“Try to catch the deluge in a paper cup…”

2018 Monticelloman Olympic Triathlon

Race Report

2:29:19

 3/10 AG     19/125 Overall

May 6 2018 – A week after the RTC Sprint I was signed up for the Monticelloman Olympic race in Palmyra.  I’d been wanting to do the race for a few years, but it had never made it onto my calendar.  I’d signed Leigh Anne up for the Super Sprint race in the East Coast Triathlon Festival, forgetting that both races were on the same day.  She was not really happy about having to tackle her tri without me, but Busher was nice enough to go out and watch her race at Innsbrook as I headed off towards Charlottesville.

I was feeling well and rested for the race, with the exception of some nagging left oblique issues, but wasn’t really sure what to expect competition-wise.  I also was’t quite sure about the course.  I knew that it would be fairly hilly since the race takes place just outside of Charlottesville, and I keep forgetting how hilly that area can be.  I’d looked at the course maps and checked the bike and run course profiles in the days leading up to the race, but I really can’t fully wrap my head around a course until I see it in person.

The forecast was calling for mild weather, but rain was expected in the early afternoon.  I figured that I’d be done well before the rain began, so I wasn’t worried about that too much.  I was more worried about the alarm going off at 3:30 a.m. so I could get on the road by 4:00 a.m.  I was out of the house pretty quickly after some oatmeal and coffee, and made it up to Lake Monticello a little after 5:00 a.m.

Pre-Race

There were a fair amount of people already in the transition area when I arrived, and I had to go pick up my race packet before they’d let me enter.  That was a pretty painless process, and soon enough, I was set up.  Interestingly, they had blocks for your bike instead of racks, but I found the setup to be a bit wobbly.  I had to prop my bike up just right to keep it from leaning and possibly falling over.

monti rack

Once I got situated, I went for a short run and then hit the portapotty one last time before putting on my wetsuit.  The swim was taking place in Lake Monticello, so I headed down to the beach to survey the swim course.  I then learned that the swim started with a 100 yard run down the beach instead of starting in the water.  That was new for me, but I didn’t think much of it at the time.  After some initial confusion about the priorities of the different swim waves, we all gathered on the beach and waited for the start.

Results Link

Garmin Data

Swim- 27:34  (1:50/100m)  (6/10 AG)

swim.PNG

I was in the second swim wave of the day, and positioned myself on the water line.  We started a few minutes after the first swim wave, and when the gun sounded, I took off running at a pretty good pace.  We ran as far as the beach would allow, and then veered right into the water and ran a little more until the water was deep enough to start swimming.

monticello swim start.jpg

On the left at the water line.

As soon as I put my head in the water I knew that I had a problem.  I felt like I couldn’t breathe, which was due to jacking up my heart rate while running down the beach.  I tried to swim slowly to get my heart rate under control, but I had to pull up several times to try to catch my breath.  This was probably the closest to having a panic attack in an open water swim that I’ve ever had, and it wasn’t very pleasant.

I kept moving forward, but the first 500-600 meters were pretty tough….and pretty slow.  Shortly before the first turn buoy things started to get a bit easier, and my breathing was pretty much back to normal.  The swim back up the lake was smooth and easy, and I felt like I was making good time by that point.  I started catching a few people in the prior swim wave, and was also passing a few people in my wave who had gone by me when I was struggling.

At the 1300 meter mark I hit the last turn buoy and made a right turn to head back to the shore.  There were two guys swimming next to me, and it looked like we were having a race to get back to the shore first.  Sighting was easy thanks to the inflatable wiggly man on the dock near the swim exit, and eventually it got shallow enough to run out of the water.

I hit the lap button on my Garmin as I crossed the timing mat on the beach and it read 27:34.  This was a PR for me by almost a minute and a half, but I was still a little disappointed.  I felt like the first 1/4 of my swim was pretty dreadful, but at least I’d learned my lesson about sprinting into the water.  Next time I’d take it slower and would probably have a faster swim time.

swim.jpg

Wiggly men are only seen at used car lots and triathlon swim exits…

T1- 1:24  ( 2/10 AG)   

It was a pretty long run from the timing mat up to the transition area, but I tried to make it as fast as possible.  My heart was thumping pretty good by the time I reached my bike, and I got my helmet and shoes on as quickly as possible and took off for the bike out area.  I was quick enough to have the second fastest transition in my age group, and as it would turn out, my transitions and my bike split would be the driving factors in snagging an AG podium spot.

Bike – 1:09:32  (20.7 mph)  (2/10 AG)

bike profile

bike course.PNG

By the time I mounted my bike, the skies were getting pretty dark, but it wasn’t raining.  There was a hill coming out of transition, and then a right turn onto Lake Monticello Road.  There were some small hills there, but it was only about a mile before you had to make a right turn onto South Boston Road at a T intersection.  The roads were still wet from overnight rain, and the right hand turn was about 110 degrees and at the bottom of a steep hill.  The race director had warned us about the turn before the race, and there were signs warning us to slow down.  I rode my brakes all the way down the hill to the turn, but with the wet road and my wet tires, I couldn’t physically stop my bike (if I’d needed to).  I was able to make the turn, but if volunteers hadn’t been there to stop traffic, it could have been an ugly scene.

After turning right, there was a steep uphill immediately, and the course was a net uphill for the next 13 miles or so.  Around mile 5 the skies opened up and it began dumping rain.  There were several steep and winding descents in that portion of the course and the rain was coming down so hard that water was running across the road.  That made for some dangerous conditions, and I had to take it easy on the downhill portions because I was afraid of hydroplaning or losing it in a turn.

