“Rather be the hunter than the prey…”

2019 OBX Half-Iron Triathlon

Race Report

4:38:02

 1/11 AG     8/73 Overall

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

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

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

obx rack

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

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

Race Results Link

Swim (Cancelled)

T1: 1:15       (5/73)

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

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

obx bike course

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

T2: 2:10    (19/73)

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

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

obx run course.png

Run Course in blue.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

obx run.jpg

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

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

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

Mile 13 (9:44)

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

Post Race

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

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

obx podium.jpgobx place

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

“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) 

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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)  

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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)

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

“A place that has to be believed to be seen…”

2019 RTC Sprint Triathlon

Race Report

1:03:04

3rd Masters Men (3/77)       12/196 Overall

April 27, 2019 – The Richmond Tri Club Sprint is one of the more popular local races, and one that I’ve done every year since 2015.  This time around, it was set eight days before the inaugural Ironman Virginia 70.3, so it would serve nicely as a tune up for that race.  I’d signed Leigh Anne up for the half-Ironman this past fall, so she decided to race the RTC Sprint as well (for the first time).  Since we were both racing we’d need childcare for Jackson and Jillian, but instead of getting a babysitter, we decided to press them into service as aid station volunteers for the race.  They were excited to volunteer, but decidedly NOT excited to have to leave home by 5:00 a.m.

I’d finally made the age group podium at the RTC Sprint in 2018 after three years of futility, and I really wanted to do so again in 2019.  An additional goal was to run a sub-7 minute pace for the 5k run, which I’d been working towards for years.  That equates to a 21:44 5k or better.  My fastest 5k off the bike had been a 7:08 pace (22:11) at the Smithfield Sprint a few weeks before, but I didn’t feel like I’d completely emptied my well on that run.  I’d run hard for sure, but for some reason, I just didn’t have the mental fortitude to find that final gear.

After that performance, and coming back to what I’d consider my home course, I fully believed that a sub-7 pace was possible.  One thing that I’ve leaned over the past few years is that you rarely exceed the expectations that you put on yourself because your brain gets in the way of what your body can do.  After three years of training with Karen and Erin, I’ve certainly improved physically, but I’ve also toughened up some in the mental department as well.  There have been plenty of times when I haven’t been able to complete a bike or run workout as planned since I went into it “knowing” that I’d fail.  That still happens to me for sure, but not as much as it used to.  Occasionally, the ladies  will even admit that they play games with my brain to keep it from holding me back.  Going into the RTC Sprint, however, I knew I could run a sub-7 minute pace off the bike and was determined to do it.

After arriving at SwimRVA around 5:30 a.m. on race morning, the kids went inside and tried to sleep on some chairs while Leigh Anne and I got set up in transition.  We weren’t anywhere near each other since our bib numbers were tied to our expected swim times, but we both had pretty good rack locations.  After I got squared away, I found Jill and Meredith, who were volunteering, and they set about putting the kids to work.

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Since I was all set up, I went inside and did a warm up swim in the instructional pool to loosen up.  Upon finishing, I realized that I’d left my pre-race banana outside in my transition bag, but it was cold out and I was soaking wet from swimming.  I needed that banana though since I’d only had a bowl of oatmeal around 4:15 a.m!  Thankfully, Busher was nice enough to go retrieve it for me since he was still dry.  Still, giving him instructions on how to find my banana led to a couple of interesting looks from people nearby.  By the time that my banana was retrieved and ingested, it was time to line up for the swim start, so I wished Leigh Anne and our friend Mindy good luck and took my spot on the pool deck.  Jill sang the National Anthem like a boss, and then we were off.

GPS Data

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Swim: 6:56   (1:44/100 m)

The 400 meter swim takes place in the 50 meter pool at SwimRva, but is conducted “open water” style.  Groups of ten swimmers start every 30 seconds, and there are four laps of 100 meters each.  Instead of touching the wall at the end of every length, you turn around a buoy, which leads to congestion and a little bit of pandemonium at times.  Quite frankly, I’m not a huge fan of this particular swim, and it always seems much harder than it should.  There’s a lot of jostling and congestion, and the pool gets pretty rough with so many swimmers in it at once.  I also always end up swallowing a ton of water.

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Since I was bib 52 I was in the fifth swim wave, and I’d seeded myself a little faster than in 2018 since I’d been behind some slower swimmers that year.  As soon as we started, I accelerated and hugged the left side of the lane against the edge of the pool.  I was hoping that most of the others in my wave would be over to the right in anticipation of the right turn around the buoy, and I did have some clean water during that first 50 meter length.  That ended at the buoy, and it was a bit of a cluster trying to make the first turn.  I swallowed some water at that point, so there was a bit of coughing involved.

The next few lengths weren’t terrible since I’d managed to get ahead of most of my swim wave, but there were two guys ahead of me that were slower, but who I just couldn’t get around.  I would almost be past them by the time we got a turn buoy, but since they had the inside line on me, they’d pull ahead again as we rounded the buoys.  There were a few times when I had to pull up and do some breast stroke since I was on top of them.

I was able to pass a few other swimmers as the race went on, but I just couldn’t get around the two guys right ahead of me.  Eventually, I knew that I was going to be stuck behind them until the end, so I just took my time around the buoys.  I’d be on their feet by the time we hit the next buoy, and then I’d do the same thing again.  It was a bit frustrating, and the RTC Sprint swim always seems to be that way.

Eventually I finished the 400 meters, climbed out of the pool and then made it to the timing mat that was outside the building.  My final swim time was 6:56, which was 15 seconds faster than last year.  Its always nice to beat the year before, and overall, I had the 28th fastest swim of the field.  I was predicted to finish lower than that since I was bib 52, so I’ll have to remember to seed myself faster next year.

T1: 1:03

I had a decent spot in the transition area, and T1 was quick and uneventful.  I put on my bike shoes and helmet, and then it was a short run to the bike out area.  I crossed the timing mat, made it to the mounting line, and then I was off.

Bike: 32:48   (22.6 mph)

bike

I’m a big fan of the RTC Sprint bike course because its mostly flat and fast.  The slowest part of the course is right at the beginning where you mount your bike and then you have to immediately pedal uphill away from SwimRVA.  Then there’s a downhill with a right turn onto Ironbridge Road, which takes you off on a twelve mile loop.

