3 since I crossed the finish line of Ironman #2 in Chattanooga in 2017.  After Chattanooga, I promised my wife that I’d take a year off from the full distance.  The race itself is certainly a big endeavor, but the training that goes into it is the real issue.  I do train year round, but there’s a block of about three months leading up to a full that takes things up several notches.  After a little begging, borrowing and stealing, however, I finally got Leigh Anne’s blessing to register for Louisville.  Oh, and I had to promise that the family would go to Disney World again in 2020, so there’s that.

Having Louisville on my calendar was a huge motivator for me, and my training over the Winter and Spring of 2018/2019 went great.  My FTP kept increasing on the bike and I was the most-injury free that I’d been in a long time.  Once the Spring tri season began, I made my age group podium in every race, with the lone exception being Ironman Virginia 70.3.  Still, in that race I PR’ed by about 21 minutes and flirted with going sub-5 hours until I succumbed to the humidity on the second loop of the run.  After winning my age group at the OBX Half-Iron triathlon in September, I felt like I was in peak form and ready to try to go sub-11 hours in Louisville.

As the bumper sticker says though, “shit happens.”  My shit happening manifested itself in the form of a bike crash on my last century ride three weeks before the race.  My bike was damaged, but fixable, but my left side was pretty beaten up, particularly my left elbow.  Thus, when I left for Louisville on Thursday, October 10th, I was still unable to ride in my aerobars since doing so caused a sharp pain in my elbow.  I did feel like I was very close to being able to do so though, but it was coming down to the wire.

Ironman required all athletes to check in by Friday at 5:00 p.m., and since its about a nine hour drive from my house to Louisville, I didn’t want to tempt fate by leaving on Friday morning.  My dad and I left on Thursday, but I was actually able to check in Thursday night a few minutes before they closed Ironman Village.

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Since I hadn’t ridden outside since my crash, I decided to do a short ride on Friday morning to try to get back into the swing of things.  I took off down River Road on the beginning part of the bike course, and I’ll just say that I was on “high alert” while riding.  Every pothole or groove in the road caught my attention, so the crash was definitely messing with my head a bit.  On the upside, I was able to lay in aero for the first time in weeks, even if there was some residual pain in my elbow with the pressure that it brought.  I rode a few miles and then called it a day.

My next order of business was to drive the bike course to see what I was in for on Sunday.  I knew the course was hilly based upon the elevation profile, but it was much worse when seeing it in person.  The first 11 and last 11 miles were flat, but everything else was up and down.  The course description called for “rolling hills,” but I call B.S. on that.  There were long grinders, short soul crushers and everything in between.  To make matters worse, there were a lot of hills that followed 90 degree turns, so you couldn’t carry any speed into them.  Don’t get me wrong, I like riding hills.  Mountains even.  I was just surprised by the hills on the course.  Chattanooga was hilly and had a similar elevation gain, but the Louisville course put it to shame.  I knew then that my stretch goal of 11 hours was going to have to be adjusted.

After finishing the course inspection, my dad dropped me off at the Ironman Village and I hit up one of the athlete briefings.  To my dismay, we were informed that the swim had been cancelled due to toxic algae in the Ohio River.  Algae almost cancelled the swim in 2015, but the swimming ban was magically lifted on race day and then promptly reinstated.  I’d been following the algae issue for several weeks and knew that it was going to be a close call, but I was sorely disappointed by the cancellation.  This was my third swim cancellation in a row for 2019, so I’m starting to think that I’m a swim curse.

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There was a mandatory bike check in on Saturday, and then I tried to do as little as possible for the rest of the day.  My dad and I got dinner around 5:00 p.m. and then went back to the hotel to try to get to bed early.  Since the swim was cancelled, there would be a time trial start on the bike starting at 9 a.m.  I could sleep in a bit longer without the swim, but I still wanted to get to sleep as early as possible since it was still going to be a long day.

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As I laid in bed waiting to fall asleep, I was feeling way more melancholy than I should have.  I’d been waiting for this race for two years, and I’d poured myself into getting ready for it.  Still, I hadn’t fully gotten my mind right from my bike crash a few weeks back, and the swim cancellation was a giant punch to the gut.  Maybe I was just being pessimistic, or maybe I had a premonition about how the next day was about to go down.  Either way, when I finally did drift off to sleep, it was with a sense of unease unlike any I’d felt before a triathlon in the past.

