“Everything that kills me makes me feel alive…”

2017 Ironman Chattanooga Race Report

11:36:41

 40/166 AG     254/1978 Overall

Sunday, September 24, 2017 – When the 3:30 a.m. alarms go off on race morning there’s no time to think about your lack of sleep the night before or what lies ahead.  I coated myself in Bodyglide, donned my trisuit, said goodbye to Leigh Anne and then headed to the lobby.  Danny Royce and I planned to meet there around 4 a.m., and I grabbed a cup of coffee and some instant oatmeal from the coffee bar, which was mercifully open at that hour.  Danny arrived as I finished up and looked somewhat shell-shocked.  He learned that his dog has died unexpectedly the night before and he had gotten no sleep.  That’s a tough start to a tough day, especially when he was already carrying the burden of trying to qualify for Kona again.  He’d already told me the day before that those expectations were weighing on him, so his dog dying was an unneeded gut punch.

After consoling him a bit, we hopped in my car and headed down to the race site.  We arrived at transition just before they opened the flood gates to the athletes, and we used Danny’s pump to inflate our tires after making it to our racks.  Danny and I parted ways at that point, and I wished him luck on his Kona attempt.  From there, the athletes had to hop on buses and take a short ride up river to the swim start.

The swim start is first-come-first-served, and whoever gets in line the earliest gets in the water first (after the pro women).  I got there about an hour and a half before go time, and the line was already a few hundred yards from the water.  Then began a long wait, where I interchanged between sitting on a towel and standing up to stay loose, throwing in a couple of trips to the nearby portapotties for good measure.  Leigh Anne ended up finding me in line about a half hour before the start, and that made the time go by a little quicker.

After what seemed like an eternity, the pro women took off, and then we began shuffling slowly forward to the water.  There was a timing mat on the dock, and your chip time would begin as soon as you crossed it.  I took one last look around me to take in the moment and the scenery at sunrise, and then headed out onto the dock.  The day would be long, but I was focused on breaking it into manageable parts.  First up, was the 2.4 mile swim in the Tennessee River.

Results Link

Garmin Data

Swim: 53:57   (1:24/100m)  (27/166 AG)

Swim Course Map

My goal for the day was to break 12 hours in good spirits and to avoid another trip to the medical tent after finishing.  My everything-goes-perfectly goal was 11:30, but I wasn’t going to shoot for that too hard and risk a meltdown.  I’d hoped to finish the swim in 1 hour, and that would be current-assisted due to the all-down-river swim.  Had the swim been an out and back in the river, I’d probably have been looking at trying to break 1:10.  The water temperature had been (barely) wetsuit legal on Friday morning, but the past two days of temperatures in the upper-80’s had warmed the water temperature by several degrees.  Thus, it was going to be a swim without the wetsuit, but I really wasn’t too upset about that since I hadn’t planned on the race being wetsuit legal.

The river had a couple of bends in it, so you couldn’t see the finish area from the starting dock.  After hopping in, I took off and did my best not too go out too hard.  I was afraid that the swim would be congested at the start, and there were plenty of people around me, but I was still able to find some clean water.  When possible, I would draft if I found someone swimming about my speed.

My heart rate stayed under control, but I found that the farther I swam, the more people were around me.  I felt like I was having a good swim, and the congestion was increasing since I was catching up to a lot of people who’d started before me.  I resisted the urge to look at my GPS and kept moving forward.

At the pre-race meeting, the announcer had indicated that the tip of the small island in the river marks the half-way point of the swim.  Even though I was feeling good, after a while I wondered if I would ever get to the island.  I finally found it, and then I remembered that I had to go under three bridges to find the finishing area.

I continued to swim well, and passed under the first and then the second bridge.  The swim finish was now in sight, but the river was getting even more congested.  It was at that point that I had my only problem in the swim.  As I passed someone on my right, his hand went forward under my goggle strap and ripped the right eyepiece away from my face.  I had to pull up and tread water to get it fixed, and you can see my heart rate jump up and my stroke rate go to zero around the 47:30 mark in my GPS data as I struggled to get myself together.

After getting my goggles re-situated, I only had about a quarter mile to the finish, which culminated with a climb up a short ladder.  Thankfully, they had volunteers helping fish people out of the water, which came in handy.  After getting onto dry land, I tried not to fall over from the immediate spell of lightheadedness that hit me, and then headed towards T1.  I finally looked at my GPS and saw that I’d finished the swim in under 54 minutes.  Dang, I didn’t expect that, even with the current assist!  I do think the current was moving a bit faster than it had in years past based upon my post-race review of the average swim times, but still, I felt like I had a really good swim.  That was reflected by the fact that I was 27/166 in my age group, and I felt good as I headed off to find my bike.

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Feeling well enough to ham it up for the camera.  The pain was still in the mail at that point.

T1 (5:37)

It was a long run into T1 from the water, and then I had to find my bike gear bag on the ground and run into the changing tent.  On went some additional Bodyglide, along with my shoes and my helmet.  I had a small fight with my helmet shield since it fell off when I slipped the helmet onto my head.  It took me a few seconds to snap it back in, and I think its a pretty poor design since its so temperamental.  After getting myself together in the changing tent, I then had to run all the way to the opposite end of the transition area to grab my bike and then hit the bike exit.  5:37 seems like a long time, but there was a fair amount of distance to cover.

Bike: 5:54:10   (19.7 mph)  (41/166 AG)

Bike Course Map

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My goal for the 116 mile bike course was 6 hours or less.  The course is a two loop “lollipop,” with the “stick” being the first 12 miles out of town.  Loop 1 is miles 13-58 and loop 2 is miles 59-104.  You then have about 12 miles back to the finish.  As you can see, the first 35 miles are mostly uphill, so I was very wary about going out too fast.  The plan was to take that portion fairly easy and to moderately increase my effort from there.

Things got off to a good start as I made my way away from the river and towards the outskirts of town.  I felt like I was barely pedaling, but I was making speed easily and my GPS was showing just under 20 miles per hour.  I figured that I might be pushing too hard to soon, but it really felt effortless.  I think the endorphins and adrenaline might have been working a bit too hard.

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Just out of T1 heading away from the river.

I knew that there were several sets of train tracks to cross as you leave town, and the carnage of ejected water bottles and other various items littered the road near the tracks.  I’d purchased a Gorilla cages for my rear hydration mount a few months earlier, and I reveled in my wisdom as my bottle stayed put.  The reveling was short lived.

Somewhere between miles 3 and 4 I crossed a small bridge and overtook a female rider.  As soon as I moved back to my right in front of her, I noticed a spare bike tube that someone had ejected in the road ahead of me.  There was no chance to avoid it, but I wasn’t really worried since it was a flat piece of tubing.  A few seconds later I began to smell something burning, and before my thoughts turned back to the tube I’d just run over, my rear wheel completely locked up and I started fishtailing.

The girl behind me started yelling and narrowly avoided running into the back of me.  I steered to my right and hopped of my bike – not knowing what had caused the malfunction.  I then saw the black tube wedged in between my rear wheel and my frame.  I tried to pull it out, but it was wedged tight, so I had to take the wheel off to get it out.  I didn’t see any other issues, but wouldn’t know for sure that I was in the clear until I took off again.  I got back on the road quickly, and the entire episode probably cost me 60 seconds.  I was a bit concerned for the next few miles that my rear tire might go flat, but it turned out to be okay.

Over the next few miles my emotions ran from shocked to angry to relieved, and I had to tell myself a few times to settle down and not to try to “make up” for the lost time.  I got back in a groove, and around the 12 mile mark I’d finished the out portion of the “lollipop stick” and headed onto the loop portion of the course for the first time.

The south portion of the loop was my least favorite part of the bike course, and is pretty much all uphill until you turn left onto Hog Jowl Road around mile 35 to head back north.  There are a lot of rolling hills, and the course was really crowded with bikers.  I did my best to avoid any illegal drafting, but with so many people in close quarters, its tough.  I saw officials on motorcycles all day long, but I never saw a drafting penalty handed out.  There were a few cyclists who seemed to be oblivious to the drafting rules, and they would pull up next to people and try to start a conversation instead of passing.  That got pretty obnoxious, particularly when I was stuck behind them and couldn’t pass.

Around mile 25, my chain began making a horrible squealing noise when I was in the small chain ring and mashing the pedals to climb hills.  I didn’t know if it was a lubrication issue or something related to my mishap near mile 3, but it was making me pretty nervous.  I had lubed my chain before racking my bike on Saturday, but it had rained overnight, so that might have caused the problem.  I hoped it would dissipate, and I got some looks from the other bikers when I was squealing uphill.

The famed climb just prior to turning left onto Hog Jowl Road finally made its appearance around mile 34, and it was much worse on the bike than it’d looked from my car on Friday morning.  It seemed to go on forever, and I was in the small chain ring and in the easiest gear, but making progress was still tough.  I squealed my way up the hill, and then there was a brief descent before the left turn to head back north.  You had to lay on the brakes pretty hard to make the sharp turn, and then began the the most fun part of the course – the trip back north to complete the loop.

The trip north was primarily downhill all the way to Chickamunga (around mile 54), which was where a lot of the spectators were hanging out.  There were some rolling hills, but you could pretty much maintain your speed on all of the uphill portions.  Unfortunately, the dead skunk that we’d seen on Friday was still in the road, so that made for an unpleasant smell.

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Northbound towards Chickamunga on loop 1.

As I made my way towards Chickamunga, the crowding on the course finally began to diminish a bit.  I made sure that I drank my Carbopro at 15 minute intervals, and I was taking a bottle of water for my aero bottle at every aid station.  I was feeling pretty good, but I was starting to feel the ramp up in the temperature.  It wasn’t a problem yet, but I knew it was getting warm.

I blew through Chickamunga since it was downhill and saw Leigh Anne for a brief moment.  The town had come out in full force, and it was a pretty neat stretch for about half a mile with both sides of the road lined with spectators.  You then head out of town, and then there was a grueling climb for about 2.5 miles.  It’s not super steep, but it goes on and on and will wear out your legs if you push too hard.  I squealed my way to the top, and then there was a mile-and-a-half screaming descent to complete loop 1.

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Chickamunga in loop 1.

As I screamed down the hill I actually sat up out of the aero position to slow myself down.  I didn’t feel like crashing out at 35-40 miles per hour, and I even tapped the brakes a few times due to some curves.  I got pretty nervous for a bit after hearing a weird “knocking” sound, and was worried that I was having a mechanical.  Thankfully, it turned out that the water in my aero bottle was sloshing rhythmically, so it was no big deal.  That had never happened before and it was very loud, so it sounded like something much worse.

After turning left to head south again, I had one of my worst stretches on the bike.  I felt like a wave of fatigue washed over me as I began my uphill trek again, and there was a 15-20 minute period where I didn’t feel very well.  That was coupled with increased squealing from my chain on the tougher uphill portions, and it got so bad that I pulled over and looked over my bike for a few seconds to see if anything was rubbing.  I couldn’t see any definitive problem, and the squealing was only happening when I mashed on the pedals in the small chain ring on the steepest hills.  It didn’t squeal when I sat and spun up the hills, so I decided to do that for the remainder of the ride.

I began to rally around mile 75, and would feel good for the remainder of the ride, but miles 60-75 had been tough.  A female rider and I began to ride together towards the bottom of loop 2, and we leapfrogged each other every few minutes.  We kept the mandatory 6 bike lengths between us to avoid a penalty, and soon enough, I was back at the climb just before turning left onto Hog Jowl Road.  I stayed in my seat and spun up it, and it seemed much easier the second time around.  I pulled ahead of the female rider for good on the climb and wouldn’t see her again.

I was feeling pretty good on the northerly part of the second loop, but by that point I was really beginning to feel the heat and humidity.  I continued to drink as much as possible, and took some salt tablets to supplement the ones that were already dissolved in my Carbopro.  By about mile 90 though, I was really getting tired of laying in the aero position, and my arms and shoulders were worn out from the effort of supporting my upper body for over 4.5 hours.  The ride through the spectators in Chickamunga was a nice pick-me-up, but I didn’t see Leigh Anne this time through.  The 100 mile marker came shortly thereafter – only 16 miles to go.

The 2.5 mile grind uphill followed, and I continued to sit and spin, which kept my chain from squealing.  The screaming descent to complete loop 2 followed, and there was no crazy knocking noise from my water bottle this time around.  When I came to the end of loop 2 I was very happy to be turning right to head back to Chattanooga instead of turning left for another loop.

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Somewhere on loop 2 around mile 85.

The ride back to town was slightly downhill and made for some good speed.  I was certainly ready to get off of my bike, but was feeling well considering that I was coming up on 116 miles and six hours in the saddle.  There were a couple of times that I made myself dial it back a bit, and kept reminding myself that I still had a marathon to run.

There were some twists and turns in the last few miles, and as I passed the site of my near-accident many hours before, it reminded me of just how quickly things can go bad on a bike.  I crossed my fingers that I wouldn’t flat when I was so close to the finish, and started doing calculations in my head as to when it would be faster to push my bike to transition if I flatted instead of changing the tube.  Thankfully, the river soon appeared and I cruised the final half mile or so to give my legs a break.

The bike leg had been taxing and contained some minor drama, but I was feeling (relatively) good and was ready to run.  I didn’t think I’d overcooked the bike, and still came in under my six hour goal.  Only 26.2 miles to go.

T2 (7:24)

Ironman transitions just seem to take forever, but I really did try to hurry.  After dropping off my bike, I found my run gear bag and headed into the changing tent.  I put on my running shoes and asked a volunteer to spray me down with my sunscreen.  I reapplied Bodyglide pretty much everywhere and then decided against wearing my hydration belt.  Instead, I grabbed one of the bottles that I’d pre-filled and then headed out of the changing tent.  Before leaving transition, I hit the only portapotty of the day (on the course), and then got slathered with even more sunscreen by a volunteer.  I yelled to Leigh Anne about my near-crash around mile 3 on the bike, and then took off onto the run course.