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Climbing the hill out of transition.

It was a brisk 46 degrees when I got on the bike, which was made even worse by the fact that I was still wet from the swim.  The initial climb away from the pool helped warm me up a bit, and soon enough I wasn’t thinking about being cold.  I passed a bunch of riders as I headed down Ironbridge Road towards the airport, and shortly before the right turn  onto Whitepine Road a biker in a military tri suit passed me.  He wasn’t moving too much faster than me, so I tucked in behind and went with him.  The legal USAT following distance is three bike lengths, so I tried to make sure I stayed about 4-6 lengths behind him.  USAT marshals patrol the bike course on motorcycles, and I didn’t want to get a drafting penalty.

After turning onto Whitepine Road near the airport, I noticed that another guy was riding behind me (at a legal following distance), so there were three of us riding together.  The guy ahead slowed down a bit, so I went by him to take a turn pulling for a while.  About that time one of the motorcycle marshals went by, but we all had the proper spacing, so he continued on.  The three of us continued leapfrogging each other until about mile 10, when I finally pulled away from them.

By that point, I hurting pretty good, but I was almost back to Ironbridge Road.  I kept pushing hard and then made the left turn onto Ironbridge.  The bike course is kinda tricky at that point, whereas the outgoing bikers are sharing a lane with the incoming bikers, with cones separating them.  Passing gets really dicey, and the bikers coming in are all the way to the left of the paved surface on the fog line.  There are always a bunch of small rocks near the shoulder, and I did my best to avoid them so as not to blow a tire.  Thankfully, I didn’t need to pass anyone during that stretch, and I was also successful in keeping my tires inflated.

There was one final left turn to head back towards Swim RVA, which was followed by a nice little climb.  After cresting the hill, there was a downgrade back into transition to complete the ride and I eased up a bit to try to get my heart rate down before the run.  I finished in 32:48, which was 45 seconds faster than in 2018.  So far so good, but the real test on the run was still ahead of me.

T2: :51

T2 was fast and flawless.  I hopped of my bike at the dismount line and ran my bike over to the rack.  I swapped out my shoes, took off my helmet and grabbed my ProK hat and sunglasses.  I took off towards the “run out” area with my race belt in hand and got it strapped on before exiting the transition area.

Run: 21:28    (6:55 min/mile)

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Mile 1 (7:06)

The run is a two-loop course that takes you around the soccer fields, and then up through the parking lot of the old Ukrops/Martins.  After rounding a turn-around cone in the parking lot, you run down the hill and past the pool to start the second loop.  The course is mostly flat, with a small hill that goes up to the grocery store parking lot.  You then come back downhill to start loop 2 and to finish.

My legs felt pretty good coming out of transition, and the water stop where Jackson and Jillian were working was right at the start of the run.  I gave them a quick wave and kept running towards the soccer fields.  I was shooting for a pace just over 7:00 minutes for the first mile, and my goal was to descend every mile.  The first mile felt okay, and my 7:06 pace was spot on for what I wanted to do.

Mile 2 (6:57)

Things got tougher as I hit the hill to go up to the parking lot, but that portion of the course had a little crowd support, which helped.  The hill took a little out of me, and it was nice once it leveled out again.  I did see Busher running in the opposite direction at the top of the hill, and he was part of a relay that had started in an earlier swim wave.  He had a pretty good lead on me, but I was hoping that I might be able to catch him, or at least close the gap.  That gave me a little bit of extra motivation.

After finishing the parking lot loop, I headed down the hill that took me back past SwimRVA and ran to the right of the finishing chute to start loop two.  I saw the kids again and was able to give Jackson a fist bump as I ran by.  I then headed back towards the soccer fields to close out mile two.

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Since my second mile was done in 6:57, my total run pace was hovering around 7:02/mile.  I was definitely hurting, but I knew that one more sub-7:00 mile would put me below my goal pace.  I just had to suck it up for a few more minutes.

Mile 3 (6:54)

I rounded the soccer fields again and then headed back up the hill to the parking lot.  The hill certainly sucked, but I was encouraged by the fact that I was close to the finish.  As I headed towards the turn-around cone I saw Busher again, closer this time, but still too far ahead of me to catch.  After rounding the cone, I tried to accelerate a little bit more, and I tried the Jillian method of picking out runners ahead of me to pass.  There were a fair amount of people on their first loop, so I was able to pass a few.  By that point, my overall pace was under 7:00/mile, and I knew that I had it in the bag so long as I didn’t do anything stupid like trip and hurt myself.

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Mile 3.1 (5:15 pace)

The last tenth of a mile was all downhill towards the finishing chute, which made it easy to finish with a sprint.  As I came across the line I saw a pace of 6:55 on my Garmin and was able to smile a bit before I doubled over to catch my breath.  It’d taken me five years of racing triathlons and three years of coached training to finally run sub-7 minute miles off the bike.  It hurt like hell in the moment, but it felt good all the same.

Post-Race

I didn’t see Busher outside the finishing chute, and I immediately went over to check on the kids at the aid station.  They were doing fine and said that Leigh Anne had just passed them on her first loop.  That gave me time to go get a quick rubdown from the chiropractor sponsors, and then I made my way back over to the aid station to see Leigh Anne start her second loop.  She took her time getting water and talking to the kids when she came through, and I gently chided her to quit socializing and to get a move on.  That would lead to a misunderstanding a week later at the half-iron race in Williamsburg, and would come back to bite me.

After Leigh Anne finished her race (6/15 in her age group and only 2.5 minutes off of her AG podium), I looked for Busher again, but couldn’t find him.  I finally decided to go through the food line and heard that his dad, Bob, had been hit by a car on the bike course.  I found two or three people who’d seen it and got some details, and it sounded serious since he’d been taken away by ambulance.  Apparently, Busher found out as soon as he crossed the finish line and high-tailed it to the emergency room, which I why I couldn’t find him.

