Taking Stock – 2019 Year in Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“The smell of hospitals in winter…”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2019 Martinsville Turkey Day 5k

Race Report

22:06     (7:06 min/mile)

1/8 AG     12/156 Overall

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

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

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

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

Race

GPS Data

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Mile 1 (6:56)

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

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

Mile 2 (7:41)

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

Mile 3 (7:14)

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

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

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

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

2019 Ironman Louisville Race Report

11:04:19

 113 AG     737 Overall

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

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

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

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

GPS Data

Swim (Cancelled)

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Bike: 6:13:15  (18.0 mph)  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

T2 (9:55)

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

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

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

Run: 4:41:29    (10:45 min/mile) 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

algae

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

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

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“Pink ribbon scars that never forget…”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

“Rather be the hunter than the prey…”

2019 OBX Half-Iron Triathlon

Race Report

4:38:02

 1/11 AG     8/73 Overall

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

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

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

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

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

Race Results Link

Swim (Cancelled)

T1: 1:15       (5/73)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

T2: 2:10    (19/73)

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

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

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Run Course in blue.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

obx run.jpg

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

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

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

Mile 13 (9:44)

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

Post Race

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

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

obx podium.jpgobx place

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

“But innocence is gone, and what was right is wrong…”

2019 Robious Landing Triathlon

Race Report

1:16:29

 2/14 AG     24/255 Overall

June 30, 2019 – The Robious Landing Sprint Triathlon is the only tri I’ve done every year since getting into the sport in 2014, and its pretty much my favorite race.  I typically sign up as soon as registration opens, so as race week 2019 approached I looked for my pre-race email.  By the time that Wednesday of race week rolled around and I didn’t have a participant email, I logged onto the race website and looked at the newly released bib list.  My name was missing, and I was convinced that the race had flubbed up.

An exhaustive review of my inbox and deleted mail folders ensued, and I finally came to the conclusion that I’d only registered for the race in my head.  Online registration had closed by that point, and there was nothing confirming that walk up registration was still an option.  After kicking myself several dozen times over the next few days, I presented myself at packet pickup and finally confirmed that I could register in person.  I’d have a crappy bib number and rack location, but at least I was racing.

My friend Clay Westbay was also racing, and I offered to give him a ride to the race site so his wife (Michelle) could sleep in a bit.  I reminded Clay that I’m completely anal about getting to transition as soon as it opens, but thankfully he was a good sport.  He didn’t even forget his GPS this time and make me turn around and go back to get it.  We made it to Robious Landing around 5:30 a.m. and got ourselves set up in transition.  After doing the obligatory pre-race routine of porta-pottying, warming up and stretching, it was time to walk up to the swim start.

robious rack

A crappy spot if there ever was one.

The swim start is about 650 meters upriver from transition, and its a fairly long walk on dirt/gravel trails in bare feet.  Thanks to his under-40 youthfulness, Clay was in the first swim wave, with me in the second wave a few minutes behind him.  After wishing him luck, we parted ways and got ourselves ready to start.

GPS Data

Swim (Stopped in progress)

The swim had been cancelled two of the last three years due to dangerously high river conditions because of storms, but the river was low and slow this time around – the slowest I’d ever seen it for the race.  I was happy about that since I usually do pretty well in the swim, and I wanted as little current-assist for the field as possible.  Clay and the rest of the under-40 men took off at 7:00 a.m., and then my swim wave entered the water and swam backwards against the current until it was time for us to begin.  After a few minutes the horn sounded and we took off.  I got into a nice groove right out of the gates, and I love the Robious swim, so I felt totally comfortable.  I was swimming really well for about 200 meters, and then everything went sideways.

I heard “stop, stop stop,” and when I looked up, two girls on paddle boards had blocked the center of the river where we were swimming.  They said that a swimmer from the first wave had gone under, and to my right there was a volunteer who’d been in a kayak bobbing up and down trying to find him where he’d gone under.  My swim wave was told to stay put, so we began treading water backwards to keep the current from taking us downstream.  After several minutes, however, we really didn’t know what to do and were getting tired of fighting the current.  Thus, we began swim (slowly) towards the swim finish about 450 meters down river.  All of us were pretty much in shock about what was happening.

As we approached the swim exit, it was was apparent that the spectators didn’t know what was happening.  I think that some of them were aware that there was an issue upstream, but none knew the severity of the situation.  They were yelling at us to “go” and were saying “great job,” but they must have been confused by the fact that we were all moving so slowly.