Run: 4:35:53    (10:31 min/mile) (43/166 AG)

Run Course Map

And then there was the run.  Dear Lord…the run.  It was 87 degrees when I got off the bike and full on humid, so the heat index was over 90.  I knew that it was going to be hilly, and I knew that it was going to be hot.  Knowing and doing, however, are sometimes separated by a chasm as wide as the Grand Canyon.  The heat hit me immediately, and I realized pretty quickly that it was going to be a long 26.2.  Sometimes you’re the nail and sometimes you’re the hammer.  Unfortunately, sometimes you’re the only nail in a room full of hammers.

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Just out of T2 with sunscreen running down my legs.

Coming into the race, my goal for the run was 4 hours and 22 minutes, which equates to 10 minutes per mile.  Based upon the forecast, Karen and I thought that might need to be amended upwards a little, and I was supposed to run 10:00 – 10:15 minute miles for the first three miles.  Heading out of transition, I was roughly 7 hours into the race, so a 4:30 marathon would put me right at my “everything goes perfect” goal time of 11 hours and 30 minutes.  It was hot, but I’d felt good when I finished the bike, so I thought there was a chance.

Miles 1-3 (10:03)(10:00)(9:59)

From reading Danny’s Race Report from his previous IMChoo race, I knew that there was a substantial hill coming out of transition.  The first mile took me along the river and then up a ramp…which I thought was the hill.  Not quite.  There was still a substantial climb ahead of me, and pretty much the entire first mile seemed like it was uphill.  I took note that the IMChoo run course takes it to you quickly.

The next two miles were on an unprotected stretch of highway that was blazing hot.  I made sure that I kept my pacing at 10:00 minutes per mile, and a lot of people were running past me.  As crappy as my own run would turn out, I’d pass many of them back later in the day.  There wasn’t much to see on this stretch of road, and there was no respite from the sunlight.  I knew that I’d be overheating quickly, and stopped at every aid station to drank some Gatorade, refill my water bottle and then dump some ice down my tri-suit.  I was feeling okay at that point, but my core temperature was definitely rising.

Miles 4-6 (10:05)(9:54)(10:25)

After mile 3, I was supposed to pick up the pace a little, but I was already aware of the fact that a 4:22 marathon was probably not going to be in the cards.  The outward-bound trip on the highway seemed to go on forever, but around mile 4 I finally got to turn left to head back towards downtown on the river walk.  This part of the course was eminently better than the four miles on the highway, but it was still only about 50% shaded.  There were also a few small hills thrown in for good measure.  Nothing like what was waiting on the opposite side of the river, but some hills nonetheless.

I kept trying to run some sub-10 minute miles, but I was losing too much time at the aid stations.  I knew that neglecting my hydration and nutrition needs would come back to haunt me later in the race, so I took my time at every aid station to try to stay hydrated and fueled.  By mile 6 I was feeling fair, but certainly not where I hoped to be with over 20 miles remaining.

Miles 7-9 (9:52)(10:40)(11:01)

Around mile 8 I made a right turn and then the first serious hill of the day came out of nowhere.  There was the carnage of many people walking up it ahead of me, and I told myself that I was going to take it easy and run all the way to the top without walking.  People started cheering for me since I was one of the few people running by the time that I got halfway up the hill, but soon enough I was forced to walk for a bit.  Even though I’d been feeling the wheels starting to come off for a few miles, I’d been holding it together physically and mentally.  This was the first part of the race where I started to go into a dark place.

Soon after cresting the hill I saw Leigh Anne for the first time on the run and she asked me how I was feeling.  All I could manage at that time was saying, “Its so hot…its so hot.”  After some words of encouragement, I kept on and took a right to cross Veteran’s Bridge to head to the hilly side of the course.  My pace for mile 8 crept up to 10:40, but there was 75 feet of elevation gain due to the aforementioned hill, so that was not unexpected.  It would be increasingly difficult to keep my pace near 10 minute miles as I continued on.

It was hot on the bridge in the direct sunlight, but that was nothing compared to what awaited on the far side.  Soon after reaching the end of the bridge, I hit the Barton Avenue hill for the first time.  In addition to being a soul crusher, its a quad and hamstring crusher as well.  I did my best to trot up the hill with minimal walking, but it was tough to keep moving forward without taking walk breaks.  The only saving grace was the multitude of spectators on both sides of the road cheering us on.

Miles 10-12 (9:42)(10:25)(10:58)

What goes up must come down, and after cresting Barton I headed back down the other side, which sounds easy in writing.  In reality, you’re crushing your quads with every step since its pretty steep, which comes back to bite you later in the race.  After reaching the bottom of Barton, I ran past the Italian restaurant that Leigh Anne and I had visited the night before.  There were people cheering from the parking lot, and I was wishing that I could stop and hang out with them for a while.  Shortly thereafter, there were some guys offering beers to shotgun, but I figured that might not be a good idea.

The next couple of miles were nothing but hills on a loop through a ritzy neighborhood, but there was much less crowd support there.  I did my best the glide down the hills to keep my pace respectable, but things were getting pretty bad and I was really deep in the well of pain by that point.  Around mile 11.5 I hit the bottom of Barton Avenue again and began making my way back to the top.

About halfway up Barton, I saw Danny running towards me in the opposite direction on his second loop.  He looked better than he apparently felt (based upon his race report), and gave me a few words of encouragement.  I finally reached the top of Barton for the second time a minute or two later, and was happy to begin my descent to complete the first loop of the run course.

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Halfway done with the run.

Miles 13-15 (10:17)(10:07)(10:09)

The course took me across the Walnut Street Bridge to complete loop one, and even the gradual incline of the bridge was taking its toll on me by that point.  I was hot and bothered and in a pretty sour mood.  After crossing the bridge, I took a left to head back up the highway of hell again.

Oddly, I had a Renaissance of sorts after getting back on the highway, and was able to turn in a couple of miles near the 10 minute mark.  I began thinking that I could keep the good times going for the second loop, and I began passing A LOT of people around that time.  It seemed like there were two people walking for every person running, and the heat was really taking its toll.  I remember passing several people in that stretch that had gone past me in the first few miles, and that helped lift my spirits a little.

Miles 16-18 (11:04)(10:57)(11:17)

The good times had to end at some point, and that was at mile 16.  Whatever second wind I’d gained at mile 13 moved out of town and left no forwarding address.  The trip up the highway continued to wear on me, and my state of mind went downhill for good.  I will say that the volunteers at the aid stations were great, but even their jubilance couldn’t bring me out of my funk.

I continued to plod along at about a 10 minute pace, but I was taking longer and longer at the aid stations, which was hurting my time.  First, I’d refill my water bottle, then I’d take some Gatorade, then some flat Coke and then some ice.  I was taking a half of a gel at every other aid station, but nothing was giving me any energy.  It was during this stretch that I was forced into a run-walk strategy because I just couldn’t keep running continuously.  I’d run about 200 yards and then walk for ten seconds.  Around mile 17 I finally got off the highway and back onto the river walk, but the change of scenery really didn’t help at all.

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Not a great picture for sure, but it pretty much sums up how I was feeling.

Miles 19-21 (10:52)(11:25)(11:23)

By mile 19 Chattanooga pretty much felt like the seventh level of Hell to me.  My walk breaks were becoming more frequent and I felt like even a 4:30 marathon was out of the question.  As hard as I was fading, I began to wonder if a 5:00 marathon was now in the cards.  My excitement of exceeding expectations on the swim and bike were quickly being replacement with a sense of abject failure.  I felt like I was failing my coaches, my family and myself by blowing up on the run.  It sounds stupid now since any expectations were really mine and mine alone, but I was deep in the well of pain and self-pity by that point.  Its amazing how high and low you can feel in a single Ironman race.

There was an aid station just before mile 20 and out of desperation, I took half of a Hot Shot.  Bad judgment.  The jalapeno taste nearly made me vomit, and then I was nauseous for the next half mile or so.  I’m pretty sure that the picture above was taken during that stretch.

I saw Leigh Anne shortly thereafter, and she seemed pretty concerned about me, as were Karen and Erin (whom she’d been texting throughout the day).  She asked me if I was okay, and I responded, “I see Blue…he looks glorious,” which is a Will Ferrell quote from the movie Old School after he gets the crap beat out of him.  Since I was still able to remember random movie quotes, the ladies knew that I was still in the game, and Leigh Anne gave some final words of encouragement before I headed back across Veteran’s Bridge to the hilly side of the course one more time.

Miles 22-24 (10:51)(11:32)(11:04)

Pain and anger.  Anger and pain.  That’s pretty much all I felt on the far side of the bridge.  Barton hit me once again and I think I ran half of it and walked half of it.  I remember a young kid handing me water at the mile 22 aid station and saying, “that’s high quality H2O” in a voice from The Waterboy and thinking to myself, “that’s funny, but I’m too hurt and angry to laugh.”

I then headed into the ritzy neighborhood loop again, and the walk breaks were coming more and more frequently.  As bad as I felt, I was still passing people, and very few people were passing me.  I remember being shocked by that, but the course and the heat were pretty much wrecking everybody.

Miles 25-26 (11:33)(10:48)

After finishing mile 24, I was back at the bottom of the Barton hill for the fourth and final time.  I kept telling myself that I just had one more hill to climb, but it was a beast.  To make matters worse, I’d developed a stabbing pain under my right rib cage around mile 23 and it just wouldn’t go away.  I trudged my way to the top of Barton, and then knew that it was mostly downhill to the finish from there.

I was determined to run the rest of the way, but the stabbing pain intensified as I ran down the far side of Barton.  I tried to run through it, but it was too much and I got to the bottom of the hill and had to walk some.

I finally got to the last bridge and even its minimal rise forced me to walk again.  After 11 hours and 30 minutes of racing, my body was in full-on revolt mode.  It felt bad to walk when the finish line was actually in sight off in the distance, but there was no way around it.  I reached the crest of the bridge and had about 3/4 of a mile to go and then told myself that I was done with walking and would run to the finish.

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Crossing the last bridge and looking at the finish line off to my right in the distance.

From that point, the last few minutes of the race were a flood of memories and emotions from the past few years.  I tried to take in the moment and revel in the fact that years of training and sacrifice were culminating in that final mile.  Not just for me, but for my family too.  I somehow escaped from the well of pain and my legs found new life.  Based upon my Garmin data, it wasn’t a whole lot of life, but it felt like it at the time.

I remember turning left and seeing the finishing chute about a quarter mile ahead of me.  Spectators were lining both sides of the chute and their cheers were intoxicating.  If you wonder why people subject themselves to 140+ miles of torture, run that last quarter mile and you will know.

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Leigh Anne is in the pink tank-top behind me, but I never saw her.

I ran with whatever was left in me and stuck my left hand out to get some high fives just before the finish line.  Apparently, I ran straight over to Leigh Anne and slapped her hand, but I had no idea until she told me later.  I guess I had tunnel vision.

I crossed the finish line in 11:36:41, well ahead of my 12 hour goal.  I was less than seven minutes shy of my “everything goes perfectly” goal, but considering that the heat index in the 90’s, it was a damn good day.

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Post Race

After Ironman Maryland, I had nearly collapsed a few minutes after the finish and ended up in the medical tent.  I was intent on avoiding that in 2017, and I knew that I needed calories and sugar asap, but there was no Coke at the finish line.  I had to go through the post-race photo area in order to get to the food, but I didn’t want to miss getting my picture taken.  The guy in front of me was taking multiple pictures with his family and I was getting weaker and dizzier by the minute.  He finally finished, I smiled for a couple of photos, and then staggered out of the finishing area.

I ran into Leigh Anne and she escorted me to the food, and I got a couple of pieces of pizza and a Coke.  We sat on the hill overlooking the river and I drank the Coke and tried to eat some pizza.  I was feeling bad, but I didn’t feel like I needed medical care.  Within about 5-10 minutes the sugar and calories had kicked in, and I was feeling well enough to get up and head back to transition to collect my things.

After packing up, we went back to the hotel so that I could wash the day’s stink off of me.  I sent a few text messages to confirm that I was still alive, and then Leigh Anne and I went out for a late dinner and a couple of beers.  I checked the AG results and saw that Danny had gotten third in our AG, and I crossed my fingers that we’d have three Kona slots so he could finally book his trip to Hawaii.  I found out the next morning that he’d made it, which was pretty exciting.

In looking, back, IMChoo was a completely different beast than IMMd.  Granted, the swim had been cancelled and the bike as shortened in Maryland, but there was really no comparing the two races.  I’d gotten into some dark times in Maryland around mile 20 of the run, but nothing compared to the well of pain I’d been in at Chattanooga – pretty much starting at mile 8 on the run.  I learned a lot about myself during the IMChoo run, and as bad as I felt, it was a really rewarding experience.

One of the most interesting things that I took away from the race was my AG placing on the run.  If you read my blog, you know by now that I swim OK, bike OK and then l slide down the AG standings on the run.  You can pretty much set your watch to that.  As shitty as I FELT my run was though, I was 41st in my AG on the bike but was still 43rd in my AG on the run.  That’s much less of a fall-off than normal.  Thus, the heat and hills seemed to affect the other age groupers more than me.  Maybe.  At least that’s what I’m telling myself at the moment.

So…years of training and preparation for a single day’s event were finally over, leaving me wondering what the future held.  I knew that a full Ironman was not in the cards for 2018, at least, not if I wanted to stay married.  Its not the race itself that makes an Ironman difficult on family life, its the months of training leading up to it.  Nevertheless, even before the soreness from the day’s effort reached a crescendo a few days later, I began to wonder, “can I go sub-11 hours in the next one?”  The Ironman bug is a terrible affliction.