Thankfully, Bob was OK, but he’d fractured his scapula and was in the hospital for several days.  A motorist was unhappy about a road closure due to the race, and disregarded a police officer and drove directly across the closed lane just as Bob was was riding past.  Bob went over his hood and probably would have died if he wasn’t wearing a helmet, which was completely smashed.  Bob’s accident put a sour note on the day, but it could have been much worse.

After the dust settled, I finally checked the race results and saw that I’d gotten third overall in the Master’s Men category.  That category is for men 40 and over, and it was actually better than a top-3 age group finish for me.  I was 3/77 in the Masters category, and it was the first time that I’d finished on the Masters podium.  Overall I was 12/196, so I was almost able to crack the top 10.  So, other than Bob’s unfortunate accident, it was a great day.  I beat last year, I finally ran sub-7:00 minute miles and I also made the podium.  Coupled with an age group podium at the Smithfield Sprint a few weeks prior, it was a promising start to the 2019 season.

Still, the RTC Sprint was merely a prelude to the Ironman Virginia 70.3 race the following weekend.  Most of the Richmond triathlon community seemed to be signed up for that event, and it was to be Leigh Anne’s first half-iron race.  She’d been on the fence about signing up for it in the Fall, so I’d gently nudged her into it by signing up for her.  Only time would tell if her first 70.3 experience would cause her to thank me or divorce me.

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As an added bonus, I found out about a month later that I’d qualified for Age Group Nationals in the Olympic distance due to my placing.  Qualifying for Nationals is complicated, and I actually didn’t know at the time that I could qualify for Olympic Nationals in a sprint race.  If you follow my blog, you’ll know that I qualified last year at the Patriot’s Olympic until I DQ’d myself for going off course, which took me a good long while to get over.  Ok, maybe I’m still not over it!  Thus, it was a nice surprise to find out that I’d qualified once again.

Unfortunately, Nationals are in Cleveland in August on the same weekend that we get back from our family vacation in Maine.  Leigh Anne and the kids offered to extend our vacation so that we could go to Nationals, but its a long drive from the Atlantic northeast to Cleveland, and I really didn’t want to complicate our vacation.  It was a nice gesture, but the logistics were going to be tough.  I’ve performed well enough to qualify twice now, so I’m optimistic that I can do it again for 2020.  I’ll keep my fingers crossed and we’ll see how that works out.

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“I hope when the crowd calls out, they’re calling your name…”

2019 Monument Avenue 10k

Race Report

1:04:30    (10:23 min/mile)     1/35 AG

(Jillian’s Results)

April 13, 2019 – Jillian and I ran the Richmond 8k in November 2018 and she managed to average 11:04 minute miles and won her age group by just over 17 minutes.  Pretty soon thereafter, she’d set her sights on the next longest race distance, which was the 10k.  Over the winter, she claimed that she was going to run the Monument Avenue 10k with me, but when it came time to sign up, she was completely disinterested.  Jillian loves the races, but isn’t really a fan of the training runs.  I asked her several times if she wanted to run, but each time she declined.  Slightly dejected, I went online and registered myself, and began thinking about what my goal time would be since I’d be running solo.  Within minutes of registering though, Jillian had second thoughts and made me sign her up too.

We didn’t squeeze in as many training runs as I would have liked, but since Jillian had soccer practice and games three days a week, she was still getting in a fair amount of running.  Our longest run together before the race was 4.6 miles, but it was pretty hilly since my neighborhood doesn’t have many flat spots.  That was a tough run for her, but I built her up by telling her that the 10k was all flat, so the hilly 4.6 miles were probably harder than 6.2 flat ones.  Whether I was right or wrong, she believed me and thought that she could manage the 10k, so that’s all that mattered.

I encouraged Leigh Anne to run the 10k on her own for training purposes (since she was training for a half-Ironman in May), but for reasons that remain her own, she wasn’t interested.  Originally, I figured that she would just stay home with Jackson since a 10k isn’t much of a spectator sport, but since we were headed to my parents’ house as soon as Jillian and I finished the race, she and Jackson decided to come downtown with us.

The weather forecast for race morning wasn’t great, with rain and possible thunderstorms in the area.  It was raining as we drove downtown, but when we parked at my office the rain had mostly tapered off.  Leigh Anne and Jackson were equipped with ponchos, but I was hoping it wouldn’t dump rain on them as they were waiting for us.  We walked about ten blocks from my office to the starting area, and after hitting the portapottys, Jillian and I took our places in the starting corral.

10k pre

Due to our seeding, we had about a twenty minute wait, and Jillian kept making me pick her up so she could look over everyone and see how far back we were from the starting line.  As we were waiting the rain picked up again, but thankfully it was still fairly light, and it was just warm enough outside so that we weren’t freezing cold.  After a long wait, we finally got to cross the timing mat and take off.

Race

GPS Data

10k course

Mile 1 (11:05)

The course is a simple out-and-back that goes west for about 3 miles and then doubles back to the east.  We started out near the back of Wave SC, which was the first wave for runners who didn’t have prior times to qualify them for faster waves.  Since Jillian had never run the 10k, that’s where we were put.  It was designed for runners who were expected to finish around 1:05, so it actually worked out pretty well for us.

We began running at an 11:00 minute pace and we were holding hands to make sure we didn’t get separated in the heavy crowd.  Even without a crowd, I think Jillian would have demanded to hold hands anyways, but we’ll call it a crowd issue.  The initial pace was pretty easy for Jillian, and we were able to hold a conversation without any effort.  The nice thing about the Monument Avenue 10k is that there are spectators on both sides of the road for the entire length of the course, and there are also bands every few blocks.  I continually directed Jillian’s attention towards random people to keep her from thinking about the run itself, and that was working well.

At the end of the first mile my right hand was getting a little tired, so I asked Jillian if we could switch sides/hand every mile.  She took my left hand for a few seconds, but wasn’t having it for some reason.  We switched back to right hand and ran that way for most of the race.

Mile 2 (11:04)

The second mile was similar to the first, with lots of distractions to keep us occupied.  There was actually a guy running in a T-Rex costume, which was pretty funny.  His legs didn’t have full range of motion due to the costume, and we joked about how long his day was going to be.  All in all, things continued to go well, and we continued to plod along at our 11:00(ish) minute pace.  We finished mile 2 in 11:04.