The dumping rain lasted for about 10-15 minutes and then became more of a steady rain.  The hills continued, and even though I passed a few other bikers, it just felt like the going was really slow.  Around mile 16 I was catching a couple of other bikers, but two cars passed me and got in between us.  I couldn’t go around the cars and they couldn’t go around the other bikers.  I was held up for a couple of minutes, but the cars continued straight when we turned right onto Martin Kings Road, and then I was finally able to pass the other guys.

I was on my own for the rest of the bike course, but it was mostly downhill from there.  I was able to lay in aero for the remainder of the ride and began making really good time.  There was standing water in some spots and some slippery corners, but at least the rain had already done its worst.  The last 8-9 miles of the bike were fast and fun, and I was actually a little disappointed to have it end.  My bike split was the second fastest in my AG, and I’ve seen a ton of improvement in my biking ability after two years of doing coach Erin’s workouts.  Some of her workouts are brutal, and at times, I like to remind her that Erin is a four-letter word.

T2 :1:32  (3/10 AG)

T2 was not quite as fast as T1, but was still pretty good.  I was, perhaps, a tad too concerned about making sure that my bike was properly racked so that it wouldn’t come crashing down, so racking it took longer than normal.  I then switched shoes, grabbed my race belt and visor and was off.  My legs felt pretty heavy as I made my way to the run out area, but that’s pretty normal and I figured that it would abate soon enough.

Run- 49:15 (7:57 min/mile)  (6/10 AG)

run profile.jpg

run.PNG

Miles 1-3 (7:56)(8:17)(8:11)

My goal was to run at an 8:00 minute pace or faster, and my stretch goal was a 7:45 pace.  I figured that’d be out of reach due to the hills, but I was going to try nonetheless.  The 6.2 mile run course nothing but hilly suckitude, and it hits you immediately out of transition with an initial climb that is about a third of a mile.  The course profile indicated that the “out” portion of the run was mostly uphill, so I knew that my 5k split should be a bit slower than my 10k split.

After the initial climb away from transition, the course flattened out just a bit, but then began climbing once again.  There were a few small downhill spots in between the climbs, but some of those were steep enough to really work your quads.  The hills were brutal, but at least it wasn’t hot.  I was having trouble hitting my 8 minute miles, but I was still hoping to make up some time coming back in.

Miles 4-6 (8:10)(7:58)(8:04)

I was pretty happy to hit the halfway point since it was a net downhill coming back in.  There was a short downhill portion to start mile 4, but that was immediately followed by another fun climb.  That process repeated itself pretty much all the way back.  The run was really taking its toll on me, more so than I had predicted.

The course flattened out again around mile 5, but then closed with a final climb that was about a quarter of a mile long.  There had been a guy ahead of me for a while in the last couple of miles, and I had finally gotten within striking distance of passing him.  I threw down everything I had left in the final 200 meters and was able to pass him just before we crossed the line.  When I was behind him, I wasn’t sure if he was in my AG, and I didn’t want to give up a spot to him if at all possible.

My official pace for the run was 7:57, which was bit faster than my GPS pace since my GPS was slightly off on the mileage (6.09).  I was OK with that pace, particularly since the run had felt pretty shitty from start to finish.  Still 6/10 on the run in my age group isn’t good enough, and I still need to improve in that discipline.  Karen and her 800 meter repeats have been helping, but hot, nasty, bad-ass running speed has never been in my DNA, so I’m still a work in progress.  Karen still has her work cut out for her.

Post-Race

After crossing the line and collecting my medal, I grabbed a slice of pizza and then found fellow Pro-K teammate, Justin Koehler, who had finished less than a minute after me.  He’d had a monster run, and his run was the fastest in our age group.  Had the run course been much longer, he would have caught me for sure.

When we checked the results we saw that I was third and he was fourth in the 40-44 AG.  I was happy to be on the AG podium for the second time in two races in 2018, and had missed out on second place by only 23 seconds.  Of course, I immediately began to wonder how I could have been 24 seconds faster on the day.  That’s not a lot of time in a 2.5 hour race, but I felt like I’d left it all out on the course.  I didn’t have anything on my schedule until the Robious Landing Triathlon in late June, so I had some time to do a little more speed work.

monti results

 

Monticelloman podium

 

monti bling

 

“Old, but I’m not that old…”

2018 RTC Sprint Triathlon

Race Report

1:04:46

 3/10 AG     30/328 Overall

April 22, 2018 – USAT rules sort you into age groups based upon your age at the end of the year, not your current age.  Thus, the RTC Sprint was the first triathlon where I had to put the dreaded “40” on my calf.  I still had about two months left in my 30’s, but officially, I was 40 and had been bumped up to the 40-44 age group.

Generally speaking, there’s an advantage to aging up, particularly in running races.  In triathlon, however, the 40-44 age group is one of the fastest, if not the fastest, in a lot of races.  I presume that’s due to the fact that people seem to get into triathlon a little later in life, but whatever the reason, its a fast age group.  I’d never made the AG podium at the RTC Sprint since its a pretty competitive race, so I really didn’t think that I had much of a shot this year.

Typically, my biggest weakness in triathlons is my lack of running speed, so I’d made that the focus of 2018.  Thus, pretty much since the close of the 2017 season, Karen had been working to make me faster.   In reality, it was more about making me “less slow,” but semantics aside, there were a fair amount of track workouts and speed work.    I still couldn’t run a 6 minute mile, but at least I was in shouting distance at 6:26.