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“Hello again, its been too long…”

September 21, 2017 – After nearly twelve months of waiting and training since the flood-shortened Ironman Maryland on October 1, 2016, its finally time to hit the road to  Ironman Chattanooga.  The race was on Sunday, September 24th, but we were leaving on Thursday in order to have plenty of time before the race to get checked in and situated.  There was a mandatory check in by 5:00 p.m. on Friday, and since we had an eight hour drive, I didn’t want to take a chance of missing the cutoff if we left Friday morning and had car trouble.  Thus, after dropping off Jackson and Jillian at daycare on Thursday morning, Leigh Anne and I set out for Chattanooga.

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Ready to roll to Chattanooga.

After a few stops, we rolled into Chattanooga around 4:30 p.m. and had just enough time to park and get into the Ironman Village and get checked in.  I could have waited until Friday morning, but it was good to get it done and mark it off my “to-do” list.  I pretty much walked right up to the table and had my gear bags and race numbers in no time.  Then it was off to the Marriott about a mile up the road to check in there.

On Friday morning, Leigh Anne and I decided to ride a portion of the bike course, and  we drove out of town and parked at the Dollar General that was near the end of the “stick” of the “lollipop” bike course.  There were a fair amount of other people doing the same thing, and lots of cyclists were on Highway 193.  Unfortunately, there were lots of cars too, which was making Leigh Anne pretty nervous since she was still getting used to riding the road bike.  We did about 13 easy miles and then called it quits.  We then drove the rest of the bike course so that I would know what I was in for on Sunday.

Overall, the course didn’t look too bad, but there were lots of rolling hills.  None of the hills looked terribly tough on an individual basis, but I’d read about the climb at the bottom of the loop just before turning left onto Hog Jowl Road.  That climb didn’t look like much in the car, and I wondered if I was looking at the correct hill.  Sometimes its hard to judge hills in a car though, so maybe I’d have a different impression of it on race day.

The second portion of the bike loop was more scenic than the first portion, but the rollers continued.  It was mostly downhill coming back in, but there was a long sustained climb after the 50 mile checkpoint in Chickamunga – followed by a screaming downhill portion to complete the loop.  The only other thing that stood out about the loop was a horrible smelling dead skunk in the road, which I hoped would be gone by Sunday.

We finished driving the bike course before lunch and pretty much had the rest of Friday to kill.  After seeing all of the signs for “Rock City” on Lookout Mountain while driving in on Thursday, we decided to check it out.  Rock City was pretty neat, but is hard to describe.  It was a weird combination of scenic views, caverns, gnomes and the “Its a Small World” ride from Disney World.

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The one of the lookouts at Rock City.

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I wasn’t looking to spend too much time on my feet, and thankfully we were able to walk through the entire site in about thirty minutes, then we had lunch at the restaurant near the scenic viewing area.  I also took a power nap on a bench while Leigh Anne explored the gift shop.

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Looking back at Chattanooga.

We took the rest of the day to relax at the hotel, to attend the athlete briefing on the river and then to grab dinner out.  The restaurants were one of the best parts of Chattanooga.  As we passed through Ironman Village to go to the athlete briefing Friday afternoon I was really happy to have checked in on Thursday since the crowd was thick and the check in line was long.  It was sweltering hot, and the forecast was for Sunday to be even hotter.  I chose to skip the opening ceremony at the river on Friday night because I didn’t want to be out in the heat and humidity any more than necessary before the race.

Saturday morning began with me having severe muscle spasms in my neck, which caused me to go into total panic mode since I could barely turn my head.  Lets just say that I slept on it wrong.  I’ve had that issue a couple of times in the past, and its usually fixed by a few Flexeril and two of days of rest – neither of which I had in Chattanooga.  Leigh Anne ran out and bought me a tube of Biofreeze, and between that and some hot compresses, it loosened up enough for me to go try my pre-swim in the river.  I was still pretty freaked out though, about how I was going to sit in the  aero position for six hours on the bike the next day with a bad neck.

There was a park on the far side of the Tennessee River where you could park and walk down to the water.  Leigh Anne rode with me and was going to watch me swim, and then she was going to take off running and meet me back at the hotel.

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New ProK kit…but not willing to wear it for the first time on race day.

The water was a near perfect temperature, and the views weren’t too bad either.  The only problem was the slippery rocks at the entry/exit point, which caused me to fall and bang my leg just below the knee.  It hurt, but wasn’t a problem for the race, thankfully.

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Picturesque pre-swim…and inspired by the one-armed lady ahead of me.

I only planned to swim for ten minutes, and I took off up the river so I could ride the current back down.  It did hurt to turn my head due to my neck issues, but I was ABLE to turn my head, so that was the most important thing.  The current was noticeable but not super strong that morning, and it took me about 6.5 minutes to go up river and about 3.5 minutes to get back.  I felt good in the water, and after finishing my swim, I did a short run to shake out the legs for the last time.20170923_080328_resized

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Selena – ready to roll 116 miles.

When I got back to the hotel, I finished packing my bike and run bags, and made sure that my bike was in good working order.  I chose to go with one rear bottle cage instead of two, whereas I could have a single cage directly behind me.  When I was set up for two rear bottle cages, they each hang off to the side.  There would be a weight and an aero benefit to having just a single bottle cage in the back, and that would still give me a total capacity of three bottles when you factored in my aerobottle and the bottle at my shins.  Water would go in my aerobottle and 900 calories of Carbopro in each of the other two.  Once my first bottle of Carbopro ran dry around mile 58, I planned to grab the full one from behind me and then discard the empty bottle (at an aid station).  The aerobottle would be refilled with water at the aid stations, which were about 15 miles apart.  With two bottles of Carbopro on the bike, I wouldn’t have to stop at special needs to get the second bottle, saving time.

Once Leigh Anne got back from her run, we headed to Ironman Village yet again to check in my bike and my two gear bags.  It just so happened that I had a spot on the end of the bike rack, which would make finding my bike easy the next morning.  After a quick lunch, Leigh Anne set out to explore Ruby Falls and I went back to the hotel to put my feet up and to continue to work on loosening up my neck.  I took a hot bath with a whole bag of Epsom salts, which helped a bit.

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End of the rack…must be a VIP.

I spent all afternoon just laying around and getting some last minute advice from Karen.  The race day weather looked like it was going to be 88 degrees and humid, and we discussed some last minute pacing strategy, particularly for the run.  We had planned on me running the first three miles at a 10:00 minute pace, and she suggested that I might want to consider bumping that up to 10:15 in light of the heat.

Leigh Anne and I had dinner at an Italian restaurant on the far side of the river Saturday night, which was also where the back half of the run course took place.  We took the opportunity to drive that portion of the run course, and I was a bit shocked when I saw the severity of the hills.  I knew the course was hilly and had looked at the course profile countless times, but sometimes it just doesn’t sink in completely until you see it first-hand.  Barton Avenue had a bad reputation since you run up it both ways on both loops, and it looked pretty nasty.  Oh well, I’m used to running the hills around my neighborhood, so hopefully I was ready for it.

Then it was back to the hotel to get some sleep before the alarm went off at 3:30 a.m.  I was scheduled to meet my buddy Danny Royce in the lobby of the Marriott around 4:00 a.m. so that we could carpool to the Ironman Village, so it was lights out by 9:00 p.m. after Leigh Anne applied my race number tattoos.  Unfortunately, sleep didn’t come easy.  There was the fear of sleeping through the countless alarms I’d set, coupled with the natural fear that Ironman races produce.  As much was I was on edge about the next day, the real challenge is getting to the Ironman starting line properly trained and injury and illness free.  That’s easier said than done, and although I’d battled some nagging injuries over the past two years, I was feeling good 10 hours from go time.  My neck wasn’t perfect, but had loosened up quite a bit over the past 14 hours.  It looked as though I’d made it, so all I needed to do was show up the next day and race.  After all of the blood, sweat and tears of training and preparing, that should be the easy part, right?

“I feel something so wrong by doing the right thing…”

2017 Patriot’s Half-Iron Triathlon

Race Report

5:25:02

 7/26 AG     33/239 Overall

September 9, 2017 – My final race before Ironman Chattanooga was the Patriot’s Half-Iron triathlon in Williamsburg.  Since the race was only two weeks before IMChoo, it was planned more as a long training day and a tuneup instead of a true “race” for me.  I was a little worried about doing a half within two weeks of the full, and had considered just doing the Olympic distance race on the same day.  Karen convinced me that the half was in the game plan, but she was going to restrict my running pace for the majority of the half marathon.  Thus, I was told to go hard on the swim and bike portions, but to run 10 minute miles for the first 8-9 miles of the run.  I knew that made sense, but I was afraid that my competitive nature might take over.

I didn’t know anyone else who was racing, and Leigh Anne and I drove down to Williamsburg on race morning.  That meant leaving home by about 4:00 a.m. to make sure that I got to the race site in time to get my packet and set up without the stress of feeling rushed.  The 2016 race had been brutally hot and humid, but the weather for 2017 was looking pretty close to ideal.  It was warm but not hot, and a recent cool spell meant that the swim was wetsuit legal.  It was shaping up to be a fast day.patriots wetsuit

Race Results

GPS Data

Swim:  33:58 (1:46/100m)  3/26 AG

After squeezing into my wetsuit and saying goodbye to Leigh Anne, I waded into the shallow water near the beach and waited for my swim wave to start.  I was in the first wave, and positioned myself near the front.  In years past, I’d started off to the side to try to stay out of the pandemonium of the swim start, but I’d gradually gotten better at swimming and less intimated by the start.  I’d been doing a lot better at keeping my heart rate under control in the beginning, and chose not to self-seed myself farther back or to the side this time.

After the horn went off, I took off in the out-and-back course.  The swim is in a river, but the current was very slow and doesn’t really affect your time, particularly since its hurting you as much as it helps you due to the out-and-back.  I felt good from the get-go, but after a few 100 meters my left goggle developed a tiny leak.  The exact same thing  happened in 2016, so that was pretty weird.  In lieu of stopping to try to fix it, I just breathed to the right, which kept the water in the left eye piece from dropping down into my eye every time I turned my head.

I felt like I was making good time on the “out” portion, but I’d told myself that I wasn’t going to look at my GPS until I finished the swim.  I reached the far end of the swim, swam across the river a bit, and then turned left to head back.  I tried to swim a bit faster coming back in and never really had any problems.  There was a giant inflatable wiggly man (I’m not sure what else to call it) marking the swim exit, and the wiggly man gradually got bigger as I neared the end of the swim.  It definitely made sighting easier.

patriots swim finish 1

The only real issue I had during the swim was the fact that the final 100 meters back to the beach were really shallow.  It was too shallow to swim and trying to run through waist deep water was exhausting.  I dolphin dived for a bit, and then decided to start pulling off my wetsuit as I made my way to shore.  The timing mat was still a good distance up the beach, after exiting the water and I glanced at my GPS for the first time as I crossed it.  I was shocked to see 33:58!  In 2016 the swim had taken me 40:27.  Granted, that swim was sans wetsuit, but the suit probably only accounted for a two minute differential.  Three at most.  I’d done a half-iron swim in Lake Anna with the wetsuit at the Kinetic Half in May, and that swim had taken me 37:07.  Thus, I was really happy with my swim, which was good enough for 3/26 in my age group.

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T1: 2:41

Its a long run from the beach to the transition area, but I ran it at a pretty good clip.  Once I got into transition, I had to sit down to get my wetsuit off, then on went my bike shoes and my helmet.  Then I was off to the bike out area.  The timing mat was a good 10-15 yards prior to the mounting line, which slows your bike split a bit.  After passing the line, i hopped on, clipped in and took off.

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The long run from the beach to T1 – this is looking towards the water.

Bike:  2:46:02 (21.1 mph)  6/26 AG

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The bike course is relatively flat, but there are plenty of rollers in the middle section.  There is also the bridge over the Chickahominy River, which has a nice incline to it in both directions.  The bike course is also 58 miles instead of the standard 56 for a half-iron race, which was fine, since the Chattanooga bike course is 116 instead of 112 miles.  I might as well get used to going a little farther.  In 2016 I’d finished the bike course in 2:54:18, which was a 20.1 mph average.  My goal for the day was to beat that time, which should have been doable with another year of training under my belt.  In addition, since Karen was having me baby the run, I really didn’t need to leave too much in the tank.

After getting out of the race site and onto the main road, I accelerated and tried to settle into a comfortably hard pace.  One cyclist went past me in the first mile or two, and I tried to go with him, but he was too fast.  I didn’t want to burn myself out that early on, so I let him go.  I overtook a couple of riders in the first few miles, but neither of them was fast enough to ride with me.  Thus, it looked like I was going to be riding alone for most of the day again, just like the year before.

After turning left onto Route 5, I looked at my GPS and saw that I was averaging about 21 miles per hour.  I felt good and thought that I could maintain the effort I was putting out for the entire ride.  The bridge over the river around mile 8 slowed me down and put me in the small chain ring for a bit, but then I accelerated down the other side.

I got passed by another rider on the far side of the bridge, but he was someone that I could hang with.  I rode behind him (at a legal following distance) until about mile 18, but once we hit some of the rolling hills he pulled away from me.  From that point, I’d be pretty much alone for the remainder of the ride.  There are no spectators on the bike course and its pretty rural, so its pretty much just you and your thoughts for the better part of three hours.

I kept pushing, and was happy to see my pace hovering around 21 mph.  My splits dipped a bit on the hills and when I slowed at the first two aid stations, but on the flats, I was holding 21-22.  Part of me wondered whether I was going a bit too hard and might bonk at the end of the bike, but I felt good and my cadence was smooth.  I drank my Carbopro every 15 minutes to get my calories in, and I had two gels on the ride as well.  300-350 calories per hour on the bike seems to be my sweet spot of getting enough calories in without taking in too many and causing GI distress on the run.  I also took a few salt tablets as well.