Mile 3 (10:59)

Mile 3 also came and went without incident, and Jillian continued to be amazed by the number of spectators and bands along the course.  She’d never run a race with so much crowd support, and it was easy to keep her focused on everything but the fact that she was running 6.2 miles for the first time.  The miles were still coming easy for her, and we continued to talk about a lot of things. Every time that we got to a half-mile marker on my GPS, I would turn to her and say, “good news, we’re already half way to the next mile.”  She was always surprised, so we were doing really well.  I knew that we’d be able to run faster on the way back in, but I still wasn’t quite sure how much I could push her.  We were averaging the same pace she’d run in the 8k five months prior, but this time around, the race would be 1.2 miles longer.  Decisions, decisions.

Mile 4 (10:29)

We hit the turn around near the 5k point and I told Jillian that we needed to turn our hats backwards and get serious.  If you’ve seen the movie “Over the Top,” then you know there’s a highly scientific basis to the fact that a backwards facing hat increases your performance.  She agreed to the hat flip, and then I told her that we were going to run 10:30 for mile 4 followed by 10:00 for mile 5.  We’d then run as hard as she wanted for the last 1.2.  Jillian said that would be fine, so off we went.  We finished Mile 4 in 10:29 and she was still doing very well.  Her breathing had increased for the first time in the race, but she was still able to hold a conversation with me.

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Getting serious in the back half of the race.

Mile 5 (9:56)

Things started to get serious in Mile 5, and due to our faster pace, we began to start passing people at a regular clip.  Thanks to my M-dot tattoo and Jillian’s Ironman Chattanooga visor, we began to get questions about whether she was training for an Ironman.  Jillian liked the attention, but I noticed that her talking had tapered off significantly.  The faster pace and the mileage were definitely starting to take a toll on her.  When we passed the 5 mile marker I told her that she was now running further than she ever had in her life, which seemed to lift her spirits a bit.  She was doing great, and even though she was starting to show signs of wearing down, I knew that she still had more in her to give.

Mile 6 (9:09)

We decided to shoot for a 9:00 minute mile for mile 6 so we picked it up even more.  We’d been running next to the same lady for about a mile and a half, and we began to leave her behind.  She gave Jillian some words of encouragement as we pulled away from her.  I decided that it was time to begin “picking off” runners ahead of us, and I pointed out people for Jillian to pass.  As soon as we passed that person, we made it our goal to pass someone else.  I was doing pretty much doing all of the talking by this point, so I knew that Jillian was pretty much running at her max.

Mile 6 – 6.2 (7:12 pace)

The last .2 miles were fast and frenzied.  After passing the mile 6 marker, there was a young boy ahead of us, and Jillian said that she wanted to pass him before the end.  She took off after him, but as soon as she did, he took off too.  He didn’t see her catching up to him, and it was just coincidental that he took off at the same time.  He was flying, and within about 10 seconds of chasing him, Jillian realized that it was a futile effort and let him go.

Still, she was running as fast as she could and I had to bear down a bit in order to keep up with her.  She was passing people left and right, and just before the finish line we saw Leigh Anne and Jackson off to our left.  I think they were surprised to see how fast she was moving, and she darted over the finish line for an official time of 1:04:30.  That equated to a pace of 10:23/mile, which was 41 seconds/mile faster than her 8k pace from November.  We’d beaten her 8k pace, but perhaps more importantly, we’d set a new hand-holding record of 6.2 miles.  I’m not sure if Guinness tracks that record, but it should.

Post-Race

After finishing, we collected our medals, got some water and then found Leigh Anne and Jackson just past the finishing chute.  Based upon the results in prior years, I knew that there was a chance that Jillian had finished in the top three of her age group.  When the results were finally posted later that day, I was shocked to see that she finished 1/35.  She was 1/5 in her age group in the 8k, but I’d warned her not to get her hopes up about winning her age group in the 10k since it was a much deeper field.  She’d beaten the second place girl by about 1:30, so I guess I was wrong to have any doubts.  I will take credit though for the pacing plan, and for the backwards hat motivation!

We’re still waiting for Jillian’s age group award to come in the mail, but I’m sure she’ll have it on her wall as soon as it arrives.  She “ages up” next year to the 10-14 age group, so that will put her in competition with middle school runners.  Thus, it will probably be a few more years before she can compete for another 10k age group award, but she’s already talking about tackling a 15k.  I’m not sure she’s ready for that quite yet, but she continues to exceed my expectations, so maybe we’ll just sign up for one and see what happens.  Either way, I fully expect her to be beating me before too much longer.

10k

 

 

“Pray for more from above you greedy little pig…”

Smithfield Sprint Triathlon

Race Report

57:28

 3/16 AG     24/247 Overall

April 6, 2019 – I’d originally planned to start my tri season in late April with the RTC Sprint, but after a long winter of training in the cold and the dark, I was chomping at the bit to race again.  That was probably fueled by how my 2018 season fizzled at the end  – with a DQ (for taking a wrong turn on the run course) at the Patriots Olympic, followed by a 4/22 age group finish at the Giant Acorn Olympic.  2018 had started with three straight age group podiums and then I went 0/3 to close it out.  I actually had a really good race at the Giant Acorn, and was simply beaten by better competition.

I’d had a productive off-season with minimal time missed for injury/illness (unlike last year), so I was also looking forward to testing my current fitness level.  Over the past few years, the Smithfield Sprint Triathlon has been the first early-season triathlon in the Richmond area, and I’d had my eye on it for awhile.  I was already scheduled to have somewhat of a recovery week in the week leading up to the race, so on sort of a whim, I registered six days ahead of time.  There wasn’t really time or a place in the training plan for a full taper, but with my pre-planned recovery week, i figured that I’d be rested enough for a decent showing.  At least, that’s what I was hoping.

The Smithfield Sprint also gives out pig trophies to the top three in every age group, and I also wanted to win one of those.  Ok, so maybe I mostly wanted to win a pig trophy more than I wanted to test my fitness level.  Perhaps I’d even mentioned the possibility of winning a pig trophy once or twice during race week.  Actually, my wife’s last words to me before I left home on race morning were, “don’t come back without a pig trophy.”  Pig pressure?