Unfortunately, every time I began to get into a good training groove, I got derailed by circumstances outside of my control.  At Christmas, there was a minor illness that took away a week.  In February, everybody in my house got the flu, except for me.  I went contrarian and contracted strep throat, but poor Jillian had the flu twice and ended up in the emergency room.  Even when I wasn’t sidelined by my own illness, the lack of sleep and stress from worrying about everyone else affected my training.

By the end of March we were all illness free, but then I began getting strange pains on my left side near the bottom of my rib cage.  The pains were tolerable, but after they failed to subside after a week or two, I finally told people what was going on.  After a trip to Patient First revealed nothing but normal chest x-rays and lab tests, I finally diagnosed myself (with the help of Google) as having an oblique strain.

The good news was that the pain was bearable and intermittent.  The bad news was that it was an injury that would linger for quite some time without rest – which just wasn’t in the cards.  I nearly healed after several weeks of anti-inflammatories, but then I re-aggravated it doing swim sprints.  Karen cut back my training and my speed work a bit, but soon enough, the RTC Sprint was upon us.  I was excited to see if my winter speed work had paid off, but was a tad concerned about my injury and my recent training limitations.  Nevertheless, I wasn’t going to hold back in the race and was going to cross my fingers and hope for the best.

Pre Race

The weather for race day looked really good, even if it was going to be a little bit chilly in the morning.  As always, the alarm went off around 4 a.m., and there was a flurry of dressing, eating and heading out the door.  In 2017 I got stuck with a pretty poor rack position, but this year was much better.  I even arrived early enough to nab the coveted spot at the end of the rack.

rtc rack 2018

Not my pink shirt on the rack….

After setting up my transition area and warming up, I headed inside with lots of time to spare.  It was a little chilly, and I didn’t feel like sitting around outside.  I said hello to Meredith (who was volunteering), and then did some warm up laps in the instructional pool.  Busher was doing the relay, but I didn’t see him before the race.  I did run into his parents on the pool deck, but he must have been occupied elsewhere.

The pool is a pre-seeded start, and in years past, they did a good job of lining everybody up early according to their swim waves.  It was less organized this year, and with about ten minutes to go until the start, there was a mass of people around the pool in no coherent order.  I didn’t think that they’d ever get organized before the start, but miraculously, things came together just in time.  Thus, as soon as Jill Blankenburg sang the National Anthem, we got underway.

jill.jpg

GPS Data

Race Results

Swim- 7:11  (1:48/100m)    3/10 AG

The “open water” pool swim of 400 meters is always interesting in this race, and I’ve yet to have a really good swim.  I pegged 6:50 as my estimated time, and felt as though I was under seeding myself.  I didn’t want to hold anyone up, but apparently, a lot of people overseeded themselves.

RTS swim

You start in groups of ten, and swim eight lengths of the 50 meter pool.  I decided to start myself on the outside (left) of the lane to avoid most of the pandemonium of the swim start, and had no problems in the first 50 meters.  The first turn was to my right, and I hit some congestion as I made my way around the first buoy.

I found some clean water heading back in the other direction, but as soon as I turned around the 100 meter buoy I began catching up to people in the earlier swim waves.  Passing in the pool isn’t like passing on the bike or run course.  Your relative velocity to “lapped traffic” is fairly low, and you have to work pretty hard to get around someone before hitting the next turn buoy.  Otherwise, the person ahead of you is going to take the inside lane around the buoy and you’re going to have to go the long way around, which makes passing even more difficult.  Thus, passing is a chore and can wear you out much faster than you’d like.

For the last 300 meters of the swim, I was constantly catching and trying to pass people who started ahead of me.  This slowed my progress considerably, and made for a disappointing swim.  I finished in 7:11, but felt like I lost at least 30 seconds by getting caught up behind slower swimmers, but was only 1 second slower than last year.  I made a mental note to over seed myself in 2019.  Nevertheless, I was still 3/10 in my AG in the swim, so it wasn’t a total bust.

T1- 1:00    1/10 AG

I exited the pool motivated to get on the bike and to make up for what I considered to be lost time in the pool.  I sprinted to my transition spot, threw on my cycling shoes (without socks), donned my helmet and then took off for the mounting line.  All this was done in exactly one minute, which was the fastest in my AG, and 36 seconds faster than in 2017.  In a sprint race, every second matters, and transitions become that much more important.

Bike – 33:33  (22.4 mph)    2/10 AG

I had one of my strongest ever bikes at the RTC Sprint in 2017 and I was hoping to best my time of 32:56, this time around.  I didn’t feel quite 100% coming into this race, however, so I was skeptical of my chances.  Still I planned to push as hard as possible and see where that left me.

There is a hill immediately out of transition, and then you take a right onto Route 10, which is fairly flat and fast.  I immediately began making good speed, and there were a lot of people from the earlier swim waves to pass on the bike course.  Drafting is illegal, but there is a small “sling shot” effect when you legally pass people ahead of you.

I checked my GPS after turning right near the airport and I saw that I was slightly behind my 2017 pace.  I tried to pick it up a bit, and I played leapfrog with a couple of other guys on the road that runs parallel to the runway.  By the time that I made the right turn on the back side of the airport I’d left them behind, and tackled the small hills without any problems.