At that point, I didn’t know what we were supposed to do, but I presumed that all of the swimming for the day was over.  The first swim wave had already finished the swim and had gone out onto the bike course, and the remaining swim waves were upstream still waiting to start.  As I walked towards the transition area I saw one of the race officials, who obviously was on top of the situation since he had a radio in his hand.  He told me that the swim was cancelled for all participants, and that my swim wave should get our bikes and then head out onto the bike course.  Our race would begin as soon as we exited transition.

As I looked around at the other guys in my swim wave, we were all a bit shell shocked and bewildered.  It had been about 15-20 minutes since the swimmer had gone under and the rescue operation was ongoing, so everyone was assuming the worst.  My primary concern once I got back to transition was checking to see if Clay’s bike was still racked, and thankfully it was gone.  That meant that he’d completed his swim and was out on the bike course.

Quite frankly, I didn’t really know what to do, so I took a few minutes to collect myself.  Quitting wouldn’t do anything to help the situation, but I still felt ambiguous about racing after what had just occurred during the swim.  Some of the other guys began to head out onto the bike course, so I figured that I would as well, so I put on my helmet and shoes and walked over to the mounting area.

Bike: 51:54        (21.8 mph)        (1/14 AG)

robious bike.PNG

Honestly, I don’t recall a ton of the details of the race itself, and I think I’ve tried to block a lot of the day from my memory.  I don’t even remember riding with Clay to the race, but I’m sure we did since we had planned it out so his wife could arrive later in the morning.  In fact, Michelle was going to bring my kids with her when she came (since Leigh Anne was out of town), but ultimately, they decided to stay home and I’m glad they did.

The Robious bike is an out and back (with two turns), and is uphill going out and downhill coming back in.  There’s a long climb just before the turnaround cone, with the steepest portion at the end.  I took off up the hill away from the river and then turned right onto Robious Road.  I determined early on that I wasn’t going to look at my GPS until I finished the ride, and just figured that I’d ride hard as I could and see where that left me.

I was pretty much riding all alone since the guys in my swim wave took our time in collecting ourselves and taking off, and I finally saw guys from the first swim wave heading back towards me as I was a few miles from the turnaround point.  I was thinking to myself that those guys had no idea what had occurred since they’d all kept swimming as the tragedy was unfolding behind them.  I wondered what they’d find when they got back to transition.

I rode hard up the hill to the turnaround cone, and my most vivid memory from the ride is seeing Mindy directing the bikes around the cone since she was volunteering.  She asked me how I was doing, and I said something like, “terrible, I think someone drowned.”  Since she didn’t have a radio, the news hadn’t made its way to her yet – not that it needed to at that point.

I rounded the cone and screamed back down the hill I’d just climbed.  I saw a few guys from my swim wave climbing up the other side, but by the time I got back to Robious Road I’d stopped seeing bikers coming in the other direction.  As I headed east on Robious for several miles I saw no one, and I wondered if they’d let anyone else start the bike after my wave.  By the time I got within a mile of the bike finish, however, I began to seek other bikers trickling out onto the course.  Apparently, the swimmers behind my wave eventually walked back down to transition and began a time trial start.

I cruised down the hill towards the transition area and tried to get my heart rate under control for the run.  I finally glanced at my GPS and saw that I’d averaged just under 22 mph for the ride, which was very good considering the hills.  My time of 51:54 was the fastest in my age group, and TrainingPeaks would later tell me that I set an all-time 20 minute heart rate record during my climb to the turnaround point.  I guess I’d lost myself somewhere in my thoughts and pushed myself pretty hard even though I was feeling a bit numb.

PP

Hr

20 minute HR record in the blue.

T2: :51     (3/14/ AG)

I had a fast transition, but it was only good enough for third in my age group.  As you can see from my pre-race picture above, my bike was racked off the beaten path against the outer fence, so that cost me a bit of time.  As I entered and exited T2 there was some crowd support, but it was definitely muted when compared to prior years.  As I headed out on the run, there were still a good amount of bikers waiting for their turn to take off in the time trial start.

Run: 23:46         (7:39 min/mile)

Robious run.png

Mile 1 (8:27)

The Robious run is always slow.  You’re on winding dirt/gravel trails for the first mile, and you have to watch your footing.  There are also a few small hills thrown in, which keep you from getting going.  I did check my pace as I was running, and was disappointed to see 8:27 for the first mile.  In actuality, I’d probably been a bit further than a mile when my GPS tripped since it gets a little wonky on trails.  The GPS only checks your location every few seconds, so when you’re winding around it doesn’t realize that you’ve gone quite as far as you have.