Smithfield is about an hour and a half from my house, but the race was starting late (at 10:00 a.m.) since its early in the season.  Presumably, the race director wanted a little more time for it to warm up so the athletes wouldn’t freeze on the bike leg after hopping out of the pool.  The good news was that I didn’t need to leave home until 6:15 a.m.  The bad news was that I arrived and set up in transition by 8:15, so I had almost two hours to wait before the swim start.

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New Flo 90 on the front and Flo disc on the back.

I did a warm up run and rode my bike a bit, but there was still a ton of time to kill.  Eventually, I headed inside to do a warm up swim, but they’d just closed the pool when I got there.  Thus, I did some stretching and tried to stay loose, and we eventually began lining up for the swim around 9:45 a.m.  I hadn’t raced a tri since late September, and I hadn’t even ridden my bike outside since then (lots of trainer miles though), but I felt like I was ready to go.

Swim- 5:08  (1:43/100m)    3/16 AG

Pool swims can be problematic since they’re self-seeded, and some people seed themselves poorly.  Basically, you enter your estimated 300 meter swim time when you register, and the faster your predicted time, the lower your bib number.  I put in 4:40 for my time, which I knew would be accurate plus or minus 10 seconds.  That put me as bib 56.  In looking at the actual swim times from 2017 and 2018, however, I saw that I should probably be about bib 30.  Oh well, there was nothing I could do to change other people’s estimates, and I hoped that they were being honest and accurate.

Swimmers were sent into the pool every 10-15 seconds, and it was finally time for me to hop in after the long wait.  I’d watched the guy immediately ahead of me take off and had seen that he was swimming fast before I went.  Thus, I was hopeful for a well-spaced swim since passing in the pool is challenging at best.

The first 100 meters were smooth and fast, and I noticed that I wasn’t catching or being caught, so I started thinking to myself that I might have lucked out with the seeding.  The next 50 meters were also uneventful, but I began to notice that I was catching the person ahead of me.  By the time I finished 200 meters, I was almost on top of the guy ahead of me.  In actuality though, I’d caught a guy who started two or three spots ahead of me.  The guy who started immediately in front of me had already passed him.

I caught the other swimmer about 10 meters down the pool on the next length and tapped his feet a couple of times.  That should have alerted him to my presence, and I figured that he would let me pass once we got to the end of the lane.  Nope, he immediately took off.  That pissed me off and I stayed on the wall for a second or two to catch my breath since I knew that I wouldn’t be able to pass him until at least the end of the next length.

I took off once again, but by the middle of the pool I’d caught him again and tapped his feet again.  I couldn’t go around him in the middle of the lap since swimmers were coming in the other direction in the same lane, so I had to pull up and do some breaststroke.  By that point, the girl behind me caught me and was tapping me to pass.  Not much I could do for her though.  Once I reached the 250 meter point I hit the wall at the same time as the guy ahead, but I’d swum under the lane line to his left (which I was going to have to do anyways per the race rules).

I pushed off the wall before he could and finally got ahead of him.  I tried to go as hard as I could for the last 50 meters and then climbed up the steps out of the pool at the 300 meter point.  I looked at my watch for the first time as I started up the steps and saw 4:50 on my Garmin.  That was pretty close to my 4:40 estimate, and I would have beaten that  for sure had I not gotten held up.  I wasn’t done with the “swim” yet though, because the timing mat was still a long run out of the building and then along the outside of the transition area.  My official swim time was 5:08, so it took me about 18 seconds to get out of the pool and to the T1 timing mat outside.

I hated to lose time in the pool due to poor seeding, but that’s almost inevitable in a self-seeded pool swim.  Still, my swim was good enough for 3/16 in my age group, so I was generally happy with the result.

T1 – 1:20  1/16 AG

It was still a fairly long run from the timing mat to my rack, and I was running barefoot on asphalt with little rocks all around, so it was a bit painful.  I’d studied my rack location extensively prior to the race to make sure I could find it easily when I was in a hurry, and the bright pink bike near the outside of the rack led me right to it.

Once I got to my bike, I didn’t try to put socks on my wet feet and I got my shoes and helmet on without incident.  It was then a short run to the “bike out” area and I had to cross the timing mat before I could mount my bike.  I got it all done in 1:20.  I pride myself in transitioning quickly, so I was happy to find out later that I was 1/16 in my age group in T1.

Bike – 27:47  (21.6 mph)    4/16 AG

smithfield bike

I was riding on new Flo wheels for the first time and I hadn’t ridden my bike outside since September, so I was hoping that my bike handling skills would come back to me like…well, riding a bike I guess.  The bike course is a ten mile “lollipop” course with some rolling hills and I headed out of transition, I immediately noticed that my legs were loading much quicker than they should have been.  That was due to my quasi-taper caused by a late registration, and I knew pretty quickly that I wasn’t about to have an A+ bike.  I still had some hope that my legs would feel better a few miles into the bike, and I settled in for the ten mile ride.

The first couple of miles were up and down, but were primarily uphill.  The wind seemed to be coming out of the north, and since I was riding northwest it was against me.  I tried to tuck in tight to reduce my profile, but I knew that I wasn’t making very good time.  I took a right turn to the north around mile 2, and I was then headed directly into the wind.  My pace slowed even more at that point.

As I headed north, a female biker passed me at a pretty good clip, and I was a little surprised at how quickly she left me behind.  It turned out that the biker in question was  my transition rack neighbor, and I applauded her when I found her at the finish.  After the dust settled, she was the second female overall and is heading to Worlds later this year.  It was kind of fun to have her humble me and remind me of just how far apart normal age groupers are from the elite athletes.

Anyways, it was slow going to the north, and then there was a big downgrade at the end of mile 3.  I’d been warned about this portion of the course, because its very fast and then you have a 120 degree left turn with a steep uphill portion immediately upon turning.  To make matters worse, there was mud all over the road on the downhill portion, and I held on tight and tried to steady myself as I went through the mud.  I really didn’t want to wreck at high speed, particularly with new wheels on my bike.  I braked heading into the turn, and then it was a fairly tough climb in the small chain ring thereafter.