The course then winds around towards Route 10, and that’s when I encountered the only problem of the day on the bike.  There was a person flagging traffic, and he was directing it all to the right up ahead of me.  Traffic began to back up, and I was moving faster than the cars ahead of me.  I slowed down, but then realized that I needed to go past the traffic or else I was going to have to come to a complete stop.  I went to the left of the cars and was basically on the center line of the road.  I passed 3-4 cars, and then the flagger waved me to the right.  I knew that couldn’t be correct, having ridden the course 3 times before.  The biker behind me and I finally realized that the flagger was only gesturing to the cars, and that we were supposed to go straight, so we continued on.  The whole experience probably only cost me 10-15 seconds, but got me out of my biking groove just when I felt like I was making up some time.

From there, I turned left onto Ironbridge Road and was not far from the finish line.  I gave it everything that I had left on Ironbridge, but after turning left to head back towards transition, I eased off a bit to lower my heart rate.  A few extra seconds on the bike course would be worth the reduced heart rate heading into T2 and into the run course.  I’d learned that lesson the hard way previously.

T2 :54    3/10 AG

T2 was faster than T1, but still only good enough for third in my AG.  I ran my bike to the rack – finding it quickly with the pink shirt tied to the outside of the rack.  I slipped off my helmet and cycling shoes, threw on my running shoes and my race belt, and then I was off.  By this point, I knew that my overall time was very close to my time from 2017, which I was determined to beat.  Another year older, but I didn’t want to be another year slower.  Thus, it was all coming down to the run.  I wasn’t quite sure if the lost training time and the injured oblique would slow me down, but I was going to give it my best.

Run- 22:11 (7:08 min/mile)   4/10 AG

I completed the run in 22:33 in 2017, which equates to a 7:15 pace.  Prior to the race, I’d asked Karen what she wanted my run pace to be, and she’d told me 7:30 – since that’s what my post-injury training runs had been.  I knew that she’d been taking care of me in preparation for the race, but didn’t think that she actually planned for me to run at that pace.  I’m not sure if she was serious about the 7:30 pace or whether she was goading me, but I was sure as heck going to beat 7:30 if at all possible.

Mile 1 (7:13)

I felt good coming out of T2, and my legs were minimally “heavy” from my bike effort.  I thought to myself, “Ok, we’re good to go,” and then my race belt promptly fell to the ground behind me.  I’d failed to secure it properly, and I had to turn around and go back for it.  So much for getting off to a good start…but I had no one to blame but myself.

After getting my race belt squared away, I took off again and headed down to the soccer fields.  That part of the course is pretty much flat, so I was able to make good time.  I completed mile 1 in 7:13 and was still feeling okay, so all was going according to plan.

Mile 2 (7:06)

Near the start of the second mile, there is a small hill that leads up to the parking lot of the old Ukrops.  Its not terrible, but its pretty much the only uphill portion of the course and it does slow you down a bit.  After cresting the hill, I ran the out and back in the parking lot, and then completed the first loop down by the transition area.  There was a little boost gained while running past the crowd near the finish line, and then I set out on loop number two.

By this point, I was breathing pretty hard but my legs felt fine.  In longer races, its typically the legs that go out on me in the run, but in the shorter races, there’s the hard breathing and the feeling that my chest is going to explode.  I finished the second mile down by the soccer fields and was feeling pretty rough, but the thought of almost being done helped to ease the pain.

Mile 3 (7:07)

I had to deal with the small hill one last time, and it definitely slowed me down more than the first time.  I kept trying to accelerate at the top of the hill, but was having trouble getting going again.  I’d wanted to run a sub-7 minute pace for the remainder of the race after cresting the hill, but I wasn’t able to get my pace up that much until after I hit the turnaround cone in the grocery store parking lot and headed back towards the finish line.

Normally, I make the last left turn and then sprint down the hill through the finishing chute.  I was able to pick up my pace down the hill a little bit, but I just didn’t seem to have the same finishing kick in me this time around.  Still, I finished the run in 22:11, which equated to a 7:08 pace, and it was my fastest ever run at the RTC Sprint.  Not too bad for having aged up.

RTC.jpg

Post Race

Overall, I was very happy with my performance, especially since my spring training had been derailed a bit because of sickness and injury.  I was a tad slower on the bike in 2018, but some of that was due to getting caught behind vehicle traffic on Cogbill Road.  Still, my transitions and my run were faster than in 2017, and I was 48 seconds faster overall.  Older, but not slower.

Jillian had a soccer game, so I didn’t have time to hang around long after I finished.  As it turned out, I got third in my age group, so Busher was nice enough to snag my award for me.  This was the first year that I’d been able to make the AG podium in the RTC Sprint, and its a pretty competitive race, so that was a nice bonus.  The number of people racing was down a bit from years past, but a podium is a podium I guess.

Next up for me was Monticelloman near Charlottesville, and I’d had my eye on that race for several years.  I’d decided to do the Olympic distance event, and those will kick your butt pretty hard if you do them right.  I was hoping to go 2/2 in age group podiums in my inaugural year of racing in the 40-44 age group, and only time would tell if that was in the cards.  What was in the cards were heavy rains on the bike and hills…lots and lots of hills.

rtc plaque.jpeg

 

rtc finish 2018.jpg

Pro K post-race gathering.