By the time I turned left onto Route 5 to head back towards the bike finish, I knew that the easiest part of the course was ahead of me.  There was only about 20 miles left, and my worries about overcooking the bike were fading.  I continued to push the pace and began to wonder how much I could beat my 2016 bike split by.

The last aid station was on Route 5 about 10-15 miles from the finish, and I decided to bypass it to maintain my speed.  My aerobar water bottle was about half full, and since it wasn’t super hot, I thought that I could get by on what was left.  I still had a few more swigs left in my Carbopro bottle as well.  Ultimately, I ran out of water with about 5 miles left, but it was nothing more than a minor annoyance.  If I’d planned on running hard though, I certainly would have slowed for an extra bottle.

When I back to the race site I had to slow down a good ways before the dismount line, and I knew that I’d had a really good ride.  After dismounting, I looked at the ride time  on my GPS before hitting the lap button and saw that I’d finished in 2:46:02 – more than 8 minutes faster than 2016.  That was a huge improvement and I was thrilled.  Some of that could be chalked up to the fact that I wasn’t too worried about saving myself for the run, but most was simply due to better conditioning.  Interestingly though, even though I’d gone harder than normal on the bike, I still felt really good and ready to run.

T2: 1:19

I racked my bike, sprayed on some sunscreen, changed my shoes and I was off.  I debated on whether to bring a water bottle with me on the run, but due to the reasonable temperature, I decided against it.  I’d just hit the aid stations for my fluids so I wouldn’t have to carry a bottle for 13.1 miles.

Run: 2:01:04  (9:15/mile)  11/26 AG

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Miles 1-3 (9:45)(9:58)(9:57)

Karen had given me strict instructions to run 10 minute miles for the first 8-9 miles since IMChoo was only two weeks away.  Technically, 15 days.  I knew that was the smart play, but I’d finished 5th in my AG the year before.  After my fast swim and bike I was thinking that I had a great chance to make the podium, even if I ran slower than I was capable, but slightly faster than what Karen prescribed.  I decided not to let pride get the best of me, and tried to set off on a 10 minute pace.  That’s easier said than done since I almost always come out of T2 too hot.  The longer the race, the harder it is to make myself run slow at the beginning it seems.  My first mile was a 9:45 even though I tried to run slow, walked a bit and even stopped to readjust my shoe.  The next two miles were pretty much spot on though, but people from behind began running past me.  Thankfully, none were in my age group, and I was certainly looking at their ages on their calves as they went past.

Miles 4-6 (9:53)(9:58)(9:50)

In mile 4, someone in my age group finally caught me and we ran together for a minute or so.  He was training for Ironman Florida, and I felt the need to mention to him that I was running slow at my coach’s direction.  I told him that I could open up around mile 9, and he said I’d probably catch him since he was hurting.  I wished him luck, and then he left me behind.  I was really hoping that he wouldn’t be the one to knock me off the podium, and I kept plodding along at my 10 minute pace.  Shortly thereafter, another one of my age groupers went by.  I could have easily have gone with him, but I let him go too.  It was painful to watch him disappear ahead of me.

Miles 7-9 (9:44)(9:45)(9:15)

I pretty much stuck to the plan in miles 7 and 8, but allowed my pace to quicken just a little bit.  I was sure that Karen wouldn’t mind…at least, that’s what I told myself.  I was feeling really good and was thankful that it wasn’t as hot and humid as the year before.  In mile 9 I picked it up to a 9:15 pace, and had seen the age groupers who passed me  earlier way ahead of me at the turnarounds on the course.  I didn’t think I’d be able to catch either of them.

Miles 10-12 (9:10)(8:57)(8:44)

I continued to pick up speed, but I didn’t overdo it since I figured that a podium spot was out of the question.  I knew that at best, I was in third place since two guys had passed me on the run, but figured that I was lower than that and that some super speedy people in my age group had beaten me to the run course.

Mile 13 (8:24)

As I approached mile 13, I saw the guy who’d passed me at mile 4 about 100 yards ahead of me.  He was easy to spot in his blue and orange University of Florida trisuit, and he saw me coming up from behind.  I pulled up beside of him and saw that he was really hurting.  I guess he wasn’t joking when he said he was struggling nine miles prior.  We exchanged some pleasantries, and I had renewed hope of making the podium as I left him behind.

By and large, I felt good in the last half mile as I made my way towards the finish, and I pulled up next to a female whose husband was running next to her and cheering her on.  We ran together for a few 100 yards, and then I told her to go ahead to have the finishing chute to herself.  She was the third female overall, and I ran up the chute a few seconds after her.  I was tired, but feeling good, and felt like I could have kept going.

I’d finished in 5:25:02, which was almost seventeen minutes faster than my time of 5:41:57 in 2016.  That was a huge improvement, even though I’d taken it easy on the run.  Mission accomplished.  Sadly, however, even though I’d re-passed the Florida guy, I’d ended up 7/26 in my AG versus 5/15 the year before.  There were some speedy guys in 2017!

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Post-Race

I felt well enough to have my “free” beer this time around, and then Leigh Anne and I had to head back to Richmond.  We needed to collect the kids from my parents’ house, and then it was off to Busher’s house for a party.  Karen was there, and was happy with my performance and my ability to (mostly) follow her instructions.  I’d deviated from her plan just a bit, but I think she had planned on me doing so.

There were fifteen days to IMChoo, and my plan was to taper and recover as much as possible during that time.  There is a thing called the “taper craze,” and it has that name for good reason.  The next two weeks would turn me into a complete germaphobe, and I was convinced that I’d be involved in some horrible travesty that would leave me unable to race.  Its funny what your mind can do to you when you spend so much time preparing for one race.

Anyways, the proverbial hay was now in the barn for IMChoo, and I was ready to finally get my shot at the full 140.6 miles of an Ironman.  Ironman Maryland had been shortened to 126.2 miles in 2016 due to flooding, and IMChoo is actually 144.6 miles because of the 116 mile bike course.  Thus, I’d get my 140.6 and then some.

 

 

 

“Suck the marrow, drain my soul…”

After returning from our vacation in Seattle on July 4th, the big build in my training for Ironman Chattanooga began in earnest.  There was no easing back into the training regimen, and I had a 2.5 hour bike on Saturday followed by a 13+ mile run on Sunday.  The real fun started the next weekend, however, when Busher and I drove to Lewisburg, West Virginia for an organized bike ride – Wheels of Hope.

There were several routes to choose from – a 19 mile red route, a 36 mile green route or combinations thereof.  The big draw for us was the elevation gain, which was about 3000 feet on the green loop.  The route wasn’t really suited for a tri bike with 11-25 gearing, but Karen wanted me to ride my Cervelo instead of my old road bike to make it more difficult.  The moment I inquired about the wisdom of the tri bike selection, she responded with, “I’ve ridden bigger hills that than on harder gearing!”  Ha ha, she knows how to shame me and get me going.

Busher and I drove to West Virginia on Friday night and settled into the luxurious Super 8.  He’d asked me if I was a hotel snob, and I’d answered “no” without inquiring into the details.  I knew that we might be in trouble when we arrived to find the receptionist outside smoking on the entryway landing, surrounded by about four guys in lawn chairs who were on the tail end of a 30 pack of Bud Light.  We managed to survive the night, but I ended up with an eye infection that made the next day’s 75 miles feel longer than they were.

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Serenity of the Super 8 in Lewisburg, WV.

The start of the ride was only a couple of miles away from the motel, and when we arrived, I was the only fool on a tri bike.  Busher and I quickly became known as the “tri guys,” and we set off on the green loop, which we planned on riding three times.  There weren’t many flat parts of the ride, and I was probably only laying in the aero bars 10% of the time.  A tri bike isn’t meant to be ridden while sitting up like a road bike, and by the time we hit the green loop for a second time my hands were getting sore. I’d also ejected three water bottles off the back of my bike by that point, and I made a mental note to buy some Gorilla cages before IM Chattanooga.

Busher and I handled loop one pretty well, but we both began running out of steam on loop two.  I think we were two of only about four people to attempt the green loop twice, and by the time we neared the end, neither of us felt like trying it for a third time.  It was getting late in the day and we still had a fairly long drive back home.  Busher seemed to be feeling a bit worse though, and dry heaved twice in the last ten miles.  After we were done, we both did a quick transition run and then headed back to Richmond.  I made it home around 8 p.m., but then had to get up early the next morning for a 2.5 hour run, which was no fun at all.  My quads were pretty much blasted from the bike ride, so I actually had to do some walking on the uphill portions.

WVA

I averaged 11 hour training weeks in July after getting back from vacation, and we continued building into August.  Your body gets used to it after a while, but I was still pretty tired most of the time.  My first 100 mile ride of the year was set for Saturday August 19th, and I planned to ride the Capital Trail down to Williamsburg to stay off the public roads and away from traffic.  I set out at first light and had no issues in getting to Williamsburg.  I ran out of trail and still needed some more mileage before turning back towards Richmond, so I set off down the Colonial Parkway near Jamestown.

The Colonial Parkway is essentially three lanes of poured aggregate, and there are 1 inch wide gaps between the lanes.  I was mindful of the gaps at first, and after riding a few miles down the Parkway, I turned around  to head back towards the Jamestown visitors center so I could hit the restroom and refill my water bottles.

Shortly after turning around I got behind a couple on fat tire bikes.  I passed them on their left at about 20 miles per hour, and as I moved back to my right my front wheel went directly into the gap between the lanes.  I immediately went out of control and my bike darted towards the middle of the road.  Luckily, it then turned hard in the other direction and headed towards the right shoulder.  Upon reaching the shoulder, the bike jacknifed and sent me flying over the left front of the handlebars.  That entire process probably lasted 1-2 seconds, but it seemed like an eternity.  I had zero control of the bike or my body during that time, and it was pretty terrifying.

I landed hard in muddy grass on my left shoulder and then came down on my left side.  A bottle of sunscreen was in my left jersey pocket, which left a nice mark above my left hip.  After landing, I was staring straight up into the sky and had no idea where my bike had ended up.  It was presumably trashed, and I heard the people I had just passed yelling at me and saying, “Are you okay, don’t move?”  I’m sure I gave them quite a show.

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I hate those grooves, but I’m thankful for the grassy shoulder.

At that point, I didn’t know the extent to which I might be injured and I laid there for a few seconds assessing the situation.  I finally sat up and saw the lady picking my bike up out of the mud and her husband was picking up the rest of my gear.  Pretty much everything (but the sunscreen and the water bottles in my new Gorilla cages) had flown off of me and my bike, including my cell phone, my extra bag of Carbopro and my sunglasses.  I realized that I had been knocked half-silly, but I didn’t seem to have any major injuries.  My bike was completely covered in mud and the chain had come off, but it also seemed to be in working order.

After about five minutes of getting myself together, I was able to ride a mile or two to the Jamestown bathroom where I cleaned up some more and called Leigh Anne to let her know what had happened.  I still had 40 miles to go to get back to my car, and felt like I could make it back.  I had really dodged a bullet, and if I’d have landed on the road instead of the grass I’d have broken several bones in my left shoulder area and IM Chattanooga would have been a no-go.  Adrenalin got me back to my car, and I even managed to do my transition run.

I was pretty sore for the next few days and I really wanted to cancel my long run the next morning.  I was in pain during the run, but not enough to justify canceling it.  There is pain where you worry about causing (or exacerbating) an injury, and pain that just makes you feel like shit that you just have to push through.  This was the latter.  I told Karen that I wanted a nickname other than “Big Baby” for completing my 100 miles after crashing and then my long run the next day, but sadly, the name had already stuck.  By this point, I fear it might be permanent.

Even though my bike had also been saved by landing in the muddy grass, like me, it didn’t come through the ordeal completely unscathed.  The bottom bracket had broken, and I had to take it to the shop for some repairs.  Karen and Erin set me up for another 100 mile ride the following weekend, and thankfully, that ride was uneventful.  I did the first two hours solo, and then did the rest with Busher   That ride was followed by another 2.5 hour run on Sunday morning,

August of 2017 was the biggest training month for me since I started my Ironman journey, and I logged 51.26 hours over that period of time.  That was tough to handle on top of my other responsibilities, and as always, I did my best to get my training done when it didn’t interfere with anything else.  At that volume, however, there just aren’t enough hours in the day to avoid all of the conflicts, so it takes an understanding family to train for an Ironman.

august

Your body mostly adapts to the punishment, but after a while the constant training and the early mornings wear on you.  Mental fatigue dovetails with the physical fatigue, and there comes a point when you are just over the training and dying to get to the starting line.  There were a few times when I had to find motivation by reminding myself that I was lucky to be healthy enough to do what I was doing.  I’m not getting any younger, so my window of opportunity to do these things can close fast.

By the end of August, my taper finally began for my final pre-Ironman race on September 9th.  That was the Patriot’s Half triathlon, which was only two weeks before IM Chattanooga.  Due to the short turnaround, the Patriot’s Half was going to be treated as a long training day instead of a full-out race effort – particularly the run.  So, as I entered my taper, my energy levels started to return and the constant soreness in my legs began to dissipate.  The light at the end of the tunnel was finally getting brighter, and I was ready to see the fruits of my labors from the preceding months.

“Where all these disappointments that grow angry out of me will rise…”

2017 Robious Landing Triathlon

Race Report

1:23:51

 2/20 AG   14/251  Overall

June 25, 2017 – The Robious Landing Triathlon is one of my favorite races, and the only one that I’ve done every year since getting the tri bug in 2014.  As a sprint race, it actually suits my strengths very well since the bike is 19 miles instead of the standard 12, and the run is generally slow since you have to wind around on trails a lot in miles 1 and 3.  Its generally one of the larger local races, and I’d failed to make my age group podium in my first three attempts.  I finished 4th in my age group in 2016, but that race had been turned into a duathlon due to river flooding.  Thus, one of my better legs (the swim) had been replaced by a second helping of my worst leg (the run).  In 2017 I was determined to finish in the top three of the M35-39 age group.