Mile 2 (7:29)

The second mile is basically an out and back in a nearby neighborhood, and the pavement finally allows you to open up a bit.  The downside is that you’re running in direct sunlight, but the temperature wasn’t as bad as it’d been in years past.  Still, the humidity was high, so there was some overheating going on.  Clay was half-way out of the neighborhood when I was half-way in, and we exchanged nods as we passed.  He was still blissfully ignorant of what had happened during the swim, and wouldn’t find out until he finished.

After I hit the turnaround cone I tried to accelerate a little bit more, but that was largely unsuccessful.  My legs were pretty beat from the bike and my willpower was somewhat lacking as well.

Mile 3 (7:49)

The last mile was out of the neighborhood and back into the wooded trails, but there was a little running on pavement to another turnaround cone.  As with most of the race, I was basically running alone, so there wasn’t anyone near me to push me.  I did feel like I was pushing hard, but I don’t think I had the motivation to find that final gear.  I wound through the trails some more and finally began to hear the noise coming from the finishing area.  I came out of the woods one last time into the finishing chute to find a very muted crowd.  I crossed the finish line in 1:16:29, which left me 2/14 in my age group.  I’d missed first pace by 31 seconds, and as always seems to be the case, I got passed on the run.

results

Post-Race

After finishing, I learned that the rescue operation was still ongoing, and by that point, everyone knew what the outcome was going to be so there was a somber mood about the crowd.  They cancelled the post-race awards, which was fine since no one really felt like celebrating anyways.  Eventually, someone told me who it was that hadn’t made it out of the water, and it was someone that I’d met several times, but not someone that I knew well.  I frequent the restaurant where he worked though, and his bike is hanging on the wall next to the bar.  Its a sad reminder of a terrible day.

As the news stories began to come out after the race, I was disturbed and angered by the coverage.  The journalists interviewed people who had nothing to do with the race, and who knew nothing about the incident itself.  The interviews seemed to be designed to give misinformation about the river conditions, and one reporter even broadcast that the incident happened during an “obstacle course race.”  Given the magnitude of the situation, the media could have done better – for the race and for the family.

Anyways, I could go way down the rabbit hole with my personal and professional feelings about what happened, but that wouldn’t really serve any purpose.  Suffice it to say that the Richmond triathlon community came together in a great way after the race to try to help support the family of the deceased, and hopefully the family was able to find some solace in that effort.

Personally, I didn’t have a race on my calendar until the OBX Half-Iron triathlon in September, and I was glad that I didn’t have to focus on another race for a while.  Sometimes we lose sight of just how easy it is for things to go wrong in this sport, and the Robious Landing Triathlon was a sober reminder of that fact.  That was in addition to Bob Busher getting hit by a car on the bike course at the RTC Sprint Triathlon in April.  You hear about bad things happening in other races, but you never really think they’ll happen to you or to those around you.  Training and racing triathlons isn’t easy and it isn’t always fun, but we all do it because the positives far outweigh the negatives.  Unfortunately, 2019 wasn’t off to a good start, and my rose colored glasses and been shattered for sure.

 

“Ride like the wind, at double speed…”

2019 Ironman Virginia 70.3

Race Report – Part 2

5:04:02

 39/173 AG     204/1539 Overall

May 5, 2019 – The alarm went off around 4:00 a.m. inside the luxurious confines of the Holiday Inn Express – Williamsburg on race morning.  A contact lens had rolled upon into my eye the morning before, and it’d been giving me a devil of a time all of Saturday.  I was desperately hoping that it would come out over night as in times past, but it was still up in there and my eye was hurting badly.  It was already going to be a long day, and I didn’t want to spend 5+ hours on the course dealing with an eye issue on top of everything else.  Thus, I went into the bathroom and made one last ditch effort to fish the contact out of my brain.  Somehow it came out, so I knew it was going to be a good day!

It had rained heavily overnight, and I was regretting not covering my bike seat with a plastic bag when I racked it the day before.  After getting dressed, Leigh Anne and I hopped in my car to make the fifteen minute drive to the race site at the Chickahominy Riverfront Park.  We had a parking sticker on the outside of my windshield so we wouldn’t have to take a shuttle over from Jamestown, and as I was driving, I immediately began to wonder if the sticker had blown off since it’d gotten wet.  If it had, then we’d have to backtrack to Jamestown and then try to get on a shuttle, which would be a time consuming process.  I half-convinced myself that the pass was gone since I couldn’t see it through my windshield, and I was already of the mindset that I’d have to dump Leigh Anne out and then drive back to Jamestown.  Due to the traffic congestion, that would probably result in me barely making the swim start.  Of course, my normal paranoia was way off base and we got into the race site without any issues.