“Boy chase a bird, so close but every time, he’ll never catch her, but he can’t stop trying…”

2018 Frostbite 15k

Race Report

1:12:56     (7:50 min/mile)     11/47 AG     127/865 Overall

January 21, 2018 – The Frostbite 15k was my first race of 2018, and I was anxious to see if the speed work that Karen had me doing over the Fall and Winter was paying off.  My doctor friend Tressa, was also running, as were several of Leigh Anne’s friends – Meg, Kristen and Rachel.  There aren’t that many 15k races out there, and its a pretty fun distance.  Long enough to feel like a distance race, but short enough to make you run fairly hard.  I’d done the race in 1:13:37 in 2016 at a 7:54 min/mile pace, and my primary goal was to beat that time.  My secondary goal was to average a 7:45 pace for the 9.3 miles.

Pre-Race

In 2016 it was dumping snow, but the weather this time around was clear.  It was a chilly 40 degrees, but warmer than it could have been for a Saturday morning race in January.  Still, I dressed fairly warm, with long tights and gloves.  I got down to the race site at the Amelia Street School and grabbed my bib, and shortly thereafter I ran into Tressa and her dog, Flicka.  We did a short warm up run, and then ran into Meg, Kristin and Rachel in the portapotty line.  By the time we finished up there, it was time to hop in the starting chute and get ready to race.

Race

GPS Data

2018.PNG

Miles 1-3 (7:51)(7:50)(7:55)

After the gun went off, we took off down a hill and Tressa gradually disappeared as she left me in her dust.  We took a left at the bottom of the hill for a short out and back section.  The first two miles were relatively flat, and I focused on running easy and keeping my heart rate under control.  The course got hillier in the third mile, and I tried maintain a good pace without tiring myself out too early.  I knew that I’d need decent legs when I got back to those same hills near the end of the race.  I had planned to keep my pace for the first three miles between 7:50 and 8:00 – so all was going according to plan.

frostbite start

Miles 4-6  (7:45)(7:42)(7:41)

By the fourth mile, the course began circling the lakes near Maymont park, and the course was a little flatter there.  I’d begun to get fairly warm, so I took off my gloves and shoved them into the side pockets of my tights.  As I was crossing the bridge between Swan Lake and Shields Lake one of them fell out, but I wasn’t inclined to turn around and go back for it.  I did stop to pick it up though, when I crossed the bridge in the other direction around mile 6.15.

I was very pleased with my pacing for miles 4-6, and had managed to run three straight miles at or below my goal pace.  I was feeling pretty good, but fatigue was steadily creeping in.  In the back of my mind was the fact that I’d have to traverse the hilly portion of the course again, culminating with a climb up to the finish line.

Miles 7-9 (7:47)(7:42)(7:38)

The last three full miles were tough, and my pace slipped a bit in mile 7 due to some more hills.  There was a bit more elevation gain in mile 8 than there had been in mile 7, but I was able to push through it in 7:42.  The average pace on my GPS was still creeping down towards 7:45, but I wasn’t quite there and knew that I needed a strong finish.  Mile 9 was slightly flatter than the two before it, and I was able to turn in my fastest full mile of the day at a 7:38 pace.  I was hurting pretty good at that point though.

Miles 9 – 9.4 (7:03 pace)

After passing the 9 mile marker, all I had remaining was a right turn onto Colorado Avenue and then a left turn to head up the final climb towards the finish.  The GPS was showing a 7:48 pace, so I poured on whatever I had left and sprinted up the hill and across the line.  After stopping my Garmin it showed 9.4 miles at a 7:46 pace.  Dang, so close!  Missed it by 1 second per mile – at least unofficially.

A 15k should be 9.3 miles, and my GPS had me dead on 9.3 in 2016.  This time around though I was 0.1 miles long.  Initially, I chalked that up to some zigzagging on the course, but later I compared my GPS map from 2018 to the one from 2016.  There was a slight difference in the course around Fountain Lake at mile 5.2, which seems to account for the longer distance in 2018.  Even so, I still beat my overall time and pace from 2016, but officially, I ran a 7:50 pace instead of the 7:46 pace on my GPS.

Post Race

So, mileage discrepancies aside, I was very happy with my initial race of 2018.  I’d paced myself well and very nearly hit my goal pace (unofficially).  Heck, if I hadn’t had to stop and pick up my glove, I probably would have hit it spot on.  Let that be a lesson to me for overdressing. Irrespective of the pacing, it was good to test my winter fitness level, and having a race on the calendar always keeps me motivated.  My first triathlon of 2018 wasn’t until late April, so I still had plenty of time to continue with my speed work.  Unfortunately, the injury and illness bug was about to set up shop in my house and throw a wrench into my well laid plans.

frostbite

Taking Stock – 2017 Year in Review

By all accounts, 2017 was a very good year for me and continued my upward trajectory in triathlon.  The injury bug had bitten me somewhat in 2016, but by and large, I had been feeling good all year long.  Piriformis issues continued to nag me from time to time, but monthly deep tissue sessions and cupping by my friend Tressa kept that problem under control and helped me stay loose and relatively pain free.  I was frequently sore and tired from training, but overall, I was feeling well.  Staying injury free is becoming tougher and tougher as I age, and being able to train is more important than the training itself.

My main goal for 2017 was to finish Ironman Chattanooga in 12 hours or less, and despite a hot and humid race in September, I’d smashed that goal by more than 23 minutes.  Between the hills, the heat and the humidity, it was definitely the biggest “gut check” I’ve ever had, and provoked emotions over the span of 11 hours and 36 minutes that ranged the entire psychological spectrum.  I suppose that’s the draw of Ironman though…the ability to persevere through the lowest of the lows and to end somewhere above the normal “runner’s high.”