The weather outlook was ideal, and the river was as close to calm as I’d seen it for this race.  In 2015 the current was brisk, and in 2016 the river was full of debris due to storms – which led to the swim cancellation.  You could see that the current was moving, but it was really slow.  Since I had been constantly improving my open water swimming ability, I was glad to see the slow current since I was hoping to try to swim ahead of all of those fast runners.

I’d done packet pickup on Saturday, and on Sunday I arrived at the race site before transition opened and had to wait impatiently for a few minutes.  Since I’d been assigned bib 7, I was hoping to have a fortuitous transition spot near one of the entrances/exits.  Much to my dismay, however, I was tucked away in a corner.  Karen likes to call me “Big Baby,” so I guess they can put Baby in a corner.  Oh well.  I set up, got body marked and grabbed my timing chip.  I ran into Jim Rosen in transition and chatted with him for a bit.  Then, after a warmup run and some light stretching, Jim and I walked up the river to get ready for the swim start.

robious rack

Bib 7 should have a better transition spot…just sayin.

Race Results

GPS Data

Swim- 8:26 (1:18/100 m)  (3/20 AG)

The Robious Landing tri features a 650 meter swim, which is fast since its all downriver.  As I got into the river a few minutes prior to the start, I saw my attorney buddy Danny Royce, who had been trying to qualify for Kona for a few years, and who does the local races for training purposes.  He mentioned that he’d aged up into the M35-39 AG with me, and I knew that he’d beat me by a country mile since he’s pretty much a semi-pro.  That being said, I figured that he’d be in the top 3 overall – if he didn’t win the race outright.  We joked for a few minutes, and I encouraged him to make sure he was in the top 3 so I’d have a chance to win our AG.  Danny claimed that he was better suited for long course racing and that some of the young bucks would beat him on the run.  I didn’t really believe him, and knew that he’d probably be the first person on the run course due to his swimming and biking prowess.  After chatting it up with Danny, I focused on the task at hand, and then the starting gun went off.

I was excited to see if my open water swimming had improved, and I was able to keep my heart rate under control at the start.  In fact, I just kept swimming at an even pace and never swallowed any water and never got out of breath.  I’d made sure not to go out too fast, and I just kept increasing the pace as the swim progressed.  The buoys just kept sliding by me, and my sighting was good so I stayed on course.

Midway through the swim, I knew that I was doing well, but its hard to see how many people are ahead of you when you’re in the water.  I just focused on keeping an even stroke and on trying to swim in a straight line.  Even though the current was minimal, I still tried to stay towards the middle of the river in order to maximize whatever current assist was available.

Before too long, it was time to swim my way over to the dock and get out of the water.  I saw my parents and Leigh Anne and the kids cheering for me, along with my friend Meredith (who was pregnant at the time and not racing).  Its hard to keep your balance when getting out of the water due to rocks under the surface, so I took it slow so as not to fall in front of everyone.

Overall, I’d had a solid swim, and one of my best open water swims to date from a consistency standpoint.  I stayed in a good groove from start to finish, and never had to pull up to catch my breath or to get my bearings.  Kudos to my sighting practice in the pool.  My swim wave included all men under 40, and I was 12th out of the water in my wave, so I was pretty happy about that.

robious swim.jpg

T1: 1:18  (4/20 AG)

All in all, I had a pretty speedy transition, but I probably lost a few seconds due to my rack location in the corner.  After getting into my cycling gear, it was a longish run to the timing mat and an uneventful mounting of my bike.

Bike- 51:31  (21.9 mph)  (3/20AG)

In 2016 I felt a bit fatigue as soon as I took off on the bike since there is a small hill heading out of the transition area up to Robious Road.  In 2017 I felt better, and was determined to best my 2016 bike split of 53:03 (21.3 mph).  As I took off up the initial hill my legs weren’t loading like they’d done the year before, and after taking a right turn onto Robious, I tucked in tight and started churning the pedals.

Since I was in the first swim wave and since I’d had a good swim and transition, there were only about 10 guys ahead of me on the bike course.  Thus, there really wasn’t much of an opportunity to do any legal drafting.  In fact, for most of my ride there were no other athletes in sight.  I knew that in 2016 I’d hit the turnaround point at 27:53, and my goal for the first half of the bike to was best that time.  I’d told myself, however, that I wasn’t going to look at my GPS until I got to the turnaround, so I was simply riding by feel and was trying to push the pace as hard as I felt comfortable.

At mile 4.5, I took a left turn off of Robious and headed into the hilly portion of the course.  Basically, there is three tiered climb up to the turnaround point, with the last tier being the steepest by far.  I felt like I was making pretty good time, but as I started going up tier one or two, I saw Danny screaming down the hill in the opposite direction on his pink Trek bike – which is hard to miss.  I knew Danny was fast, but I was amazed that he already had about 4-5 minutes on me at that point.

I finished my climb and finally hit the turnaround cone at the halfway point.  I snuck a glance at my GPS and noticed that it was reading 27:54.  What?  I was one second slower than last year?  I definitely felt better than I had in 2016 and thought that I’d been pushing hard, but I was still behind last year’s pace.  Maybe there’d been more wind in my face this time around or something, but if there was, I really hadn’t noticed it.  That pissed me off and redoubled my focus for the back half of the bike course.

After making the turn, the next couple of miles were back down the hills that I’d just climbed.  Even though my speed approached 40 miles per hour going back downhill, I kept pedaling to try to make up some time.  As I headed back towards Robious Road I finally caught and passed two or three bikers, and that motivated me to keep pushing.  Then there was a right turn onto Robious, and a slight downgrade to about mile 16.5.  Once again, I continued to pedal hard even though I had gravity on my side.

The course heads back uphill for the last mile or so before you take a left to go back towards transition, and I got up out of the saddle and pushed hard up the hill.  After turning left, it was about one mile downhill to the transition area, and I just kept pushing instead of easing up.  I was determined to beat my 2016 bike split and I was probably a bit too fired up about that.  I typically ease up when heading into T2 to lower my heartrate before the run, but I kept pushing until I was told to slow up by a race official as I neared the timing mat.

Once I got to the timing mat, I did my best version of a flying dismount, which must have been pretty violent since it knocked the chain off of my front chain ring.  I didn’t realize it at the time, but the race photos of me running into T2 show my chain dragging the ground and I found it that way after the race.  After it was all said and done, I’d completed the bike course in 51:31, which was 1:32 faster than in 2016.  All of that time gain had come in the back half of the bike course, so I guess I just needed to get a little bit mad.

robious t2.jpg

T2: :53 (3/20AG)

I didn’t waste any time in T2 and I was in and out in less than a minute, even with my transition spot being in the corner farthest from…pretty much everything.  I’d gone hard on the bike and kept my heartrate on the high side coming into T2.  It was time to see if that decision would come back to bite me on the run.

Run- 21:43  (7:41 min/mile **GPS pace**)  (3/20 AG)

(6:59 min/mile **official pace**)

robious run.jpg

Mile 1 (8:09)

The Robious Landing run is unlike most sprint triathlon 5ks for a few reasons.  First, you’ve biked 19 miles instead of 12, so your legs are a bit more worn out.  Second, miles 1 and 3 are mostly on winding dirt trails in the park, which lead to slower splits for those miles.  Finally, my GPS always says that the course is short of a full 5k.  Thus, my mile splits are generally slower, but my overall run time is fast (if you consider it to be a full 5k like the race claims).

Generally speaking, mile 1 of the Robious run never feels good to me, and 2017 was no different.  My quads were screaming as I wound around the dirt trails, and there are a few small hills thrown in that make things interesting.  I actually felt slightly worse than normal, which I chalked up to my decision to hammer into T2 instead of letting my heart rate settle down a bit.  I was energized by the fact that my dad had said that there were only seven guys ahead of me on the course as I exited T2, but I knew that a few guys were going to pass me on the run course – as always.  In fact, I had 2-3 guys go by me in the first mile, but none of them were in my AG.  I knew that there was no catching Danny, but I was pretty confident that he’d be in the top 3 overall, so I still had a chance to do well in, or even win my AG.

Mile 2 (7:24)

By mile 2 the course headed out of the park and into the adjacent neighborhood.  I began to feel a bit better since the course had straighten out, but I still felt relatively poor for mile 2.  Note to self – lower your HR when coming into T2 instead of being solely focused on your bike split.  Bike for show and run for dough, as they say.  Still, there was no one close to overtaking me and I hadn’t seen anyone ahead of me in my AG other than Danny.

After hitting the turnaround cone in the neighborhood, I began looking for people in my AG as I doubled back and met people head on.  I saw no other M35-39 for about a minute after making the turn, so I knew that I had about two minutes on him.  Okay, as long as I can hold it together I shouldn’t get passed by anyone.  That being said, I was hurting pretty good by that point and felt like I was in danger of having the wheels come off in spectacular fashion.

Mile 3 (7:27 pace)

Mile 3 was primarily back in the park and back on the winding trails, which slowed me down a bit.  At the Powersprint triathlon in May, I’d had a (relatively) pleasurable pain in the last couple of miles of the run.  There was nothing pleasurable about the last couple of miles on this day.  The wheels were still on, but keeping them that way was getting harder and harder.  Thankfully, no one was stalking me from behind, and that probably led to me not pushing quite as hard as I could or should have.  I certainly felt like nothing was left in the tank, but you really don’t know unless you’re being pushed by a warm body next to you.

As I wound around on the trails the music and noise from the finish line began to grow, and after what seemed like an eternity, I finally broke out of the woods and entered the finishing chute.  I used whatever I had left to sprint across the finish line and then collapsed on the far side.

Post Race

12 seconds.  A measly 12 seconds separated Danny from being third overall, even though he’d apparently set a bike course record for the race.  Probably while riding in his small chain ring just for the fun of it.  Since Danny had finished fourth and wasn’t on the overall podium, he stayed in the M35-39 age group, won it by a mile, and knocked me down into second.  While that was disappointing, I’d still managed to finish 2/20 in our age group and had made the podium in this race for the first time ever.  Joking aside, I was really happy, even though Danny had beaten me by 9 minutes and 41 seconds.  That is an eternity in a sprint race, and shows what a phenomenal athlete he is.  Honestly, I’d rather lose by 9:41 than by a close margin because there is nothing that I could have done to eliminate that gap.  I guess I could have deflated his tires, but Danny had been having some pretty bad bike mojo around that time already, and he probably would have still beaten me on flat tires anyways.

My next race wasn’t until the Patriot’s Half in early September, so I had a long, hot summer of training ahead of me until that race.  In actuality, the Patriot’s Half was only two weeks out from Ironman Chattanooga, so I would be using that as a long training day instead of a full-on race effort.  Before the heaviest training set in, however, we were taking a vacation to Seattle two days after Robious.  Karen had a few runs planned for me while I was on the west coast, but nothing major.  I planned to rest and recover over the next week so that I would be ready for the big training weeks when I got back.

Before leaving for Seattle, however, I had a second place mug to collect…

robious podium

Beaten by Danny like a red-headed step-child…

“And now its time to build from the bottom of the pit, right to the top…”

2017 Groundforce IT Powersprint Triathlon

Race Report

1:01:56

 1/6 AG     9/175 Overall

May 21, 2017 – Its only been a week since the Kinetic Half-Iron triathlon at Lake Anna, and I’ve been fighting fatigue all week.  My workouts had been rather light, but I felt like I was still in recovery mode.  In addition, Jackson and I had camped out with his Cubscouts pack at The Diamond on Friday night, which pretty much led to no sleep.  The lights weren’t turned off on the field until about midnight, and I’m way past the age where sleeping on the ground results in feeling rested in the morning.  I had some easy workouts scheduled for Saturday after the kids’ soccer games, but scrapped those in exchange for a much-needed nap.

My first two triathlons of 2017 had been cool and wet, and the Powersprint pretty much continued that trend.  Thankfully it wasn’t raining, but it was still pretty cool in the morning.  So much so that as soon as I set up my transition spot, I headed inside to pre-swim and to try to stay warm.  Unfortunately, we all had to head back outside for the announcements and the National Anthem, and by the time that I got back inside to line up for the start, I was pretty much frozen.  Have I ever mentioned that I hate being cold?

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect since I’d done a 70.3 the week before, and I knew that I wasn’t fully recovered.  I still hoped to make the AG podium, but I certainly didn’t expect to match my bike and run speeds from the RTC Sprint back in April in light of my fatigue.

Due to my projected swim time, I was bib 28 of approximately 200.  Thus, I didn’t have that many people ahead of me on the course.  Pool swims can get a bit jumbled up, so I was hoping that everyone around me had seeded themselves properly.  I noted that bib 26 was in my AG, so I made a mental note to do my best to pass him on the course.

powersprint rack.jpg

Another end-of-the-rack spot!

Race Results

GPS Data

Swim- 4:56  (1:39/100 m)  (2/6 AG)

I seeded myself for 5 minutes, and but I hoped to complete the swim a bit faster than that.  The timing mats are obviously outside the pool, and it takes about an extra ten seconds or so to climb out and then run into the next room across the timing mat when you’re done.  There was a female athlete directly in front of me in the start line, and when she was about halfway down the pool, I got the signal to go.  I jumped in, and immediately started swimming hard since there’s no time to waste in a 300 meter swim.

The first two laps were uneventful, but by the halfway point I had caught up to the girl ahead of me.  I was hoping that she’d let me go by, but she ignored my tap on her ankle when I caught her and she just kept swimming.  By the fourth lap she finally let me pass her, and I feel like I lost about 15 seconds or so in getting caught behind her, but the final two laps went by pretty quickly.