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“Pink ribbon scars that never forget…”

September 21, 2019 – The weekend after the OBX Half-Iron Triathlon was pegged for my last century ride before Ironman Louisville.  I’d done a self-supported century ride (mostly) on the Capital Trail on August 31st, and that is my preferred site for long outdoor rides since it keeps me out of traffic.  Still, since Louisville has a hilly bike course, I needed more elevation gain than the Capital Trail would provide.  I also wanted a tougher ride since my original plan to do three pre-Ironman century rides went out the window when I came back from vacation and promptly caught strep throat.  I wasn’t happy about it, but two would have to do.

Jillian’s travel soccer had begun having games on Saturdays, and I wasn’t going to miss her game just to get in a long ride.  She was playing at Striker Park in the West End in the afternoon, so I figured that I’d just bike to the game and then ride home with the family from there.  It took me quite a while to map out a route, but I finally managed to put together 100 miles that ended at Striker Park.  I’d be heading south towards Petersburg, then northwest to Powhatan, north through Goochland, and then back east to finish up.  There were a lot of turns, so I put together a cheat sheet just in case.

crash

I didn’t plan to push the pace too hard in the beginning, and figured that I would build a little bit over the course of the ride.  Everything started off well, and I eventually hit some pretty steep climbs in the Woodlake area.  There were some more good hills to the west, and then I missed my right turn at Genito and had to pull over to get my bearings.  I took that opportunity to take in some calories and refill my aero bottle from my extra bottle on the back.  I’d have to stop once during the ride to buy more water, and planned to do so once I got to Goochland.

I turned onto 522 north after passing through Powhatan, and immediately realized that it wasn’t the best road for riding.  The traffic was pretty heavy, and the rumble strip in the middle of the road was a bit disconcerting to hear as cars passed.  522 merged with Route 6 in Maidens, and I turned left to head north through Goochland.  All in all, I’d had a fairly good ride up until that point.

522 is one lane in each direction as you approach the Goochland Courthouse, and it was slightly uphill.  I was riding pretty close to the right fog line, and there was at most, a foot of pavement to the right of the line.  I was aware of traffic behind me, and then a large truck passed me to my left.  I caught some wind from the truck, and even though it wasn’t anything out of the ordinary, I began to track to my right.  I guess the wind from the truck got me leaning in that direction.  Before I could correct myself, my wheels went off the pavement onto the grassy shoulder.  That’s happened before, and while it can be pretty nerve racking, its never caused me to crash.  This time was different.

As I corrected myself, my front wheel went back to the left towards the lip of the pavement and caught it instead of climbing over it.  That caused my wheels to shoot off to the right, with my body falling off to the left – back into the travel lane.  There wasn’t enough time to do anything about it, only enough time to realize that things were about to suck.  I landed on my left elbow, my left hip and my left thigh and slid across the pavement.  Thankfully, the elderly couple in the car behind me stopped without running me over, or things would have been a bit more serious.

It took me a few seconds of lying in the road to sort myself out and to try to figure out if anything was broken.  I was bleeding in multiple spots, but was hopeful that my bike wasn’t damaged since I (largely) broke its fall.  After a bit, I was able to get up and plop myself into the ditch with my bike, and the elderly couple pulled over in front of me and came back to help.  By that time, I didn’t think that anything was broken (on me), but hadn’t yet begun to look over my bike.  My aero bottle had been ejected, which the couple picked up and handed to me.

As best I could tell, there was nothing obviously broken on my bike, and despite the couple’s repeated offer to take me somewhere, I told them that I would ride up the convenience store where I’d already planned to stop.  My left elbow was very painful and bloody, and there was no way I could lay in aero so I had to sit up.  Thankfully, it was only about a mile to the store, and I made it there and then went inside to try to clean myself up.  The poor clerk saw all of the blood and just about panicked I think.