We found Candace, Busher and Mills in the transition area, and after the standard pre-race prep, we donned our wet suits and walked over towards the swim start.  Leigh Anne and Candace decided to make one last portapotty stop, so the rest of us said our goodbyes and pushed on into the swim line.

pre IMVA

GPS Data

Swim:  33:42 (1:44/100m) 

swim.png

The swim was a self-seeded start, which began in a creek and finished in the Chickahominy River.  I finagled myself into the line between the 30 and 35 minute signs, and it took about ten minutes or so from the starting gun before it was my turn to jump off the dock.  It had rained a little bit while I was in line, but the rain had tapered off by the time I took off.

As soon as I put my face in the water I noticed that it was a very muddy brown color.  I’ve swam in plenty of rivers, including the Chickahominy, but the water in the creek was probably the grossest that I can recall.  The first 100 meters or so went fine, but then somebody hit my goggles and knocked them loose.  I struggled to get them back on my face without any water in them, and they began fogging up soon thereafter.  My lenses are slightly tinted, so between the overcast conditions, the tinting and the fogging, I couldn’t see for shit.  That caused my anxiety to rise a bit, followed by my heart rate, which made it difficult to keep my breathing under control.  This continued for pretty much my entire swim.

The sighting buoys in the creek weren’t quite as straight as I’d anticipated them, and I felt like I was constantly struggling to stay near the middle of the course.  My inability to see much wasn’t helping either.  I figured that I’d settle into the swim after the first few minutes, but I just couldn’t get comfortable and I couldn’t get into a good rhythm.  It seemed like forever before I got to the left turn buoy to head south into the main portion of the river.

I did try to wipe off my goggles once or twice, but I was unable to get them to stay clear, and my swim downriver was pretty much as unpleasant as the swim up the creek.  There was still a fair amount of congestion with the other swimmers, so I tried to stay off to the right to find some clean water.  Eventually, I was able to make out the dock that marked the swim exit, but it didn’t feel like I’d ever get there.  I finally made it to the dock and dragged myself out of the water, and I’ve never been so happy to finish a swim since I started doing triathlons.  Its usually my favorite part.

There was then a run up the dock to the timing mat, and I officially finished the swim in 33:42.  Oddly enough, my swim was a 16 second PR for me for 1.2 miles, but the wetsuit certainly helped.  I’m not sure if there was a current assist, but we did swim upstream and then downstream, so any current should have mostly evened out.  Still, it felt like a terrible swim, and PR aside, I feel like I left 2-3 minutes out there.

T1: 4:10

T1 involved a run up from the dock to an area that had wetsuit strippers.  I’d already unzipped and had gotten my wetsuit down to my waist as I ran off the dock, and as I plopped down on my butt I heard Jill yelling at me from somewhere.  I looked for her, but wasn’t able to find her, and by that point, my wetsuit had been pulled off my lower body so it was time to get moving.

t1

Photo and effects courtesy of Michelle Westbay.

There was then a long run around the side of the transition area, and then I had to double back towards the swim area to get to where my bike was racked.  The ground was really wet and muddy, so I tried to wipe the mud off of my feet before putting on my bike shoes.  It wasn’t too far from the bike-out area from my transition spot, and once I got onto the pavement and crossed the mounting line, I was off.

Bike:  2:29:19 (22.5 mph)  

bike.png

The only plan that Karen put in place for me for this race was that she wanted me to bike as hard as I could and then see what happened on the run.  There’s usually some pacing involved to save energy for the run, but Karen wanted me to basically treat the bike leg as a time trial effort.  Somehow, that would give her good data to use for my pacing plan at Ironman Louisville in October – at least that’s what she told me.  Since she was coming to spectate, maybe she just wanted to see a spectacular explosion on the run course since I’ve probably made one-too-many Canadian jokes at her expense.

As soon as I got on my bike, the heavens opened up and it began raining.  Not a deluge, but not a light rain either.  It was a solid soaking rain that would last until I racked my bike in T2.  I honestly didn’t mind the rain, and its better than scorching sun (or wind), but I was worried about some of the hills and turns that would be coming towards the end of the bike course.