130_3rd-2211159-CERT_US-1818_181614-11757915.JPGAs to my training, 2017 marked the first full year of training with Karen and Erin on the ProK team.  Karen gives me my swim and run workouts and Erin focuses on the bike.  The best thing about coached training is that you are fully accountable for doing the workouts as prescribed.  Somehow, that is the worst thing as well, and the ladies seem to know that shaming me is generally the most effective way of motivating me.  There is a fair amount of constructive criticism, and at times, even praise, but I tend to be able to make myself suffer better with a little goading.  I think they picked up on that fairly quickly, and my nicknames include “Big Baby,” “Clown Baby” and even “Crybaby Clown.”  I can’t question their methods when they get results…

From a training standpoint, I went from 303.37 hours in 2016 to 394.79 hours in 2017.  I’m no mathlete, but I’m pretty sure that equates to a 30% increase in volume.  That was up from 228.79 hours in 2015.  I was doing 4.4 hours per week in 2015, which increased to 5.9 hours per week in 2016, and then to 7.6 hours per week in 2017.  I’m never making it to Kona on 7.6 hours per week, but I’m pleased that I was able to fit that into my work/life schedule.

Sometimes I have to get creative to fit in my training, but mostly, it involves training instead of sleeping so as not to interfere with work and family obligations.  To be honest, I watch a lot of Seinfeld re-runs on the DVR while riding the bike on the Wahoo Kickr in the bonus room at 4:30 a.m.  If I could get to Kona by quoting Seinfeld, my ticket to Hawaii would have been punched a long time ago.  I can tell you that George Costanza’s fake house in the Hamptons had two solariums and horses named “Snoopy” and “Prickly Pete,” but sadly, quoting Seinfeld is not a life skill.

My goals for 2018 focused on making the age group podium in most of my triathlons, along with improving my run speed (as always).  I had no plans to do a full Ironman in 2018, but was planning on scheduling several Olympic distance races and a 70.3 at the end of the season.  Thus, the winter of 2017/2018 was projected to include a fair amount of track workouts. 800 meter repeats were in my future if Karen got her way, and I knew better than to protest too much.  Doing so would only increase the frequency and volume of the 800s, and would be likely to generate text photos of Crybaby Clown.  Honestly though, I just don’t see the resemblance…

 

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“A sweet sweet beauty, but stone stone cold…”

2017 Richmond Half Marathon

Race Report

1:44:30     (7:58 min/mile)     79/386 AG     839/7811 Overall

November 11, 2017 – The Richmond Half Marathon was the last major race on my schedule for 2017.  In actuality, I’d planned on doing the half marathon in 2016, but had upgraded to the full marathon on the fly after Ironman Maryland.  That level of craziness wasn’t in the cards in 2017 though, especially after the marathon at Ironman Chattanooga was done with a heat index in the 90’s.  I had no desire to run another 26.2 in 2017, and thus, I chose to stick with the original 13.1 that I’d signed up for.

I always seem to have my “A” race triathlon in September or October, so the Richmond Marathon/Half Marathon always seems to be something of an afterthought – to the extent that’s possible.  After recovering from IMChoo for 3-4 weeks, I was already into late October, so I didn’t have much time to do much race specific training.  Obviously, I had enough fitness built up to handle 13.1 miles, but my pacing was geared more towards 26.2 miles on tired legs than it was to a standalone 13.1.

I’d run plenty of half marathons when factoring in 70.3 triathlons, but I’d actually only run one standalone half, which was the Love Rox Half Marathon in 2015.  That race was pretty hilly, and there was actually snow on the ground since it took place in February.  I’d done that race in 1:51:31, which equates to an 8:30/mile pace.  I was looking to run 8:00 minute miles this time around, so my goal was anything sub-1:45:00.

Pre-Race

I was running the race alone this time around, and I drove downtown and planned to park at my office, which is located about 10 blocks from the starting line.  I had to move a few traffic cones before I could turn down the side street that takes me to my office parking lot, and then hit the bathroom inside.  It was really cold outside, with the temperature in the 20’s that morning.  The 10 blocks to the starting area served as my warm up, and I took advantage of the bag drop so I’d have some extra clothes to put on after the finish.  I wanted to hit the porta-potties one last time before starting, but by the time I checked my bag, the National Anthem was already playing.

Not wanting to miss the start, I made my way into the starting corral and took up a spot behind the 1:50:00 wave.  I planned to run a tad slower at the beginning, so I didn’t want to get in the 1:45:00 group and get trampled.  I figured that if I caught that group though, I’d have met my pacing goal.

Garmin Data

Course Map

Miles 1-3 (8:25)(8:28)(8:18)

Karen is a big proponent of starting of slow, and instructed me to shoot for 8:30 miles for the first three miles.  As expected, most of the 1:50:00 pace group went right by me after the start, but I resisted the urge to speed up and keep pace with them.  The course was pretty much dead flat as it headed down West Broad Street, and I was having no problems hitting my 8:30 miles.  If anything, I was having trouble holding back.  I was slightly fast on the first two miles, and then ran 8:18 for mile 3 by design.  As always, I was worried about “making up” the time on the back end, so I exercised a small amount of civil disobedience by making the third mile a little faster than the first two.

Just before mile 2.5, the course turned right onto Belvedere Street.  There was a small hill over a bridge near The Diamond, which hits you around mile 19 in the full marathon.  I was thankful that I was hitting that hill so early in my race, and was ready to pick up my pace as I reached the far side.