After collecting myself some more, I was on the fence about whether I was going to try to finish the ride.  I still had about 38 miles to go, and I was already upset about only doing two century rides before Louisville.  If I didn’t finish, I’d only have done one.  After some soul searching, I finally decided that finishing would be a bad idea.  With my adrenaline still pumping, I thought I could push through the pain, but I really didn’t know if there was damage to my bike that I couldn’t see.  That turned out to be a good decision because my front wheel was actually damaged beyond repair and could have collapsed if I kept riding.  The left brake lever was also bent and scraped, but my bike mechanic (later) assured me that those were merely cosmetic blemishes.

bike

Since Busher only lived a few miles away from the store, I called him and he came to my rescue.  We went back to his house, where his wife tended to my wounds.  Leigh Anne and the kids then came and got me and then we went to Striker Park for Jillian’s game.  After the adrenaline finally wore off, my left hip began hurting pretty bad.  I wondered if I needed an x-ray, but ultimately decided against it.  When we finally got home from the soccer game I was so pissed about crashing and not finishing the 100 miles that I put my bike on the trainer and went upstairs to do the equivalent of the remaining 38 miles in the bonus room.  Leigh Anne found out what I was up to though, and with some stern words, convinced me to forego any more riding for the day.  In actuality, she mostly just told me that I was being stupid.  Mostly.

crash

The worst injury, by far was my left elbow.  I could move it fine after a few days, but I couldn’t put any pressure on it and it took forever to scab over.  Since I had a nice open wound, I was forced to wrap it in waterproof bandages order to get into the pool.  Quite frankly, I probably shouldn’t have been swimming at all, and I always hid my elbow under a towel as I got in and out of the pool.  The bloody wound was visible due to the clear bandages, and I’m pretty sure that the lifeguards and other swimmers would have been grossed out by it if they saw it.  Hence, the towel.

The bigger problem was that I was only three weeks out from Louisville, and I was completely unable to ride in aero due to my elbow pain.  Every time I put it on the aero pad there was a sharp pain.  I wasn’t really feeling like riding outside anyways, but all of my trainer rides in the bonus room were done sitting up.  Thus, I was in a race against time to recover before the Ironman event that I’d been training for for the past twelve months.  A lot of blood, sweat and tears had gone into that training, and I was concerned that it was about to be wasted.  Even assuming that I physically recovered enough to race to my potential, I was still wondering how my wounded psyche would react once I got back out on the road again.  At least I wouldn’t have to wait long to find out.

 

“Rather be the hunter than the prey…”

2019 OBX Half-Iron Triathlon

Race Report

4:38:02

 1/11 AG     8/73 Overall

September 14, 2019 – The 2019 version of the OBX Triathlon was two years in the making thanks to Hurricane Florence causing a cancellation of the 2018 race.  In 2018, the OBX  Half (70.3) was intended to be my “A” race for the year, so there was a lot of disappointment associated with that cancellation.  This time around, the race was going to be my final tuneup before Ironman Louisville a month later, and I was crossing my fingers that the race would go on as planned as a I saw Hurricane Dorian forming in the Atlantic.  Thankfully, Dorian passed though the Outer Banks the week before the race.  Unfortunately, all of the runoff that went into the Croatan Sound caused dangerously high bacteria levels in the water.  The race would go on this time, but sadly, the swim would be cancelled.

While Leigh Anne was thrilled about the swim cancellation, I was definitely bummed.  The swim is one of my favorite disciplines, and it usually helps me move up my in age group standings.  Leigh Anne is still getting used to open water swims, and had convinced herself that there was at least a 50/50 chance of her drowning in the sound.  I was more optimistic of her chances, but at least someone was happy about not swimming.

Candace Broaddus and Mindy Reese were also doing the race with us, and we’d booked a condo in the Shallowbag Bay Marina in Manteo.  The race was on Saturday, so we drove down on Friday and went to the starting area of the race site near the North Carolina Aquarium to check in and to rack our bikes.  I’d heard all the rumors about the race being windy, and it was really whipping during check in.  The wind was a steady 15-20 mph and gusting to about 25, so I had to rack my bike by the handle bars to keep it from blowing over due to the disc wheel on the back.  Thankfully, the wind for race day was projected to be a bit calmer, but it was still going to be a factor for sure.  After getting squared away at the check in, the four of us hit up a pizza joint on the causeway between Nags Head and Manteo and then went back to the condo for the night.

obx rack

The next morning, Leigh Anne and I left before Candace and Mindy since my start time was earlier than the girls’.  I was doing the 70.3 and they were doing the Olympic, so I was starting about thirty minutes head of them.  Since the race was a point-to-point, we drove the the finish area at Fort Raleigh and then took a shuttle over to the aquarium, where the race started.  That was actually a pretty painless process, and Candace and Mindy weren’t far behind us when we got to T1.