The IMVA bike course can be broken up into three parts.  There’s the northwest section from the race site up to the neutral time area at the train tracks of about 22 miles.  This is fast and flat, and is all on Route 5 until you turn right at the Charles City Courthouse to head north to Providence Forge.  The second section is also pretty fast, and runs about 13 miles southeast from Providence Forge towards Toano on Route 60.  The final portion is  to the south after turning off of Route 60, and involves a lot of twists and turns, along with some pretty steep hills and rough pavement.  The last bit is about 21 miles, to cap off the 56 mile ride.

As soon as I got out onto Route 5 I had to go over the Route 5 bridge, and then I took off and got into a groove.  Heading northwest on Route 5 is very slightly uphill, but there was no wind to slow me down.  There was a lot of bike traffic in the first five miles, but I was able to pass without any issues.  I almost ran over two turtles, but that was the extent of the drama.  Eventually, I got in with two or three other guys who were moving about the same speed, and we took turns leapfrogging each other.  Motorcycle officials rode with us almost all the way up Route 5, and then stayed near us for another few miles  after we turned right at the courthouse.  We were all keeping the minimum 6-bike (Ironman) distance between ourselves, so nobody got a drafting penalty.  Even at 6 bike lengths, there’s still a small drafting advantage, so it helps to ride with some other people.

My speed split for miles 1-5 was 21.5 miles per hour, which was great considering the fact that I had to come up out of transition and then go over the bridge.  My split for miles 6-10 was 23.0 and then 23.1 for miles 11-15, so I was moving at a good clip.  I felt great and was keeping my legs at the point where they were barely loading, but I was wondering if I could keep up the effort for a full 56 miles.  In previous 70.3 races, I’ve always paced myself on the bike in order to leave something in reserve for the run.  Had I been holding back too much?  We’d find out soon enough – for better or for worse.

The course took a right turn to the north around mile 15, and I saw coach Karen and Mindy at the turn as spectators.  There were some smaller hills in that portion of the course, but nothing major.  I kept pushing hard on the uphill portions when some of the other riders eased up, so I kept moving forward through the field.  I wouldn’t have been pushing quite so hard under normal circumstances, but I was still feeling good.

Just after mile 22, the course had a sharp 150 degree turn, which made everyone slow down pretty dramatically.  Shortly thereafter, we went into a mandatory slow zone and crossed a timing mat into a “neutral time zone” since we had to cross a dangerous set of train tracks.  Thereby, our official times stopped until we crossed the tracks and hit a timing mat on the other side.  The “neutral time zone” was about a tenth of a mile, and it really compressed the field going into and coming out of it.

From there, we turned right onto Route 60, which was another fast portion of the course.  The right lane was coned off for us, and passing was a little more precarious due to the cones and also due to the presence of a lot of vehicular traffic on Route 60.  Since the field had compressed in the slow zone around the train tracks, there was also a lot more bike traffic to deal with.

While heading down Route 60, there were about ten bikers who were all moving similar speeds.  I passed them all to start with and tried to leave them behind, but I just couldn’t get away from them.  As soon as I got to the front, the rest came along single file in my wake.  None appeared to be illegally drafting since they were keeping the necessary spacing, but it turned into a long line of leapfrogging.  Basically, once you started to pass from behind, you had to go all the way to the front because otherwise you’d cut into someone’s 6 bike length space and then you and the person behind you could get nailed for illegally drafting.  This continued for most of the way down Route 60 and was frustrating.  Again, everyone seemed to be doing their best to not break any drafting rules, but it was too close for comfort.  Another course marshal on a motorcycle did pass us during that stretch, and he obviously saw no violations because he kept on going.

There were a couple of small climbs towards the end of Route 60 and I took the opportunity to put in some extra effort to get away from the group on the uphills.  I was successful that time, and by the time I turned off of Route 60, there were only two other riders in my general vicinity.  That’s when the “fun” part of the course really began.

Miles 35-39 weren’t too bad, but then around mile 40 the road really narrowed and passing became dangerous.  There were also some really rough patches of pavement, and one area was so bad there was another mandatory “slow” zone.  There was a really steep hill immediately after the “slow” zone, and I saw several people walking their bikes up the hill.  I managed to climb to the top without stopping, and then there were several more steep hills before the course dumped us back out on Route 5.

From there, it was a straight shot back to transition, and I was able to make pretty good time in the final stretch.  I eased up a bit as I got close to the race site to get my heart rate down, and then coasted into the dismount line.  My time was 2:29:19 for the 56 mile ride, which equated to an average pace of 22.5 miles per hour.  That was a huge PR for me on the bike, and honestly, I never thought I’d be able to sustain that sort of pace in a half-iron distance race, so that’s a testament to the bike workouts that Erin has been punishing me with over the past three years.