After climbing the hill, the course flattened out a bit, but I was still dealing with a cross-wind that was slowing me down.  I kept pushing as hard as I could, but my overall pace on my GPS wasn’t thrilling me.  At mile 6, I made a left turn to head back towards transition, and it was at that point that I finally picked up a tailwind.  I knew the last four miles would be pretty fast.

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Shortly after making the turn to come home, another guy passed me and I could tell that he was a monster biker.  The legal USAT following distance is three bike lengths, so I tucked in behind him at about 4-5 bike lengths and went with him for a while.  I was actually working harder to keep up with him than I had been alone, but I was getting a little bit of a draft benefit and we were moving at a fast pace.  I was able to stay with him for about two miles before he pulled away, and then I had about two miles left to transition.

It was at that point that I noticed another biker behind me, who had apparently come along with me for the ride behind the super biker.  He was legally drafting off of me, and he let me pull him along for another mile or so.  As we got within a mile of transition, there was a pretty long uphill slog and he decided to go past me.  Per the USAT rules, as soon as he nudged ahead of me it my my duty to fall back three bike lengths, but he immediately started slowing up.  That got under my skin, but I fell back.  He then decided that it was a good time to slow even more and pull out his water bottle for a drink, and I mumbled a few 4-letter words under my breath about why he felt the need to pass me if he was immediately going to slow up.  I took that opportunity to pass him back even though we were very close to transition, and then took the final left turn into the YMCA parking lot.

Overall, it was a pretty solid ride, but my legs definitely weren’t feeling 100%.  I was wondering how they would hold up on the run.

T2 – 1:01  2/16 AG

When I got back to the transition area, sadly, the bright pink bike that had been on my rack was out on the bike course somewhere.  Even though I’d taken great care to make sure I knew which rack I was on, I somehow turned left one rack too soon and ran down the wrong aisle.  Oops.  I realized my mistake pretty quickly, and made my way to the proper rack.  Then off came the helmet and bike shoes and on went my Hoka running shoes and my sunglasses.  I grabbed my race belt with my bib and strapped that on as I headed to the “run out” area.  Even with my brief detour to the wrong rack, I was still 2/16 in my age group in T2.  Not bad.

Run- 22:11 (7:08 min/mile)   4/16 AG

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Mile 1 (7:06)

Since my legs weren’t completely up to snuff on the bike, I didn’t quite know what to expect on the run.  The first third of a mile is always a bit dicey anyways as I try to transition from biking to running, but I was actually feeling pretty good.  Even though my quads were loading on the bike more than normal, my legs were ready to run right out of the box.

I settled into a good pace as I headed down the street away from the YMCA and there were a couple of 90 degree turns in the first mile that slowed me down a little.  The course then had one last 90 degree turn to the right, and then straightened out with a nice downhill portion.  I was running nice and smooth and was pleased to see a pace below 7:10 on my Garmin.  My fastest 5k off the bike was a 22:11 (7:08 pace) at the RTC Sprint Triathlon in 2018, and I really wanted to beat that time.  If possible, I wanted to run a sub-7:00 pace.

My Garmin read 7:06 when it tripped one mile, but I noticed that I wasn’t quite at the 1 mile marker on the road.  Sometimes the markers are off and sometimes its the GPS that’s off.  I had no way of knowing which one it was this time around, so I just went by what my GPS was telling me since I didn’t really have any other option.

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Mile 2 (7:04)

There was a long uphill section near the beginning of the second mile, but it was fairly gradual.  I did begin to feel a bit taxed by that point, but I was still feeling ok.  I was looking forward to hitting the hill in the opposite direction on the way back in though since it would be downhill.  That part of the course was on a fairly secluded road without any vehicle traffic, so it was nice not to have to worry about getting run over.

There was a left turn around mile 1.5, which led to a short out-and-back section with a turnaround cone.  There was a water station just after the turnaround, but I avoided it, not wanting to slow down.  When my legs slowed down to go around the cone they really didn’t want to get back up to speed, so I didn’t want to repeat that process by slowing for water.  I then turned right to head back towards the downhill portion of the course, and shortly thereafter my Garmin tripped two miles.

It read 7:04 this time, which was faster than the first mile – even with the uphill portion.  I was pleased by that, but not pleased by the fact that the mile 2 marker on the road was still 20-30 yards ahead of me.  The discrepancy between my GPS and the course was getting worse.

Mile 3 (7:00)

The beginning of mile three was fun with the downhill portion, and another guy with an Ironman tattoo on his right calf went past me.  He commented upon my “long stride” and I tried to pick up my pace a bit to go with him, having noticed the “40” on his left calf, so I knew that he was in my age group.  I ran behind him for perhaps a quarter of a mile, but then he left me in his dust.  As it turned out, he’s done a bunch of full and half-Ironman races and he ended up finishing third overall in the Men’s Masters (over 40) category.

By that point, I had about 6/10ths of a mile to go and the finish was going to be slightly uphill.  I tried to keep pushing, but the twists and turns in the final mile slowed me down once again.  The total pace on my Garmin was creeping down towards 7:00/mile, and I really wanted to break that barrier, so I kept running hard.

I finally got to the long straight away that led back towards transition and the finish line, and went into as much of a sprint as I could manage by that point.  There was a young boy ahead of me who was racing as a part of a relay team, and I told myself that I had to pass him before the finish.  I managed to catch him just before the left turn at the transition area, and then ran another 30 yards or so across the finish line.

My GPS read 22:11 for 3.16 miles at a 7:01 pace, but officially (for 3.1 miles), I was credited with a 7:08 pace.  That tied my personal best, but I was still a little disappointed.  I didn’t feel like I was about to vomit, so I knew that I had more in me to give on the run.  In hindsight, I really feel like I was a little too comfortable during most of the run and maybe I should have pushed it harder earlier.  I don’t know though, I was hurting plenty in the moment, so maybe I’m just wearing rose-colored glasses at the moment looking back on it.  Its easy to second guess things after the pain has subsided, but I really don’t feel like I fully emptied the tank on the run.  That will need to be remedied at the RTC Sprint.