Upon finishing lap six, I hopped out of the pool and ran across the timing mat.  My final time was 4:56, which was still four seconds ahead of my seeding, and 11 seconds faster than 2016.  I made a mental note to seed myself faster in 2018.

T1: 1:37  (2/6 AG)

There’s a fairly long run out the back of the YMCA to the transition area, and I saw bib 26 getting on his bike as I got go my rack.  Turns out that I’d gained 19 seconds on him on the swim, so I was really hoping to catch and pass him on the bike since he’d only started 30 seconds ahead of me.  After putting on my bike shoes and helmet, I raced to the bike mounting line, and wondered what sort of legs I’d have after the prior week’s half-iron effort.

Bike- 32:25  (21.7 mph)  (2/6 AG)

After getting on my bike getting up to speed, I noticed that bib 26 was already out of sight.  Ok, he transitioned quickly, but hopefully I’d still overtake him on the bike course.  The course was reversed from the year before, and after getting up to speed I noticed that my legs felt pretty good.  Definitely not 100%, but I was able to put some pressure on the pedals.

It was only 57 degrees, so I was a bit chilly for the first few miles on the bike – the story of 2017 it seemed.  I began to catch and pass a few riders, but there weren’t that many people on the course ahead of me due to my swim seeding (and thus, my bib number).   I probably passed a few people in transition, and then a few more on the bike.  Unfortunately, I never got around any other bikers that were riding about my speed, so there was no opportunity to do any legal drafting.

Since I was primarily riding on an island by myself, I don’t remember too many details about the bike, but I remember feeling good but not great for the majority of the ride.  The wind wasn’t really an issue like it had been in 2016, but the cool temperature and dense air probably slowed me down a bit.  Its hard to compare 2016 to 2017 since the course was reversed and slightly modified, but I finished the bike 1:27 faster than I had in 2016 – and on tired legs to boot.  Now it was time to see if I had any legs left to run on.

T2: :46 (1/6 AG)

T2 was only 46 seconds, so I pretty much nailed it perfectly.  I hit the ground running off of the bike, racked it and then swapped shoes.  I grabbed my race belt and visor and put those on as I headed out of T2.  The legs felt pretty good, so it was time to see what was left in them.

Run- 22:14  (7:09 min/mile)  (1/6 AG)

Mile 1 (7:26)

I’d run a 7:25 min/mile pace off the bike at the Powersprint in 2016, but had held 7:15’s off the bike at the 2017 RTC Sprint a month before.  I didn’t think I could hold 7:15’s on tired legs, and was really just hoping to beat my 2016 time of 23:01.  After running out of transition and getting down the road a ways I looked at my GPS, and it was reading 8:30/mile.  Uh oh, I could be in for a slow run today!  I got the legs to turn over a little faster, and before too long, the pace started coming down.

The run course had turned into a two loop course for 2017, with the turnaround cone being about 8/10ths of a mile in.  When I got to the cone, the volunteer monitoring the turnaround point told me that I was the 10th person there, which meant that I’d passed 18 people by that point.  That served as a bit of motivation, and by the time I reached the first mile marker, only 7:26 had elapsed.  Hmm, I was only one second slower than my 2016 pace and I was getting stronger.  Maybe I could do something on the run after all.

Mile 2 (7:17)

I hit the turnaround cone for loop two around mile 1.5 and had seen bib 26 well ahead of me by that point.  I’d never seen him on the bike, so I knew that he must be a strong biker.  As it turned out, he’d turned in a 31:21, which was more than a minute faster than me.  I didn’t know what sort of runner he was, but he seemed to be too far ahead of me to catch.  Well, it looked like I had no shot to win my AG, but 2nd still seemed to be in play.  Always the bridesmaid, never the bride!  Ok, not even always the bridesmaid, sometimes just the guy parking cars at the wedding.

At the beginning of loop two I was still feeling surprisingly good, and my legs were turning over better than they had at the start of the run.  My pace continued to creep down and I turned in a 7:17 for mile 2.  Not quite my 7:15 pace from a month before, but certainly respectable given last week’s race.

Mile 3 (7:03)

Mile three arrived and the legs just kept a-churning and picking up speed.  By that point, I was pretty well flabbergasted that I had anything left in the tank, and I guess that’s a testament to Karen’s run training.  I’d kept waiting to bonk, but physically and mentally I was still going strong.  Don’t get me wrong, it hurt, but it always hurt by that point in a sprint.  Somehow, however, I still had juice in my legs and air in my lungs.

I picked up the pace as much as possible in the homestretch, and after stopping my GPS after crossing the final timing mat, my total time for the run was 22:14 – for an average pace of 7:09.  That was 45 seconds faster than 2016, and 19 seconds faster than my run at the RTC Sprint the month before.  What?  Ultimately, my run was good enough for first in my AG, which is not how these races usually shape up for me.

Now all I had to do was sit back and wait most of the people on the course to finish so I could figure out my position in the overall and AG standings.  Due to the pool swim, there was certainly a chance that someone who was still on the course could finish ahead of me, so it was pointless to check the standings until a little later on.

Post-Race

After getting some pizza and doing some stretching, approximately thirty minutes had passed since I finished.  I figured that it was safe to go ahead and check the results, and saw that I was 1/6 in my AG.  It turns out that bib 26 finished third overall, so that put him on the overall podium and took him out of my AG.  Thus, I was currently in first in my AG.  I’d made my AG podium in triathlons twice before, but both of those were second place spots.  I waited another 10 minutes or so before I began to think about texting anyone, and before I hit “send,” I decided to check one more time just to be sure.  It was extremely unlikely for someone so far back in the seeding to have beaten me, but I figured I’d check one last time.

When I did, I saw that I was now 2/7 in my AG.  WTF?  It turned out that someone at the tail end of the seeding had finished third overall and had knocked bib 26 into 4th overall, and thus, back into my AG.  I immediately questioned how that might be possible since he had to have been stuck behind slower swimmers in the pool.  After throwing a minor pity party for a few minutes I looked at the transgressor’s splits and saw that he was showing a 5k time of around 12 minutes.

Doubting that any of the athletes participating in the Powersprint had the ability to run a world record 5k, particularly after swimming and biking, I immediately wondered if he’d only run one loop of the two-loop run course.  I certainly didn’t want to accuse anyone of cheating since there could have been a legitimate timing issue, but I wasn’t about to go down without a fight.  I printed the other athlete’s timing data and took it over to an official, who quickly declared that they were “already on it.”  By the time that I got back to the results screen, the transgressor had been removed from the standings, bib 26 was back to being 3rd overall and I was back to being 1/6 in my AG.  Kudos to the race officials for squaring it away so quickly.  Again, I’m not leveling cheating accusations, but that guy’s original run time of ~12 minutes was clearly incorrect.

Ok, so I know that winning my AG in a small local race is not quite akin to nabbing a Kona slot, but I’d never stood atop a podium after a triathlon.  Or a running race.  Or ever.  Moreover, I’d managed to rally after a grueling 70.3 the weekend before and put together a solid race on legs that were still in recovery mode.  In fact, I’d had my best ever 5k run off the bike in a sprint tri, which was some cause for celebration.  I still have a long way to go with my running to be competitive in the larger races, but now I was consistently running about 25 seconds per mile faster off the bike than I had the year before.  The arrow was still pointing up, even though I was rapidly aging out of the M35-39 age group.

Next up on the calendar was the Robious Landing triathlon in June, which has a deeper and more competitive field than the Powersprint.  I’d gotten 4th in my AG in 2016 when it had been turned into a duathlon, and I’d never made the podium in that race.  Thus, I was really hoping that I’d turned a corner and could compete for a podium spot there.

podium

“Dark clouds may hang on me sometimes, but I’ll work it out.”

2017 Kinetic Half-Iron Triathlon

Race Report

5:25:51

 8/29 AG     48/242 Overall

May 13, 2017 – My second triathlon of 2017 was the Kinetic Half-Iron distance race at Lake Anna, as put on by the Virginia-Maryland Triathlon Series.  It was fairly early in the season for a 70.3, but I’d been training pretty much non-stop since the start of 2016, so I was certainly ready for it.  I’d put this down as an “A” race on my calendar, so Karen and Erin brought me into it on fresh legs.  Good thing, cause I’d need them for sure.

I’d heard rumors about the level of suckitude of the run course, which was three loops.  The bike course had some hills too, but the run seemed to be what everybody was talking about.  The transition area was near Lake Anna, and there was a long hill up away from the lake.  You then took a right turn and ran down towards another part of the lake.  Then it was back up the hill you just ran down, then down again back to the transition area.  Essentially, 1 mile up, 1 mile down, 1 mile up, 1 mile down.  That’s one loop – rinse and repeat two more times.  The elevation profile is below, and as you can see, there’s not a lot of flat running to be had.

kinetic run

I run plenty of hills in my neighborhood, so I wasn’t overly worried, but I knew that I’d need to run conservatively in order to handle the elevation change without blowing up near the end.

Of more concern to me was the weather heading into the race.  It was unseasonably cool for mid-May and it had rained quite a bit leading up to race morning.  In fact, in my hour-plus drive to Lake Anna on race morning it was dumping rain, but the radar looked like the rain would clear out sometime around the start time.  Nevertheless, the temperature was in the 50’s and it wasn’t supposed to get much beyond 60 after the sun came up.

When I pulled into the parking lot it was still dark, but the heavy rain had turned into a light drizzle.  It was cold, and I was wearing a fair amount of clothing to stay warm.  After grabbing my race packet, I rolled my bike into the transition area, which was nothing but a grassy/muddy mess.  I took care to try to keep my shoes dry, but that was a losing proposition.  I had to strip down to my trisuit in order to get body marked, and quickly bundled back up.

As I was getting checked in I ran into Jim Rosen, who was the only other person I knew who was doing the half.  Jim was a couple of age groups above me, so he was starting in the swim wave after mine.  I think I had a four minute head start on him, so if he caught me on the run then I knew that he was actually well ahead of me.  I can typically out swim and bike Jim (not by much), but he runs like a deer, so we generally finish pretty close together.  He beat me by 26 seconds at the 2016 Robious Landing Triathlon, but that race had been turned into a duathlon since the swim was cancelled.  I wasn’t really racing Jim, but I knew that if I saw him stalking me on the run that it would give me a little extra motivation.

As race time approached, the rain was coming on and off and I changed into my wetsuit earlier than normal to try to get warm.  Once the start time approached, I gathered on the beach with the other athletes and waited for go time.

kinetic rack

GPS Data

Race Results

Swim:  37:07  (1:55/100m)  7/29 AG

As noted above, it was wetsuit legal for the swim, which was a nice change of pace.  My only other wetsuit swim had been at the Rumpus in Bumpass Olympic distance race in 2016, and I apparently had not learned to hike my wetsuit up high enough to keep it from restricting my shoulder movement.  I was able to swim fine, but I think my shoulders got a bit more tired than they needed to be.

The water temperature was in the 60’s, but it felt warm compared to the cold air.  I was in the first swim wave, and took off as soon as the horn sounded.  I always try to position myself near the sides to try to get some clean water at the start, but there were enough people in my wave to make that difficult.

From the get go, I knew that I wasn’t going to have a great swim and my heartrate got jacked up pretty quickly.  There were many times on the “out” portion where I had to pull up to catch my breath, and things only got marginally better coming back in.  It felt like I was having a pretty poor swim leg, but when I finally looked at my watch when I got out of the water, it was reading 36 minutes and some change.  Karen had predicted a 37 minute swim for me, so she was spot on.  The timing mat was about 20 yards from the water’s edge, so my official swim time was 37:07.

As bad as I thought my swim was, it was still good enough for 7/29 in my age group.  It was also more than three minutes faster than my last half iron distance swim at the Patriots Half in September 2016 – although that race wasn’t wetsuit legal.  Thus, I was happy with my effort, but felt like I had a better swim in me than what actually transpired.

T1: 3:18

I was dizzy upon exiting the water and it took me a good 30-45 seconds for that feeling to subside.  There was a fairly long run uphill from the lake to the transition area, and things weren’t made any easier by the muddy conditions.  Upon reaching my transition spot, I sat on the ground and did my best to pull my wetsuit off as quickly as possible.  I then had to fight to get socks onto my wet feet.  Sometimes I ride and run without socks, but not in a 70.3.  Particularly not a cold one.  After finally getting my socks and shoes on, I threw on my helmet and then grabbed my bike and headed to the bike out area.  My total transition time was over three minutes, but I felt like I made pretty good time, all things considered.

Bike:  2:45:26 (20.2 mph)  4/29 AG

kinetic bike

It was in the mid-50s when I got on my bike and I had chosen to ride without long sleeves to avoid the extra drag and time involved in putting on extra clothing.  I was worried about being cold, but felt like it was JUST warm enough to get by.  That being said, I knew that I’d be cold in the first few miles until I got my core temperature up.

The first mile was all uphill, and I immediately noticed a squeaking noise coming from my chain.  I shifted gears, shifted in and out of the big chain ring and even tried half-shifting, but nothing helped.  I decided to ignore the noise and hope that it went away, but it was highly noticeable as I trudged uphill at low speed.

Miles 1-10 were some of the most unpleasant miles that I’ve covered on the bike in a race.  They were almost all uphill and into the wind and I felt like I was going nowhere.  I was still trying to get warm, and the average speed on my GPS was depressing me.  After mile 5 it read only 18.0 miles per hour and after mile 10 it was only up to 18.2.  To make matters worse, my chain continued to squeal like a stuffed pig and I seriously considered stopping because I was afraid of causing damage.  I didn’t know if the chain was rubbing and slowing me down, whether the wet weather was just causing lubrication issues – or something else entirely.  I decided to keep going, but felt embarrassed every time I passed someone (or got passed) on a hill since we were going slow enough to hear the awful noise.