After getting everything squared away with my bike, I did a short run and then got ready to start.  Instead of doing a time trial start on the bike, the race was going to have us line up at the swim exit and then run towards T1 as if we’d swam.  Thus, we couldn’t be wearing any shoes or other biking gear – if you wouldn’t swim in it, you couldn’t have it on.  I did my best to convince the official that I swim in my helmet and bike shoes, but he wasn’t buying it.  Anyways, we’d cross a timing mat as soon as we started, which would begin our T1, and then race would proceed as normal from that point forward.  I was in the first wave to start, so I said my goodbyes to the ladies and then lined up near the water with the other guys in my wave.

Race Results Link

Swim (Cancelled)

T1: 1:15       (5/73)

Racers went off alone every couple of seconds, and I was about the 15th person to to begin.  I ran as fast as I could (with bare feet on asphalt) and had no trouble finding my bike on the racks – sometimes that’s more difficult than it should be.  I put on my bike shoes (without socks), threw on my helmet and then took off on foot for the “bike out” area.  I was quick enough in T1 for fifth overall, which I was happy about since I was really trying to have a quick transition.

Bike: 2:37:08        (21.4 mph)        (7/73)

obx bike course

The timing mat coming out of T1 was a long ways from the bike mounting line, so that definitely affected everyone’s bike split a bit.  Running on asphalt in biking shoes is no easy feat, and I finally got to the line and was able to mount and take off.  The first couple of miles went away from the aquarium towards I-64, and I managed to pass several people in the first mile or two.

I got behind a guy with “Holland” on the back of his tri suit once I turned right onto 64, and followed him east towards the middle school, where there was a turnaround in the parking lot.  Holland and I were near the very front of the race, and as we entered the middle school property, we were supposed to go right around the bus loop and then head back out.  No one was directing the racers yet, and there was only a very small “right turn” sign at the bus loop.  Holland kept straight, and I began to follow him – just like a lemming off a cliff.  At the last second, I noticed the sign and went right around the bus loop.  Holland then realized that he’d missed the turn, and ended up behind me as we got back onto 64 and headed west towards the bridge to the mainland.

At that point, the wind was at our backs and the going was pretty easy.  There were a few miles on the island before we got to the bridge and we were making good time.  Eventually I got to the bridge, which is about three miles long.  Leigh Anne and I had driven the bridge the day before, and there were tons of expansion joints that worried me a bit.  There’s also a rise in the middle of the bridge, which had some very bad pavement at the top for about 30 yards.  I’d have to cross the bridge a total of four times, and I was concerned as to how it was going to go.

On my first trip across, I started by bunny hopping the expansion joints because I didn’t know if they’d snag my wheel and cause me to crash.  I’ve crashed before by getting my wheel stuck in a joint on the Colonial Parkway in Williamsburg, and I didn’t want a repeat of that adventure.  After passing about ten of them though, I gradually began to reduce my hopping, and finally began just riding over them.  They still made me nervous, but they weren’t causing any problems.  Eventually I made it to the hill at the mid-point of the bridge and I did slow down a bit to cross the bad pavement at the top.  There was then a nice downhill section on the other side.  With the wind at my back, I was flying.

All good things come to an end, and the course took a right turn into “Alligator Alley” at the far end of the bridge.  Alligator Alley was a twelve mile out and back with a turnaround cone at the far end.  I was dealing with a cross wind from my right for the first few miles, and then the road turned right some more a few miles before the turnaround cone.  This meant that I was fighting a headwind, and the going got pretty difficult.  I had passed Holland, but here was another rider in front of me, so I tried to stay as close as I (legally) could behind him to get some relief from the wind.

The road ended a couple of miles into the headwind, and I hit the turnaround the cone and headed back down Alligator Alley in the other direction.  About six miles later I got back to the end of the bridge, but there was another out and back in the opposite direction of Alligator Alley for everyone doing the half.  It wasn’t anything too terrible, but there were a few turns and another cone to go around that hurt the overall pace.  Lots of 180 degree turns on this course!

After completing that out and back, it was time for my second trip across the bridge – this time directly into the wind back towards Roanoke Island.  Since the Olympic distance racers didn’t have to do the second out and back, some of them had come out of Alligator Alley and were hitting the bridge the same time as me.  Between them and the two or three other 70.3 bikers in my vicinity, we were able to work together (at legal following distances) to get across the bridge.  The going was tough, but manageable.