Miles 4-6 (7:58)(7:57)(7:59)

As soon as my Garmin tripped three miles, I picked up the pace.  By that point, I was about 25 yards behind the 1:50 pace group, which was comprised of about thirty people.  The wind was blowing directly into our faces, not terribly hard, but definitely noticeable.  I was gaining on the group, but tried to tuck in behind them as much as possible to get some relief from the headwind.  After a half mile or so though, I passed the front of the group and slid out ahead of it.

By mile 5, I was still feeling good, but was feeling the first signs of fatigue setting in.  Nothing terrible, but the easy part was definitely over.  I also knew that the hilly portion of the course was coming up once I entered Bryan Park around mile 5.5.  I focused on keeping my breathing under control, and rolled over the first hill in the park without too much difficulty.  There was a little more elevation gain in mile 6, but again, nothing terrible.

Miles 7-9 (8:03)(8:07)(7:53)

Mile 7 was the worst of the course (elevation-wise), but having endured the Hell of Chattanooga a few months prior, it really was’t all that bad.  My pace deteriorated a little, and I was a bit surprised by the fact that Bryan Park seemed to go on and on.  I finally broke out of the park by mile 7.5, and I knew that the course was predominantly flat or downhill from that point forward.  My race had focused on being ready to turn it on once I got out of the park, and even though it was beginning to hurt, I felt like there was still plenty in the tank.

Mile 8 was fairly flat, but I only managed to run an 8:07 mile.  I’m really not sure why it wasn’t faster, but perhaps I was still recovering a bit from the last hill in Bryan Park.  Nevertheless, mile 9 was done in 7:53 as I began my gradual acceleration towards the finish.

Miles 10-12(7:51)(7:46)(7:38)

Miles 10-12 were a gut check, but I was able to consistently drop my pace, even as the pain steadily grew.  I knew that the outcome of my race largely depended upon how I did in those three miles, and that I needed to run below my overall goal pace in order to finish under 1:45:XX.  This was the same part of the course that makes or breaks the full marathon folks, and my mood was only slightly better during the half than it was in years past in running the full.  There is a decent amount of crowd support in those miles, but I was deep in the well of pain, so I pretty much wanted to fight anybody who said that I was almost done.

Since the course was fairly flat, I was able to keep accelerating and I was actually a bit surprised to see my pace creeping down towards 7:30/mile late in the race.  I was bolstered by the fact that the last quarter mile or so was all downhill, and I was able to keep pushing, even as the wheels felt like they were about to fall off.

Miles 13-13.1 (7:06)(6:02 pace)

The last full mile hurt like hell, but I turned in a 7:06, which made me very happy.  My legs felt like they were turning to Jello and the sides starting closing in a bit.  As much as it hurt, I focused on one block at a time and knew that the pain was almost over.

After making the last right turn to head downhill to the finish line, it was a quasi-sprint towards the end.  I was concerned that my quads might give out on the steep descent, and I was passing people left and right as I let gravity take over without braking.  Based upon my Garmin, I felt like I was going to make my sub-1:45:00 goal, but there was still some concern that my unofficial timing might be off.  The last thing I wanted was to run a 1:45:01, so I kept pushing all the way through the finish.  As it turned out, I had 30 seconds to spare, so my pacing had been spot on.  Actually, I should say that Karen’s pacing was spot on.

Post-Race

Upon finishing, I kept moving through the finishing chute and did my best to keep from locking up.  I was feeling pretty famished, so I made my way through the food line and began looking for the bag claim.  Unfortunately, it was way back near the finish line, and by the time I got there, most of the people in my wave had already lined up to get their bags.  I stood there shivering for the better part of an hour to get my bag and some warm clothes.  Had I gone straight to the bag claim after finishing, it probably would have only taken five minutes.  Oh well, live and learn.

After it was all said and done, I felt like my pacing for this race was nearly perfect.  I started out slow and built into my goal pace and beyond, leaving myself 30 seconds to spare.  I was hurting pretty severely at the end, but it left me wondering if I’d left any time on the course and whether I could have run any faster if I’d set my goal a little higher.  Maybe.  Maybe not.  Its easy to think that in hindsight after the pain subsides.

As the Richmond Half Marathon ended, so did my 2017 race year.  It ended on a high note, but, as always, it was bittersweet to know that nothing was on the race calendar for several months.  Truthfully, I needed a rest, even though I wasn’t planning on tackling a full Ironman in 2018.  The plan for 2018 was to build speed with shorter races, culminating with a half-Ironman in late 2018, but I was already chomping at the bit to get to the speed work.

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“I’m fired up and tired of the way that things have been…”

2017 Petersburg Halloween 5k

Race Report

23:59     (7:43 min/mile)**     1/9 AG     6/196 Overall

**Actual pace of 6:58/mile based upon GPS distance of 3.44 miles

October 21, 2017 – After having recovered from Ironman Chattanooga for about a month, I decided on the fly to sign up for the Halloween 5k in Petersburg on Saturday, October 21st.  “On the fly” meant registering on Friday at lunchtime, and I was motivated by my plan to spend the 12 months post-IMChoo building my running speed.  Running is my weakest discipline in triathlon, and I was tired of climbing the AG standings in the swim and run, only to slide down on the run.  Thus, 2018 was already planned to be the year of speed work, and there was no use in waiting until the end of the year to start the process.  After a few mouse clicks, I was signed up and ready to run.