Near the 10 mile mark the course made a right turn and headed downhill for the next six miles.  That did wonders for my mental state, particularly since the wind was at my back during that stretch.  I was holding 23 miles per hour, and finally saw my average pace heading upwards.  At the bottom of the decline there was a steep hill that sent me into my small chain ring, and then another downhill portion for about three miles.

The next 11 miles or so completed the first loop of the two-loop course, and went from miles 19-31.  The suck returned once again, because that portion of the course was almost all uphill and into the teeth of the wind.  I tried to keep a positive outlook, but it was a real struggle to get my bike up to 20 miles per hour.  I felt like I was working hard, but just couldn’t get any sustained speed.

At mile 31 I took a right turn and was back on the portion of the course that was downhill and with the wind.  Those miles went by quickly, and it was nice to see my average speed finally creeping up toward 20 miles per hour.  The fun was over soon enough though, and it was back uphill and into the wind again until mile 49.

Mile 49 brought the end of the second loop, and the final 7 miles were mostly back downhill to Lake Anna.  I continued to pedal hard since gravity was on my side, and by the time that I got back to the transition area, my average speed was 20.2 miles per hour.  For some reason, I was thinking my my average speed PR had been 20.4 miles per hour at the Patriot’s Half in 2016, but in reality, I’d only held 20.1 miles per hour in that race.  Thus, as crappy as I’d felt like my bike leg had been, it was actually a PR for me, and good enough for 4/29 in my age group.  This was shaping up to be a weird race, and my perception wasn’t neccesarily consistent with my results.  I guess the conditions on the bike sucked for everyone else as well.

T2: 3:08

Even though I’d warmed up enough to feel somewhat comfortable on the bike, upon dismounting, I immediatley noticed that both feet were numb from the cold.  It made running difficult, and I struggled to get back to my transition spot.  I got my shoes on and did my best to avoid the worst of the mud puddles in the transition area and then got out onto the run course.

Run: 1:56:41 (8:54/mile)  14/29 AG

kinetic run full

My goal for the run was sub-2 hours and my stretch goal was to hold a pace of 8:45 mins/mile, which equates to 1:54:42.  I knew that would be tough due to the hills, but I was going to give it a try since that’s what Karen had called for prior to the race.  The problem would be pacing myself properly since I was unlikely to run many (or any) 8:45 minute miles due to the terrain.  I figured that I would shoot for 9 minute miles on the uphills and 8:30 miles on the downhills.  I also wanted to try to negative split the three loops.

Miles 1-3 (9:24)(8:29)(8:58)

Karen always wants me to run the first few miles slow, and given that the first mile was a nasty hill up and away from the lake, that wasn’t a problem.  In addition, the sock on my right foot felt bunched up, so I had to stop and take off my shoe near the 1/2 mile point.  In actuality, my sock was fine, my foot was just feeling odd as it began to warm up and was becoming less numb.  By the end of the first mile my feet seemed to be getting back to normal, and I was glad to be done with the hill.  Unfortunately, I’d see it again on loops 2 and 3.

Mile 2 was pretty much all downhill, and I stuck to my plan of shooting for an 8:30 mile by turning in an 8:29.  I was feeling pretty good and began a small loop around some houses on the lake.  At the far end of the loop the coursed turned back the way it came and headed back uphill.  Mile 3 was mostly uphill, and I nailed my 9:00 minute plan for the uphills with an 8:58.

Miles 4-6 (8:33)(9:17)(8:41)

The first third of mile 4 was still uphill, and then I took a left turn to head back down towards the transition area to complete loop 1.  I was holding together well when I started the second loop at mile 4.5, but then it was back onto the nasty hill out of transition again.  I began to see some people walking up the hill, but I ran a slow steady pace and was able to get up it uneventfully.  I was certainly starting to tire, but was still in a good place mentally and physically.  By the time I hit the 6 mile marker, I was headed back downhill towards the lake loop again.  I had averaged 8:54 minutes/mile up to that point, but I still had more downhill to run on the first half of loop 2.  Thus, I was a pretty much on schedule, particularly since I planned to run loop 3 faster if at all possible.

Miles 7-9 (8:50)(8:57)(8:53)

By this point in the race, the miles were not lining up perfectly with the uphill and downhill portions, so pacing became a bit more tricky.  The hills continued to take their toll, and not just the uphill portions.  Running downhill taxes your quads, and after a while they get weak and feel like they want to give out.  By the time that I finished mile 9 I was getting pretty tired, but had completed my second loop.  Loop 1 took about 38 minutes, and loop 2 took 38:37.  It looked like my plan to negative split was going out the window, and hopefully I could keep from blowing apart on the final loop.  If I couldn’t hold an 8:45 pace, I definitely wanted to come in under two hours on the run.

Miles 10-12 (9:09)(8:38)(9:37)

My last trip up the hill out of transition was pretty brutal, but I was able to keep running.  There were a fair amount of hill walkers by that point, so I was encouraged by the fact that I didn’t need to walk.  I got to the top of the hill, took a right, and then it was downhill to the lake loop one last time.  I felt like I was doing well, all things considered, but I do recall seeing some really strong runners on the course.

After running around the lake loop for the final time, it was back uphill (for the last time!), and about halfway up the hill I saw Jim running down the other side.  He’d started about 4 minutes after me in the second swim wave, so I knew that I’d have to finish at least that much ahead of him to beat him.  He looked good when he went by and he is a super strong runner.  I tried to do the math in my head, but was unable to figure out how much of a lead I had.  Nevertheless, I knew that it was going to be close, and kept trudging up the hill, but with a little extra motivation.

Mile 13 (8:24)

I completed mile 12 at the top of the last hill, and then it was just a downhill run to the finish.  I tried to pick up the pace as much as possible, but my quads were pretty much shot at that point from the neverending hills.  I managed to dish out an 8:24 mile, but given the elevation loss, I would have hoped to have done a bit better.  When your legs feel like they could go out from under you at any moment though, you can only do so much.

Mile 13.1 (7:53 pace)

After reaching the bottom of the hill, I got to turn right into the finishing chute insteading of taking a left to begin another loop.  There was a 100 yard run on some fairly wet grass and then it was finally over.  I’d done loop 3 in about 38:04, so I was happy that I’d been able to rally and keep the wheels from coming off.  Overall, I’d put together an 8:54 min/mile pace, which was only 9 seconds off  Karen’s target.  That was a PR for me, and I was very happy with that performance, given how much I felt like I’d struggled on the bike.  Had the course been remotely flat, I felt as though I’d have been able to hit those 8:45 minute miles.  As noted above, however, there were a lot of strong runners out there, so my run was only good enough for 14/29 in my age group.  I’ve still got a lot of work to do with my running before I can compete for an age group podium in these larger races.

Post Race

After finishing, I turned and waited to see Jim finish.  He came in shortly thereafter, but it turned out that his overall time was about two and a half minutes more than mine.  Nevertheless, my time of 5:25:51 was only good enough for 8/29 in my age group, but Jim was 2/17 in his age group.  We both left the race site before the awards ceremony, but I think they ended up mailing him his award.

In reflecting on this race, I still have mixed emotions.  On the upside, I PR’ed in all three disciplines, and the conditions on the bike and the hills on the run made those discliplines very challenging.  Even though I PR’ed on the swim (in a wetsuit), I still felt like my swim wasn’t what it should have been, and I’d failed to keep my heartrate under control pretty much the entire time.  That led to way too much breaststroke in order to catch my breath.  I was still getting used to open water swimming, and still hadn’t gotten completely comfortable in a wetsuit.

I was most proud of my bike leg, turning in a ride that was 4/29 in my age group.  I’d dealt with a chain that was squealing so badly that I’d considered stopping, and I was able to fight off the cold and the negative emotions and keep pushing – even when I thought that it was going to be a bad ride.  As for the run, I ran well (for me), but I’ve got some real work to do there.  My 2016-2017 winter regimen with Erin produced big gains on the bike, and I’m determined to have similar gains on the run after my 2017-2018 winter regimen.  I’m sure that Karen will be up to the challenge.

So, I’d say that the 2017 Kinetic Half was a success for me, and since it was early in the season, I still had time to make additional gains before my next half in early September, followed by Ironman Chattanooga on September 24th.  In the interim, however, I’d signed up for the Powersprint Triathlon (as a bit of an afterthought), which was only a week away.  Thus, I didn’t have a whole lot of time to recover, and hopefully that quick turnaround wouldn’t be problematic.  I’d gotten second in my age group at the Powersprint in 2016, and I hoped to make the podium once again if I had any juice left in my legs after Kinetic.

“The black cat’s changing colors…”

2017 RTC Sprint Triathlon

Race Report

1:05:34

 7/22 AG     44/445 Overall

April 22, 2017 – Since 2015, the RTC Sprint has been my first tri of every season, and its a pretty big event in the Richmond triathlon community.  That being said, I hadn’t had the best of luck in prior years.  In 2015, my goggles broke in the first 10 meters of the swim and then I flatted on mile two of the bike course.  In 2016 things had improved, but a SNAFU at the swim start due to confused volunteers had cost me some time.  In 2017 I hoped things would go better, and my friend Meredith was running the swim start (since she was pregnant and could not race), so I was hoping for a smooth race.  I’d been training all winter, so I was ready to see if my suffering at the hands of Erin Wittwer and Karen Holloway had been worth all of the lost sleep.

The focus over the winter had been on making me faster, so the training had been focused more on intensity over volume.  Even though I had only begun swimming in 2014, Karen quickly figured out that my weakness was running.  I don’t know if that means that I was a quick study in the pool or just a slow runner, but I was used to sliding down the age group standings on the run in triathlons of every distance.  In sprints, I was averaging 7:30 minute miles off the bike, but the AG winners were consistently running in the 5:45 to 6:30 range in the local races.  Thus, I was hoping to improve in that aspect the most to limit the damage.

The forecast for race day was cool and rainy, and I arrived at the Collegiate Aquatic Center (or SwimRVA…or whatever its currently called) well before dawn.  It wasn’t raining when I arrived, but the radar showed heavy rain inbound.  Thus, I set up my transition area and then went inside in order to stay dry.  Unfortunately, my transition spot was much closer to the pool than it was to the bike out/bike in area, so I’d have a long run out of T1 and into T2 in my bike shoes.  That may not sound like a big deal, but every second counts in sprint races.

After an hour or so inside and warming up in the instructional pool, it was time to line up according to bib number for the start.  Due to my problems in prior years, I had seeded myself a bit lower in the swim, and was two groups behind Busher.  Since the swim waves were sent off in 30 second intervals, he had a 60 second head start on me.  He was still suffering from his car accident in late 2014, so he hadn’t been training very much.  Even so, I was looking to catch him on the run course.

Race Results

rtc bike.jpg

A tad wet on race day.

Swim- 7:10  (1:48/100m)  8/22 AG

The 400 meter swim started uneventfully (thanks Meredith!) and I made sure that I didn’t go out too fast.  Nevertheless, by the 100 meter mark, I began to pass people in my swim wave, and it isn’t easy to pass in the pool, particularly near the turn buoys.  By the 200 meter mark, I was catching up to people in the swim wave ahead of me, even though they’d had a 30 second head start.  It turned into a real clusterf*ck about that point, and I lost a lot of time trying to go around people.

rtc swim 2.jpg

Middle of the picture, close to the lane line.

I began regretting my swim seeding decision, and it takes a lot of effort to pass people in this particular race due to the turns.  By the last 100 meters I was held up by “lapped” traffic, and even resorted to breast stroke since I was “trapped” by some of the other swimmers and had no where to go.  Lesson learned, next time I will over seed instead of under seeding myself.

As I approached the swim exit I saw Busher climbing out of the pool.  I was only a few seconds behind him, and was surprised that I’d gained nearly a minute on him in the swim alone, particularly since I didn’t have a great swim.  He would later tell me that he had a bad swim as well, and that he really hadn’t trained for this race due to ongoing neck pain from his accident.  In fact, he wasn’t actively training through ProK/Sweet Spot and was considering giving up the sport entirely.  Sad news since he got me into the sport and had been my primary mentor…but that would need to wait for later, the race was on.

RTC swim

I always look surprised to have lived through the swim…

T1- 1:36

T1 was uneventful, but took me a little longer than I’d have hoped due to the location of my transition spot.  After putting on my helmet and cycling shoes, I ran down the hill to the bike out exit, clipped in and took off.  Even though the temperature was on the cool side, I decided not to put on a long sleeved shirt and just to ride in my tri suit in order to save time.

Bike – 32:46  (22.8 mph)  5/22 AG

When you come out of T1 there is an uphill portion as you ride towards Ironbridge Road.  I didn’t have any trouble clipping in, and then took off up the hill and made the right turn onto Ironbridge.  As soon as I made the turn I tucked in tight and took off.  This was my first sprint race since Erin had started training me on the bike in late May of 2016 and I felt like I was flying.  I was fully tapered and riding on well-rested legs.  I must have passed 10-15 people in the first few miles, which included Busher – who wasn’t looking like himself at all.  I didn’t know if I could keep up the pace, but I felt great and was rolling.  It was a ton of fun.

By the time that I turned right near the Chesterfield County Airport I was still feeling good, and had continued to pass people.  My average bike pace kept creeping up, and I was already closing in on my 2016 average speed of 21.8 mph.  My legs still felt good, so I continued to push the pace.