There was still a headwind after I got back onto Roanoke Island, but it wasn’t as bad as it had been on the bridge since the trees broke it up a bit.  I made my way back to the middle school, turned around and then headed back to the west for my second loop.  I was flying once again with the wind at my back and I was across the bridge onto the mainland in no time.

Upon turning right onto Alligator Alley for the second time, things started getting serious.  I’d been in the general vicinity of about five other 70.3 racers since the start, and we’d all been leapfrogging each other periodically.  Fatigue was setting in, and the cross/headwinds on Alligator Alley began to break us apart.  I hadn’t seen Holland for awhile, but he passed me after the turnaround cone and rode away like a man on a mission.  I tried to go with him for a few seconds, but quickly realized that he’d hit another gear and that I couldn’t keep up.  Ultimately, he finished second overall, so I guess he’d been conserving his energy for the first part of the bike.  Another guy went with him, and even though they left me behind, I began to pull away from two others behind me.

I made it back to 64 and then had to do the shorter out and back in the other direction.  My only real “mishap” of the day occurred then, when someone was mowing their grass near the road and shot out a rock that hit me in the left knee.  It hurt terribly for about five seconds and then felt fine after that.  I was actually pretty shocked that the pain abated so quickly since it hit me dead on, but I was pleasantly surprised.  I was a bit pissed at the guy for cutting with the mower spewing debris into the roadway though, when he could’ve just cut in the other direction.  Still, if that was the worst thing that happened to me all day, I’d be good.

I finished the second out and back on the mainland and then hit the bridge for the fourth and final time.  I was alone at that point, so I was completely exposed to the headwind.  It felt like I was in a wind tunnel and I tried to tuck in as tight as I could.  It got so bad though, that I eventually had to shift into the small chain ring.  I was probably only holding 15 mph in the small chain ring, and the bridge felt it would never end.

Thankfully, there were only a few miles to transition after getting back to the island, and I took it easy in the last mile or so to get ready to run.  As I slowed down, I began to notice the heat for the first time, and I knew that I’d probably be in for a tough run.  I finished the bike in 2:37:08, which was about 8 minutes off my PR at Ironman Virginia 70.3 in May.  I was sad that I didn’t PR, but my average heart rate on the bike for OBX (163) was actually higher than my average heart rate for Virginia (158), so I was definitely working harder by fighting the wind for 56 miles.

T2: 2:10    (19/73)

My T2 was much slower than normal for a couple of reasons.  First, I was wearing relatively new Hokas and I hadn’t yet gotten around to putting in Lock Laces, so I had to tie my shoes for the first time in a triathlon in a good long while.  I also had to put on socks since I hadn’t put them on in T1.  What took the most time though was spraying myself down with sunscreen.  I’d covered myself well in the morning, but the sun was out in full force, and I knew that I’d burn to a crisp if I didn’t re-apply.  Safety first kids!  I was 19/73 overall for T2, but that was still a pretty slow transition for me.

Run: 1:57:31         (8:58 min/mile)     (10/73)

obx run course.png

Run Course in blue.

The run course had been totally redesigned for 2019, and I think they still have some work to do to optimize it.  On the upside, it was basically flat with a small amount of shade and very little vehicle traffic.  On the downside, it was convoluted as hell, with a ton of turns and out-and-backs with turnaround cones.  By my count, there were a total of thirty-six turns, which doesn’t include eight turn around cones.  That made it hard to stay in a good rhythm, and I felt like I was constantly turning or doing a 180.  I also think the race was understaffed of volunteers, so there were a few of them working multiple turns.  Without the volunteers it would have been easy to miss a turn and go off course, and I hope that they’ll modify the run course a bit more in the future to straighten it out a bit.

Miles 1-3 (8:45)(8:43)(8:44)

When I came out of T2 it was about 80 degrees and sunny with a lot of humidity.  I’ve run in hotter, but I knew that it was going to be challenging nonetheless.  I was hoping to beat my time of 1:54:12 (8:43 pace) from Ironman Virginia 70.3 in May, and I was determined not too go out too fast, like I did in that race.  My plan was to run an 8:45 pace for the first three miles and then to descend from there as my body allowed.

I felt fine as I exited transition, and the first little bit of the course was exiting Fort Raleigh towards 64.  There was then a left turn on a shaded trail that paralleled the road.  As always, I was running a bit too fast early on and had to force myself to slow down.  The good times in the shade didn’t last very long though, because then the course turned left into a neighborhood with direct sunlight, which included three turnaround cones.  I was seeing a lot of the Olympic runners by that point, but I was pretty much by myself as far as Half racers went.