With the swim and bike in the books, it was time to find out if I had anything left in the tank for the half-marathon or whether I’d overcooked my proverbial goose on the bike.

T2: 2:39

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 mild 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.  I’d regret that decision later.

Run: 1:54:12  (8:43/mile)

run.png

Normally, I run the first three miles of the half marathon about thirty seconds slower than my goal pace and try to negative split the run.  As I came out of transition, however, I looked at my GPS and noticed that I could go sub-5 hours if I ran a 1:50 half marathon – an 8:24/mile pace.  My PR in a stand alone half marathon is about 1:45, so that was going to be a pretty tall task, and would amount to a significant run PR for me in a 70.3 triathlon.  I’m not sure if I was giddy from my bike split or if I was just having delusions of grandeur, but I decided to just throw caution to the wind come out of the gates hot.  It was already a “lets get nuts” kind of a race, so I decided to see just how far I could push it.

Miles 1-3  (8:22)(8:19)(8:23)

As soon as I took off on the run the clouds parted and the sun came out.  It wasn’t super hot, but there was 100% humidity since it’d been raining all morning.  The water on the ground started to evaporate, so it was like you were getting a steam bath as you ran.  It wouldn’t be horrible at the outset, but the humidity would eventually begin to have its way with everyone on the course.

My legs felt surprising good off the bike, but there was a nice hill coming out of transition, followed by my first of four transits up and over the bridge.  I was still making really good time, and its common to over run the first mile or two after getting off the bike since your legs are used to the fast cadence of the pedals.  I kept trying to slow myself down a bit, but I was constantly hovering around an 8:20 pace.  I typically run 9 minute miles (or thereabout) for the first few miles in a 70.3, so this was a significant pacing difference.  It felt easy at the time, but I knew deep down that it was probably a bad idea and that the suffering was in the mail.

Miles 4-6 (8:32)(8:32)(8:34)

The run was a simple out and back on the Capital Trail that you did twice, so the run turnaround was just after the mile 3 marker.  I saw Karen and Mindy just before and after the turnaround and was able to say a few words to them.  I was still doing OK at that point, but the ease of the first three miles had come and gone.  The pace was getting tougher to hold, and I was losing a bit of time at the aid stations to take in fluids.  I was kicking myself for leaving my water bottle in transition since that would have allowed me to bypass (at least some) of the aid stations.

Miles 7-9 (9:04)(8:32)(8:44)

Mile 7 was slow because I hit the bridge coming back in and then again heading back out for the second loop, and climbing to the top was getting progressively harder.  Running through turnaround point was also slow since it was in a grassy area, which had largely turned to mud because of the rain.  As I headed back onto the second loop, a sub-1:50 half marathon (and a sub-5 hour race) was still doable based upon my run pace up to that point, but I already knew that I wasn’t going to be able to hold that pace much longer.  Much less for another 6.5 miles.

Mile 8 started on the west side of the bridge, and I was largely able to keep it together.  Still, I was really beginning to hurt, and my quads were losing strength rapidly.  By mile 9, I was really beginning to slip fast, and I was falling into a well of pain and despair.  I saw Karen and Mindy again just before the final turnaround, but I wasn’t really able to say much since I was getting into dire straights.  Mile 9 was a respectable 8:44 pace, but I felt like I was running harder and harder, but was continually getting slower.  Getting the nutrition and hydration that I needed at the aid stations was taking longer and longer as well, and my body was totally resisting getting back up to speed after slowing for fluids.

Miles 10-12 (9:07)(9:00)(9:04)

Mile 10 finished just after the turnaround to head back in, and I felt like I was going into full-on blowup mode.  Walking was becoming more and more enticing by the minute, but I was still able to keep running.  Thankfully, the run course was largely flat, because when I did come across any sort of incline, my quads were revolting.  Somehow I managed to keep my pace from ballooning any further in miles 11 and 12, and I guess I was spurred on by the fact that I was almost done.  The run course was very crowded at that point, and I kept telling myself to be thankful that I wasn’t on my first loop like a lot of the other runners.