The back half of the bike course is somewhat of a blur, but I do remember a car pulling in front of me around mile 10.  Thankfully, it made a right turn before it became much of a problem, but I thought I was going to get stuck behind it since it was stuck behind a couple of cyclists in front of me.  As I closed in on the end of the bike course, my average speed ticked up to 23 mph.  That was uncharted territory for me, but I lost a bit of speed as I came back into the transition area.  When I hit the lap button on my GPS it read 22.8, which was 1 mph faster than 2016.  That may seem a bit insignificant, but a 1 mph gain on the bike is pretty huge.  All those Sweet Spot intervals paid off – thanks Erin.

T2- 1:20

Once again, my transition was a bit slow, but I had an unfortunate transition spot.  I racked my bike, took off my helmet and then changed shoes.  I was then off towards the run-out spot of the transition area, and saw Meredith directing traffic as I headed out onto the run course.

Run- 22:33 (7:15 min/mile)   10/22 AG

Mile 1 (7:19)

Karen had challenged me to run 7:15 miles off the bike, which would have been a big improvement from my 7:27 mins/mile effort in 2016.  I came out of T2 “hot” and quickly saw that I was running a sub-7:00 pace.  That’s easy to do when you’re fired up by the spectators, and I’d just run by my family, so I was definitely overdoing it.  I slowed up, and was determined to negative split the run.  I eased into a 7:20 pace, and figured that I’d speed up every mile.

rtc run start.jpg

Turning right out of T2.

Mile 2 (7:17)

The first mile went by pretty quickly, and I was looking for Busher as I ran.  I never saw him on the run, and was wondering how his race was going.  By mile two, the pain had begun to set in, but I still pushed the pace a little harder to make sure that I could hit Karen’s goal of 7:15 mins/mile.  I was a tad worried about blowing up, but by the end of mile two, I still felt OK.

Mile 3 (7:12)

Mile three was painful (as always), but in a good way.  I continued to increase my pace, and even though my legs and lungs were burning, I found that I still had a little more left in the tank.  As I headed up the lone hill on the course towards the Martin’s parking lot, I began to pass some people, which spurred me on even more.

The last 1/2 mile is mostly an out and back in the Martin’s parking lot, and I ran as fast as I could convince my legs to carry me.  I saw my ProK colleague Jill (who was also volunteering) near the turnaround cone, but she didn’t see me and I didn’t have enough wind in my sails to say hello.  The final 1/4 mile seemed to go on forever, but the run into the finish line is all downhill.  I sprinted towards the final timing mat and finished about two minutes and thirty seconds faster than in 2016.  Again, that might not seem like a lot, but it’s quite a bit in a sprint race.  Thanks Karen.  Thanks Erin.  That was a huge improvement in less than twelve months of training.             

RTC run.jpg

Post Race

I was only 7/22 in my age group, but the RTC Sprint is super competitive and is one of the largest triathlons in Richmond.  I actually finished worse in my AG than in 2016 (6/22), but I was 44th overall, compared to 54th overall in 2016.  I was faster in every discipline, and probably would have been another 30-60 seconds faster if I’d had a more fortuitous transition spot and if I’d seeded myself more aggressively in the swim.  Even though I was well off of the 35-39 AG podium, I was extremely pleased with my performance.

After finishing, I caught up with my family and then saw Busher finishing amongst a lot of fanfare from the announcer.  He didn’t have a particularly good race, but as always, was in good spirits.  There wasn’t a lot of time to hang around since the kids had soccer games, so after some post-race food, we were off.

My first triathlon of 2017 was definitely a success, even though the swim had been suboptimal due to poor swim seeding.  I’d made big gains on the bike and run, even though I hadn’t yet had a full year of coached training, and I was excited to see how the rest of the season would develop.  Next up was the Kinetic Half Iron Triathlon at Lake Anna in May, which I’d never done before.  All I knew is that the run was supposedly a bear due to the hills.  I was hoping that the weather would be a little better for that race due to the fact that I’d be spending over five hours on the course compared with the 65 minutes that it took me to complete the RTC Sprint.  Unfortunately, that would be another cold, wet and windy race, which would tax my mental and physical fortitude.

rtc busher.jpg

 

rtc family

“Winter’s cold, spring erases…”

2017 Monument Avenue 10k Race Report

 45:51 (7:22/mile)

93/954 (AG)     817/21,953 (Overall)

April 1, 2017 – My first race of the new season is the Monument Avenue 10k, which I’d only done twice before.  In 2007 my goal was to go sub-50:00 and I finished in 47:10 after my ability to go sub-50:00 had been questioned (by my well-intentioned neighbor).  In 2014 I raced with an injured left IT band after a month-long layoff and was only able to manage a disappointing 48:58.  I’d been training all winter with Karen and Erin since the conclusion of my 2016 season, with my only real downtime being the week that I’d spent in Haiti in December.  There were a lot of cold, dark mornings where I’d have rather been in bed instead of running outside, but I was determined to get faster before the spring racing season started.

The Monument Avenue 10k was one of the “A” races on my calendar, so my coaches gave me a full taper for it.  Karen thought that I might be able to run 7 minute miles, but she had never before trained me for a stand alone 5k or 10k – so I thought she was a bit optimistic.  My personal best in a 5k had been at the 2015 Turkey Day 5k in Martinsville, which is a hilly course.  I’d run that race at an average pace of 7:13 minutes/mile, so that was my best recent result to use to extrapolate my 10k pacing.  There was no point in using my time from the 10k in 2014 since I’d been injured.  Ultimately, we (mostly I) decided on shooting for a sub-46:00 race, so I’d need to run 7:24 minutes/mile or better to get it done.  I figured that was doable, and would lead to a PR of at least 1:10 if I was successful.

Over the course of my 2016 season I had learned to trust Karen’s pacing strategy.  There was some mild disobedience early on where I went out too fast on the run, and that had been counterproductive in every instance.  Thus, I was fully committed to doing exactly as she said for the 10k.  I was told to run the first three miles at a 7:30 pace, and then to negative split the last 3.2 miles as much as possible.  In 2007 and 2014 I’d gone out too hard in the first 5k and then really struggled coming back in.

From a health standpoint, I was injury-free for the first time in about a year.  I’d fought metatarsalgia and piriformis for all of 2016, and the metatarsalgia had been controlled with orthopedic inserts in my shoes.  I tried a couple of rounds of physical therapy for the piriformis, but it never fully went away.  Over the winter I’d started having deep tissue work done once a month at Karen’s suggestion, which was a fairly painful process.  That being said, after four or five sessions, the piriformis pain had finally began to abate.  So, come race day I was healthy, rested and ready to see if I was faster at 38 than I had been at 28.

My only problem heading into the race is that one of the ear buds for my IPod broke about five minutes before my start time.  It still worked, but was hanging by the wire.  I managed to get it back in my ear and hoped that it wouldn’t fall out as I ran.  Then, it was into the corral with Wave C as we moved forward to the starting line.

Race

GPS Data

Mile 1 (7:29)

Based upon my expected finishing time, I probably should have been seeded in Wave B.  Nevertheless, most of the folks in the Wave C corral ran past me in the first mile.  I resisted the urge to go with them, and in the past, I’d made the mistake of going too hard in Mile 1.  There was a fair amount of congestion, but after we took a right onto Monument Avenue I hugged the left side of the road and it wasn’t too bad.  I knew from experience that I’d end up running a tad over 6.2 miles, and thus, I would need to run an actual pace that was a shade faster than 7:24 minutes/mile in order to have an official time below 46 minutes.  As expected, my GPS read 1 mile just before I got to the Mile 1 sign, and I’d probably run a little extra distance bobbing and weaving around the other runners.  I ran the first mile in 7:29, which was right on Karen’s plan of 7:30’s for the first three miles.  The heart rate was climbing, but I was feeling good.

Mile 2 (7:29)

The second mile of a 10k for me seems to take forever, and this time was no different.  You’re beginning to get far enough into the race to start feeling the burn, but you’re not even halfway home.  I continued to have Wave C folks run past me, but I didn’t let that discourage me or get me off my pacing strategy.  I knew that at least a few of them would get passed on the backside.  I stuck to the plan with another 7:29 mile.

Mile 3 (7:27)

By the start of Mile 3 my heart rate had headed north of 180 but I was still feeling pretty good.  Its hard to tell, but the “out” portion of the race is a slight upgrade and there was a light wind blowing out of the west, which wasn’t helping.  Thankfully, I’d found a lot more daylight as the race progressed, so there was less bobbing and weaving going on.  Fatigue was creeping in, but I still felt better than in years past.  Once again, I came in very close to my 7:30 minutes/mile goal with a third mile of 7:27.  Given the extra distance that I knew I’d be running, I was really right on pace.

Mile 4  (7:19)

The turnaround cone was a welcome sight and I hit the 5k mat in a time of 23:26 for an official pace of 7:32 minutes/mile.  That meant that I needed to run the final 5k in 22:33 or less to go sub-46:00 minutes.  I’d signed Karen up for text message alerts so she could track my progress on her phone, and I imagined that she was pleased when she saw my 5k split.  I was behaving myself this time.

After turning around to head back east I picked up the pace a bit.  I was tired, but I still felt like I had a decent amount left in the tank.  I was conscious about overdoing it though, so I didn’t speed up too much, not wanting to bonk in the final mile.  By the end of Mile 4 I was hurting, but still OK.

Mile 5  (7:18)

Mile 5 of a 10k is kind of like Mile 2 for me.  It hurts, but the end is still a ways off.  On the upside, I was gradually moving up through the field and was passing people who had run past me in miles 1 and 2.  As much as my lungs and legs were burning, it felt pretty good to pick people off one by one, and that became a lot of my motivation.

Mile 6 (7:12)

The last full mile of a 10k hurts so good.  My legs and lungs were on fire, but I knew that the end was near so I was able to pick up the pace even more.  I passed a lot of people in Mile 6 and it was clear that many people had gone out too fast.  I’d done that in both of my prior 10ks, so I was familiar with that feeling of just hanging on.

I looked to me like my sub-46:00 goal was in reach, and by the end of Mile 6 my average pace was reading 7:22/mile on my GPS.  That was two seconds below my goal pace, but I knew that my official pace was slower since my GPS was tripping every mile before I was getting to the official mile markers.  I needed a time buffer for sure, but I wasn’t sure exactly how much.  I knew that it was going to be close.

Mile 6-6.26  (6:15 minutes/mile pace)

You hit that 6 mile marker and you think its over, but that last 2/10ths of a mile seems to go on forever.  I began my final kick as soon as I passed the 6 mile marker and kept glancing at my watch as it ticked ever closer to 46 minutes.    I could see the finish line up ahead and put everything I had left into the end of the race.  As I crossed the timing mat I stopped my GPS and saw that it was reading 45:51 – 9 seconds to spare.  I promptly collapsed on a nearby retaining wall to catch my breath, but was then chastised about moving through the finishing chute by a volunteer.

Post Race

After cooling down a bit, I found a couple of work colleagues and chatted about our races for awhile.  I took advantage of the free Chapstick and Whitehouse rolls, and then made my way back to my office where my car was parked.  The finishing area was getting pretty full by that point, so it was a good time to bail.

Overall, I was very pleased with my race and I’d executed Karen’s pacing plan pretty much spot on.  I PR’d by 1 minute and 19 seconds over my 2007 time, and I beat my 2014 time by more than 3 minutes.  All of those cold and dark runs over the winter months had paid off, and I was running faster at age 38 than ever before.

As much as the race had hurt, part of me wondered if I could have gone faster.  Karen had originally thought so, but I wasn’t convinced and had told myself that sub-46:00 was the best I could reasonably expect.  Perhaps my body was only willing to live up to my mind’s expectations.  If I’d have said 45:30 or even 45:00, could I have made it?  I don’t know, but maybe I’d have to be a bit more aggressive with my pacing goals in the shorter races moving forward.

Next up for me was the RTC Sprint Triathlon on April 22nd.  That race, and particularly the swim, hadn’t treated me very well in 2015 and 2016.  Maybe, as they say, the third time would be the charm.

monument result

 

 

 

 

Taking Stock – 2016 Year in Review

2016 was another year of firsts for me, and most importantly, my first attempt at a full Ironman.  I completed Ironman Maryland, but due to bad weather and flooding, the course had been shortened from 140.6 miles to 126.2 miles.  That included a complete cancellation of the 2.4 mile swim.  I’d hit my pacing goals for the bike and the run portions – even with a flooded run course – but it was still bittersweet.  I had trouble calling myself a true Ironman and ended up deciding against getting the M-dot tattoo.  Even though I’d promised not to do a full distance Ironman in 2017, my wife had pity on me.  By the end of the year she had agreed to let me to sign up for Ironman Chattanooga on September 24, 2017.

My other big first in 2016 was signing up for coaching services with Karen Holloway and Erin Wittwer through ProK Racing and Sweet Spot Cycling respectively.  I quickly learned that I hadn’t been training as hard as I thought I had, and they increased my training volume and intensity beyond my prior levels very early on.  There was also a new accountability factor, so workouts were only missed when I had a really good reason.  In fact, I found myself developing a phobia of yellow and red when it came to my Training Peaks account.  Anything other than green meant that I wasn’t doing a workout as prescribed.

From a training standpoint, I had increased my swim/bike/run volume from 228.79 hours in 2015 to 305.37 hours in 2016. That was a jump from 4.4 hours per week to 5.9 hours per week.    The majority of that difference came after May once I began working with Karen and Erin, and my volume peaked in August 2016 as I prepared for IMMD.

August 2016.PNG

Peak training for Ironman Maryland

 

The goals for 2017 were to make some additional age group podiums in the local spring triathlons and then to prepare for a sub-12 hour effort at Ironman Chattanooga.  Other than recovering from IMMD and the Richmond Marathon, and then a week-long break during my Haiti mission trip in December, I really had no plan to take a hiatus from training.  I’d battled nagging injuries (piriformis and metatarsalgia) for most of 2016, but was mostly injury-free by the end of the year.  Hopefully the injury bug wouldn’t bite in 2017.

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