Post-Race

After taking some time to catch my breath, I headed inside the YMCA to grab some food.  They’d been smoking pork in the parking lot since I’d arrived that morning, and I’d been thinking about it for a few hours.  I resisted the urge to check the race results since they were subject to change as additional people finished, so I went ahead and cleaned up my transition spot, swapped out my rear disc and put my bike back on my car.  I’d been done for almost an hour before I finally went over to the results table.

In 2018, my time would have been good enough for first in my age group, but in 2017 I’d have been off the age group podium in fourth place, so I didn’t quite know what to expect.  When the results finally came up, I was listed in fourth.  Since I was surrounded by other people who were similarly interested in their results, I resisted the urge to let fly a four-letter word or two that would have expressed my disappointed in having failed to earn a pig trophy.  Instead, I mumbled a few things under my breath and thought wistfully of the trophy that had so narrowly escaped my grasp.  In fact, the guy ahead of me in my age group had only beaten me by 17 seconds.  Dejected and forlorn, I immediately began wondering how I could have been 17 seconds faster and was certainly dreading the long ride home.  I was also wondering if my wife would let me into the house, seeing that I was coming back without a pig trophy.  I’ve been locked out for lesser transgressions for sure.

Thankfully, I looked at the results in greater detail and saw that there was a timing error that affected my age group, as well as the top three overall females.  The lady on my rack who had passed me on the bike course had been bumped out of second overall and we reported the errors to an official.  To their credit, we were assured that they were already on top of it, but of course, I was still worried about missing out on that trophy.  I held my breath until they called my name during the awards ceremony, and gleefully accepted my giant trophy.  Ok, so perhaps its diminutive, but I worked hard for that  piece of plastic, so its prominently displayed in my office.

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Totally visible from the street….right?

So….my first tri of 2019 was a success, but I still felt like I’d left some time on the course.  The pool swim was a cluster (and out of my control), and my legs weren’t 100% on the bike.  On the run I went hard, but I definitely feel like I could’ve pushed it a little more.  Thankfully, there’s only a three week turnaround from Smithfield to the RTC Sprint Triathlon, and I expect to be fully tapered for that race.  I’m hoping to put it all together a little better there.

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Race Director Greg Hawkins beat me out for second place by 17 seconds! 

 

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****Featured photo with Smithfield Sprint logo courtesy of Kinetic Multisports.****

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Cause I love how it feels when I break the chains…”

2019 Frostbite 15k

Race Report

1:11:01     (7:37 min/mile)     14/64 AG     99/853 Overall

January 23, 2019 – For the second year in a row, the Frostbite 15k was my first race of the year.  I’d also done the race in 2016, and had bettered my 2016 time (1:13:37) by 41 seconds in 2018 (1:12:56).  Basically, four seconds per mile (7:54 to 7:50), which doesn’t sound like a whole lot in hindsight.  Still, getting faster AND older at the same time isn’t the easiest thing in the world to do any more, so I was really just glad to still be headed in the right direction.

This time around I’d asked coach Karen to give me a stretch goal that I might have a chance of obtaining…but which may also be a little out of reach.  She gets a little giddy when I ask her to do that sometimes, and I liken it to asking a fox to count your chickens.  I think Karen hears, “stretch goal that may also cause a spectacular meltdown,” because she came back at me with 1:10:00.  By my math, that equated to a 7:30 pace, which was twenty seconds per mile faster than my official pace last year.  I didn’t think that was possible, particularly on a course with some hills.

I also wondered if Karen’s Canadian roots had taken over and caused some sort of metric to standard units conversion error, but she stood by her suggestion.  Over the past few years I’ve learned that you generally only race up to your own expectations, and that sometimes you’ve just gotta take your brain out of the equation and see what your body can do.  Thus, I was willing to give it a go, but in the back of my mind I was wondering if this wasn’t just payback for making one too many Canadian jokes.

After a few days, however, Karen backed me down to a 7:40 pace.  I’m not sure if the Molson Ices wore off (I’ll pay for that one later!) or if my naysaying got the best of her, but I was happy to have a more realistic goal.  The plan changed again though since I’d forgotten to tell my bike coach Erin to taper me into the race.  Sometimes we taper and sometimes we don’t – depending upon the race – and I don’t think Erin was naturally inclined to taper me into a running race in January since there are bigger goals in mind for 2019.  All she does is train national champions (not me), so I should probably do as she says.  Thus, I had 3 bike workouts in the four days leading up to the race, including a 2 hour and 8 minute “jello” legs session on Saturday.  Erin’s words, not mine.

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In years past, I may have complained and/or tapered myself by cutting the workouts since I want to treat every race as an “A” race, even if that really isn’t part of the bigger plan.  This time though, I decided to do the workouts as written and go ahead and run the race on tired legs to see what I could do.  I have to run on tired legs in triathlons anyways, so it would be good training for the upcoming tri season.  Ultimately, Karen and I figured that if I could match last year’s pace without a taper, then we could consider that a victory.

Pre-Race

The weather forecast for the race had been dreadful the week before.  Originally, there was supposed to be a ton of rain, but thankfully it was looking like the rain would clear out before the start time.  The updated forecast was 56 degrees with a lot of wind, but at least we’d be dry.  After Saturday’s workouts, Training Peaks had my fatigue at the highest level it had been since my last triathlon in September.  I texted Karen that my legs were feeling pretty smoked, and I took a salt bath Saturday afternoon after biking and running to try to recover.

I got a decent night’s sleep Saturday night and woke up around 6:30 a.m. on Sunday morning.  After some oatmeal and coffee, I took another salt bath before getting dressed and then did some foam rolling.  My quads were sore, but in a way, it was nice not to have any expectations.  The race started at 9 a.m., and I left home around 7:25 a.m. to head downtown.  On the way there I got to thinking – what if I just went with Karen’s 7:40/mile plan to see how long I could hold on?  If I blew up at mile 6, would it really matter?  I wasn’t expecting much, so I decided to just throw caution the wind and see what happened.  Totally not in character for me.