Mile 13 (8:49)

The last full mile began just before my fourth and final climb up the bridge, and I was able to coax myself to the finish since there was some crowd support, along with the promise of being done soon.  I saw Leigh Anne near the end of the bridge for the first time since that morning, and she was setting out on her first loop of the run course.  After crossing the bridge for the last time, I turned left into the park and ran through the muddy grass again.  There was then a final stretch on asphalt up through the finishing chute, and I tried to muster a strong finish, but there wasn’t really anything left in the tank.  I crossed the line, got my medal and then stumbled through the chute into the finishing area.  Feeling as bad as I did, it was the first time in my triathlon career that wondered how much longer I wanted to keep putting myself through the torture of long course racing.  Still, it was a massive PR for me at the 70.3 distance (~21 minutes), and I’d finished in 5:04:02.  On top of that, it was a PR for me on the run by ~2.5 minutes, even though I’d gone full send on the bike.

Post-Race

After sitting in the grass for a while to collect myself, I made my way to the food tent to grab a Coke in an attempt to re-balance my blood sugar.  I wasn’t feeling well enough to eat, so I went back to the finishing area to see some of my other friends and teammates finish up.  I saw Clay, Busher, Mills and Candace, and then walked down to the run turnaround to find Leigh Anne at the time when she would be finishing her first run loop.

When she appeared at the aid station near the turnaround she looked hot and bothered, and I yelled, “great job, you’re halfway done.”  There was some music playing, so Leigh Anne didn’t hear exactly what I said.  Since I’d gently teased her about taking her sweet time at the water stop (that our kids were working) at the RTC Sprint Triathlon the week before, I guess she assumed that I was telling her to hurry up.  Well…that didn’t go over very well, and she yelled at me to “shut up” and that her legs hurt.  The spectator next to me looked a little surprised at the level of her vehemence, and since I’d signed Leigh Anne up for the race (her first 70.3), I was concerned about what might be in store for me when she finished.  Later, she admitted to me that she wanted to physically harm me for the next three miles, but hey, I’ve had my own share of run course anger, so I wasn’t too surprised.

Eventually, Leigh Anne finished her second loop around the run course, and the rest of us ProK folks cheered her through the finish.  She “ugly cried” for a bit after finishing (her words not mine) and then joined us in the post-race area.  Her goal for the race was to finish under 7 hours, and she’d smashed that by finishing in 6:53:21.  Thankfully, her desire to cause me harm had abated somewhat on her second loop of the run course, so I wasn’t physically assaulted after she finished.  She probably won’t ever admit it, but I think she was ultimately glad that I’d signed her up for the race.  I keep waiting for her to say that she wants to tackle a full Ironman, but that hasn’t happened quite yet.

va finish.jpg

Busher – Candace – Me – Leigh Anne – Mills

Having had the chance to reflect upon my race for a while now, I’m thrilled with my 5:04:02 finishing time, even though I was toying with the prospect of going sub-5 hours for a bit.  Twenty-one minutes is a massive amount of time for me to shave off of my 70.3 PR, and a good bit of that was time was saved on the bike.  It takes race experience to learn just how hard you can push yourself without exploding before the end, and at IMVA 70.3 I learned that I could go harder than I previously thought.  I rode a near time trial effort on the bike and was still able to PR on the run in humid conditions.  I was dangerously close to having a full-blown explosion on the second loop of the run, but as bad as I felt for the last 4 miles, I was able to keep it (mostly) together.  Had I eased into the run a bit more instead of running 8:20’s right out of T2, I think I could have turned in a little faster time.  Oh well, live and learn.

The next race on my calendar was the Robious Landing Triathlon – the only triathlon I’ve done every year since I started racing in 2014.  Its probably my favorite race, even though the swim is cancelled half the time due to high river conditions.  Unfortunately, the 2019 version of the race would turn into a nightmare of a day.

“Take my hand, we’ll make it I swear…”

2019 Ironman Virginia 70.3

Race Report – Part 1

May 4, 2019 – You never know what sort of weather you’re going to get in Virginia in May, and the day before the inaugural Ironman Virginia 70.3 in Williamsburg, it was hot and humid.  So much so, that I was happy that the race was on Sunday instead of Saturday.  Still, the weather for race day was looking pretty iffy, with thunderstorms in the forecast all day.  The weatherman had called for thunderstorms all day Saturday too though, so maybe there was still some hope for a nice day of racing.  Maybe.

By the time I heard that an Ironman-brand race was coming to Virginia, my friend Busher was already signed up.  In fact, it was his Facebook post that clued me into the race’s existence.  I then watched as several of my other Richmond tri friends announced their participation as well.  I have major FOMO issues, so of course I wanted to join the party.