The 5k was being held in conjunction with a half-marathon, and a lot of the 5k participants were running in costume.  The thought of running in my Batman costume briefly crossed my mind, but I was looking to run fast, not flashy.  I’d never run a 5k at a 7:00 min/mile pace or faster, so that was definitely my goal, and that pace equates to a 21:45 5k.  My legs were pretty well recovered from Chattanooga, so I thought that I could pull it off if I had a good day.  I definitely didn’t want to report back to Karen with anything above a 7:00 min/mile pace, because I knew the “Big Baby” comments would be copious if I did.

The weather for race day was cool but not cold, and I arrived in Petersburg about an hour before race time.  Due to my late registration, the check-in folks didn’t have my information, so after waiting in line to get my bib for 10 minutes, I had to go back to my car to get my cell phone so that I could show them my confirmation email.  After getting squared away after another wait in line, I did a short warm up to get ready for the race.

Race Results Link

Garmin Data

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Mile 1 (7:08)

While not terribly hilly, the course wasn’t exactly flat either, with 157 feet of elevation gain.  The first two miles were primarily uphill, with the remainder having a slight decline.  Thus, I planned to run the first two miles slightly above a 7:00 min/mile pace and then accelerate downhill towards the finish.

I positioned myself near the front at the start, and when the gun went off, there were about twenty people ahead of me.  About five of them were kids, and most of the kids were pretty much sprinting so I knew that they’d burn out quickly.  There were a few really good runners up ahead though, and a couple of them pulled away fast.  There was a ten year old and an older black gentleman slightly ahead of me, and I tucked in behind them in the first mile.

The course went uphill pretty quickly, then flattened out as we did a 180 degree turn.  It was then uphill once again.  I did my best to take it relatively easy on the hills, and I kept waiting for the ten year old to wear himself out.  He was clearly overrunning the course, and I thought that he’d melt down in the first mile.  I hit the 1 mile point at 7:08, and was right on my pacing goal.  There was certainly some fatigue, but overall, I was feeling okay.

Mile 2 (7:05)

The older gentleman began to gradually pull away from me, and the kid kept on trucking, staying about 10-15 yards ahead.  His breathing was getting more and more labored, as was mine, but I felt like I was pacing properly.  The course took us west on Hinton Street, and there were some rolling hills, but nothing as steep as in the first mile.

Near the end of mile 2 I finally passed the young boy, and I was pretty sure that his goose was cooked because he looked like he was hurting really bad.  Fatigue was definitely setting in for me, but I was comforted by the thought that the final 1.1 miles would be primarily downhill.  I completed mile 2 in 7:05, and was holding my pace very well.

Mile 3 (6:50)

By mile 2.25 we turned right to head north for a block, and then the course made another right turn to head back east towards the finish line.  I was hurting pretty good by that point, but the slight decline made things a bit better.  As did the thought that I was almost done.  There were still a few uphill portions in mile 3, and those obscured my view of the course ahead of me…and what I thought was the finish.

By the time my GPS hit 2.8 miles I had crested the final hill and had started my finishing kick.  Still, I couldn’t see the finish line ahead of me and was wondering were it might me.  My overall pace was hovering just above 7:00 mins/mile, so I kicked it up a notch, knowing that I was almost done.

Mile 3 to 3.44 (6:26 pace)

When my GPS tripped three miles I was still running east and was a couple of blocks south of the finish area near the river.  I was running on fumes by then and my finishing kick was really running out of “kick.” I finally saw a left turn up ahead, but it seemed like it was WAY up ahead, well beyond another tenth of a mile.  In actuality, I hit the left turn at mile 3.3 and I still had another couple of blocks to run to the finish line.

I was pretty well spent by that point, but managed to keep it together based upon a surge of energy that was fueled by a mixture of anger and relief.  I finally crossed the finish line in 23:59 with my GPS reading 3.44 miles.  That’s quite a bit off of 3.1 miles, and I’d done my best to run the tangents so as not to add any extra distance.  Thus, I was convinced that the course was long and that my GPS wasn’t off.

Post Race

After finishing, I immediately found some of the other finishers and compared my GPS to theirs.  Pretty much everybody had 3.44 to 3.5 miles, so I’m quite confident that the course was significantly longer than advertised.  I also posted my thoughts on the actual distance on the race’s Facebook page, and everyone who responded confirmed that they had a similar distance on their GPS.

My actual pace from my Garmin was 6:58 min/mile, which was a PR for me – even if it was unofficial.  I was very happy with that, particularly since I was less than thirty days  out from IMCHoo.  I didn’t stick around the race site very long, but it turned out that I’d won my AG (1/9) and had finished 6/196 overall.  I might have won some cool bling, but I guess I’ll never know since I didn’t stay to collect it.

On another note, the kid who was running ahead of me and who faded at mile 2 ended up finishing about 1.5 minutes after me.  He definitely fell off of his initial pace, but not as much

as I expected, so good for him.  He might have beaten me if he’d paced himself a little better.  Pretty awesome though for a ten year old.

Next up for me was the Richmond Half Marathon in November, where I was trying to run a sub-8:00 minute/mile pace.  I still had some training to do, but felt pretty good with where I was after a good showing in Petersburg.

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“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.

patriots swim finish

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.

patriots t run

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

Bike:  2:46:02 (21.1 mph)  6/26 AG

patriots bike mount

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

patriots transition

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!

patriots chair

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.

Super 8

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.

parkway

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.