The course then headed east on 64 again towards a long double loop.  I was nailing my pacing plan, but I was getting hot quickly.

Miles 4-6 (8:51)(8:52)(8:40)

Once my GPS tripped over to mile four, I tried to drop my pace down to 8:30-8:40.  I noticed, however, that I wasn’t getting any faster even though I felt like I was running harder.  In fact, my pace was deteriorating a bit because of the heat and humidity.  With ten miles to go, that was NOT good.  I had a small water bottle with me so I had been hydrating as much as I could, but I took extra water at the next aid station and shoved ice into my trisuit.  The turnaround cones weren’t really helping my pace much either, but I was able to level off around an 8:50 pace.

Mile six was a little bit better at 8:40, but things were getting pretty serious by that point.  I wasn’t even halfway done and I was really struggling to maintain my pace.  I was still pretty much alone on the course since the Olympic racers didn’t have to do the double loop.  There was a guy who stayed about 100 yards behind me for most of the run, and I did see two other guys a few minutes ahead of me at one of the out and backs.

Miles 7-9 (9:07)(9:29)(9:05)

Miles 7-9 mostly took place on my second loop of the eastern-most portion of the run course.  My pace continued to degrade, but as soon as I started my second loop I began to see a bunch of other Half racers, who were on their first loop.  By and large, I was in much better shape than most of the people that I saw, so that gave me a bit of a boost.  In fact, a lot of people were walking (or close to it), and I will still trudging along at something a little over a 9 minute pace.  I kept telling myself that if I could just make it to mile ten, then I’d just have to run back down the trail towards Fort Raleigh to finish up.

obx run.jpg

Miles 10-12 (9:34)(9:34)(9:32)

I’d been telling myself that everything would be fine once I got to mile 10, because then I’d only have a 5k to run, and that would be no problem.  Well, I lied to myself, because it was sucking hard at that point.  Every ounce of me wanted to walk and I was struggling to keep from doing so.  I was still seeing the tail end of the 70.3 racers heading out in the other direction, and I told myself just to be thankful that I wasn’t in the first three miles of the run like those poor souls.  I felt way overheated, and nothing that I was doing was cooling me down.

Eventually, I finished the portion on the sidewalk and went back into the original neighborhood for some more winding around.  There was then a straightway, and I could hear the finish line and I saw two volunteers ready to tell me to turn left to head into the finishing chute.  That picked me up a bit and I was able to run a little faster.  When I got to them though, they pointed to another F***ING turnaround cone about 100 yards in the distance and told me to go around it and come back.  Seriously, how many turnaround cones can one course have!  I said some choice words under my breath and then did the final out and back.

Mile 13 (9:44)

When I made it back to the two volunteers they directed me towards the finishing chute, and then it was about 100 yards to the finish line.  I really didn’t have a final sprint left in me, but I ran across the finish line and collected my medal.

Post Race

As soon as I finished, I saw the girls off to my left and I began to feel a little woozy so I sat down on the grass with a bottle of water.  It took me about 5-10 minutes to cool down and collect myself, but even after that I wasn’t feeling well enough to have the post-race pizza and beer.  I basically took one bite and one sip and felt nauseous, so I made a hard pass.

I eventually got around to checking the results, and found out that I’d won my age group (1/11) and finished 8/73 overall for the half distance.  Mindy was the second overall female in the Olympic race, and Leigh Anne finished 3/14 in her age group in the Olympic race as well.  I was obviously happy about my result, particularly since we hadn’t had the swim to bolster my positioning.  More importantly though, my result qualified me for Age Group Nationals in Milwaukee in August of 2020.  I’d actually qualified for Nationals in 2019, but didn’t do so until we’d already planned our vacation to Maine, so there was a conflict.  I hope to be able to race in Milwaukee next year, and and least I won’t have to worry about qualifying in the Spring.

obx podium.jpgobx place

The OBX Half-Iron Triathlon was my final tune up before Ironman Louisville on October 13th, a month later.  Most of my heavy training for Louisville was in the rear view mirror at that point and I was feeling good.  I still had one last 100 mile bike ride on the calendar the following weekend, and then I was going to be in full-on taper mode.  Unfortunately, things don’t always work out as planned, and I’d be bruised, bloodied and nursing a wounded psyche in the final weeks before Louisville.