Leigh Anne had started dabbling in triathlons in 2016, and had completed her first Olympic distance race in the Fall of 2018.  She claimed that she wanted to do a Half-Iron distance race before she turned 40 (in December 2019), so Ironman Virginia 70.3 was the perfect race for her.  Close to home, relatively flat and the possibility of a wet-suit legal swim based upon the expected water temperature.

My wife is skilled at many things, but her ability to make firm decisions on things she has reservations about isn’t one of them.  In fact, had I not selected the paint colors and bought all of the painting supplies, the interior of our house would probably still be the same generic off-white color the builder painted it thirteen years ago.  Thus, I took the decision out of her hands and signed us both up at the same time.  That I knew, was a risky decision, and whether I lived or died (by her hand) most certainly hinged upon the outcome of her race.

Having been the impetus behind her registration, I did feel a certain obligation to make sure that she was properly trained.  Leigh Anne had been swimming with Karen (one of my coaches) for about a year, and attended Karen’s “Guppies” class two days a week.  To supplement her swim training, I gave her some thoughts on what she should be doing bike and run-wise, but certainly not with the expertise and detail that Karen and Erin provide for me.  Still, since Leigh Anne’s goal was merely to finish the race, my input was (hopefully) good enough to get her through it.  In general she was training 6-9 hours per week, which was certainly sufficient, especially since she’d already run several marathons.  As race day approached though, she was ready to get it over with since the training was making her tired and angry.  Her words, not mine.

Several of our other friends were doing the race as well, including Candace Broaddus and Mills Babbs, who also swim in Karen’s “Guppies” class.  It was to be their first 70.3 event as well, and it seemed like most of Richmond was signed up.  We tried to split a hotel room with Candace, but were unable to change our king bed room to a double room in time.  We ended up staying at the Holiday Inn Express in Williamsburg, and Candace was a few miles down the road in some hotel with tiny pillows.

As with most Ironman-brand races, we had to check our bikes in on Saturday, so Leigh Anne and I drove down that morning and got to the race site around 10:30.  We picked up our packets and then did a very short ride on our bikes to make sure everything was working properly.  After racking our bikes in transition, we went back into Ironman Village to sit through one of the pre-race briefings.  On the way, we ran into Busher and Jim Rosen and stopped for a quick photo op.

pre.jpg

It was scorching hot during the briefing, and I was glad that I’d brought two quarts of Gatorade with me, and both were gone by the time we left the race site.  During the briefing, the possibility of a swim cancellation was discussed in light of the forecasted thunder storms, and the bike course was discussed in detail.  Since the bike course crossed a set of train tracks (which might have a passing train on race day), there was a “neutral time zone” at the tracks, where your time would stop.  The race director also warned us about very narrow and dangerous roads starting around mile 40.  It was recommended that we drive the bike course to see what he was talking about.

While sitting at the race briefing, it struck me that I’d forgotten to let some air out of my bike tires when I racked it.  Tubes are known to explode on hot days, and I didn’t want to arrive the next morning to find two flat tires.  So, as soon as the briefing ended we all went to deflated our tires.  They’d be re-inflated the next morning prior to heading to the swim start.

rack

Ironman loves to put me at the end of the rack, which is fine by me.

Leigh Anne, Candace and I left the race site around 1:00 p.m., and after having lunch and checking into our hotels, we drove the bike course.  I was glad we did, because there was a ten mile stretch of road that was super narrow and rough.  In fact, one area near a bridge had tons of pot holes, so there was a mandatory “slow” zone there.  As luck would have it, there was a nasty climb right after the “slow” zone so you couldn’t even carry any speed into the hill.  It was also nice to see the “neutral time zone” near the railroad tracks to get a feel for it.

By the time we finished driving the bike course it was dinner time, so Leigh Anne, Candace and I hit up a local Italian restaurant and inadvertently ordered enough food for six people.  A lot of it went to waste since we weren’t going to take leftovers back to our hotel rooms, and we got to watch the Kentucky Derby from our table.  No pre-race meal is complete without a few Red Velvet Oreos, so we picked some up at the Food Lion near the restaurant.

From there, we all went back to our hotels and aimed for an early bedtime.  I checked the weather a few more times, and the forecast was still calling for thunderstorms all day.  I really didn’t care about rain, but lightening could cancel the race, or at least the swim.  Leigh Anne had convinced herself that she wasn’t going to make the swim cutoff, so she may have been secretly hoping that the swim would get cancelled.  I held out hope that the weather would be better than planned and finally fell asleep watching Happy Gilmore for about the thousandth time.  The alarm was set to go off around 4 a.m., so it was going to be a long day.