I got to the race site around 8:10 a.m. and then checked in and got my bib.  I ran into a bunch of my (past and current) ProK teammates, including Candace Broaddus, Allen Baugh, Meredith Reid, Jim Rosen and Jill Blankenburg.  Allen, Meredith, Jim and Jill were volunteering, and Candace was running.  I found Leigh Anne’s pharmacy school classmates, Meg and Rachel, and Meg and I bellyached a bit about UVa losing to Duke in basketball.  There was also (my doctor/friend) Tressa Breindel and the Kona man himself, Danny Royce, so it was a gathering of all sorts.  After a short warm up run, I gathered in the starting corral with the other runners and waited for the start.

GPS Data

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Race

Miles 1-3 (7:33)(7:43)(7:45)

The first mile features a nice downhill immediately after the starting line and then flattens out, and I decided that I’d take advantage of the topography instead of easing into the race like I’d done in years past.  I had inadvertently over-seeded myself in the starting corral a tad since I had been chatting with Danny and Tressa, and I had some folks running by me initially.  As we headed east, the running was easy since the wind was at our backs, but I really didn’t realize it at the time since I couldn’t feel it.  I tried to stay near the center of the road to run the tangents through the curves, and I kept noticing that my GPS was showing a 7:30 pace.  I kept trying to slow down, but the first mile was coming really easy.  The adrenaline at the start and having the wind at your back certainly helps.  At the end of mile 1 I saw 7:33 on my Garmin and I immediately thought, “What the hell am I doing?”  I didn’t even go sub 7:46 in 2018 until mile 6 – and my fastest full mile was a 7:41!  I bested that right out of the gates…this could get ugly fast!

The second mile was back towards the west and the wind was whipping into my face.  I quickly figured out why the first mile had been so easy, and I tried to tuck in behind a couple of the other runners.  There was a girl in black shorts ahead of me, and she was running slightly faster than I wanted.  I got behind her to try to avoid the wind and stayed there for the rest of the mile  She wasn’t quite large enough to completely shield me from the wind, but it was something at least.  The early race adrenaline had worn off by that point, but I was still feeling okay and managed a 7:43 mile even with the headwind.  Nevertheless, I was still expecting trouble down the road when the hills commenced.

And commence they did.  Right around the 2-mile marker the course started going uphill,  and my quads were burning immediately.  I dialed it back a bit, but I knew that the easy part of the course was behind me.  I was able to keep the pace up relatively well, and I made sure to cruise on the downhill portions to try to even things out.  Mile 3 finished in 7:45, but I was trending slower with every mile and wondered if that trajectory would continue.

Miles 4-6  (7:42)(7:46)(7:38)

The hills got worse in the 4th mile, with a pretty long slog uphill just before turning into Byrd Park.  There was a slight downhill into the park towards the first water station, and I saw Jill filming the runners as I passed through.  I gave her a thumbs up, but apparently, she didn’t see me.  I was feeling OK, and was glad to be on a relatively flat portion of the course in the park.  I actually took a cup of water as i passed through the water station since I was feeling dehydrated, but I probably got less than an ounce in my mouth since I didn’t want to slow down.

The 5th mile took me east between the lakes in Byrd Park, and the wind was initially at my back.  I then turned to the north for a bit, and then to the west.  As soon as I turned west there was a false flat which was directly into the wind.  This was the first time that I began to feel bad (and a little dizzy), and when I looked down at my GPS I noticed that my pace was degrading.  The wind and the uphill section were weighing on me, but I kept telling myself that I was on the back-half of the course so I was more than halfway home.  I found a good song on my Ipod for good measure and trudged on, but I was thinking that the end might be near.

Thankfully, mile 6 was a slight downhill with an assist from the wind for most of it.  I was able to pick up my pace a bit, and I came across Rachel running in the opposite direction just before the mile 6 marker.  I was telling myself that I was about 2/3 done, but I knew that there were some hard miles ahead of me.  I was still waiting for the bonk, but it hadn’t reared its ugly head quite yet.

Miles 7-9 (7:47)(7:35)(7:27)

Mile 7 was the worst, hands down.  It was mostly uphill and the first part was westerly and into the wind.  I began to feel like I was on the edge of bonking, and my pace hovered above 8:00/mile for a good bit of it.  There was a lot of internal dialogue going on inside my brain at that point, and I was on the precipice of cracking physically and mentally.  On one hand I was thinking, “Its been a good ride, but you’ve over-extended yourself and you know it.  You can dial it back and no one will care.  Pat yourself on the back for your effort so far and lets bring it in easy.”  That’s a seductive argument in the moment…seriously.

On the other hand, my GPS was showing a total pace of 7:42/mile, which was only two seconds per mile off Karen’s (realistic) pace of 7:40.  The other half of my brain was thinking, “Suck it up buttercup and finish this off at that 7:40 pace.  Nobody’s going to throw you a freaking parade for running hard for 6 miles and then quitting.  Hit that 7:40 pace just to spite ’em – even if you have to hear Karen say ‘told you so’ again.”  I’ve run for a lot of reasons, but honestly, spite may be the best one I’ve found so far.  OK, so maybe I was inventing reasons to spite my coaches (y’all know I love you), but spite was what I needed at that particular point in time.

Thankfully, the course turned south around mile 6.44, so the wind wasn’t quite against me at that point.  It was still uphill, but manageable.  I saw Allen cheerleading shortly thereafter and he gave me a little bit of an emotional boost.  The course then turned east and was downhill for a bit, so I was able to recover and to salvage a 7:47 minute mile.

At that point,  I had 2.3 miles to go and I really began to believe for the first time that I could hold it together until the end.  There were some hilly miles yet to go, but my legs had held together so far.  From a cardiovascular standpoint I felt great, with no heavy breathing or side stitches. I just needed my legs to hold up on the hills coming back in through the neighborhood.

8 mile

Right around the turning point of the race for me.

Shortly after the mile 7 marker I reached the exit to Byrd Park, which was a little bit of an uphill.  I saw Jill at the water stop again and tried to make eye contact, but she was too busy working to see me.  After climbing out of the park, there was a long downhill and I tried to let my legs go with gravity in order to make some speed.  That felt good, but then there was one of the longest climbs of the day on the other side.

As I headed up the climb, there were three women running together ahead of me.  We trudged our way up the hill together and somewhere in the middle a weird feeling came over me.  I started feeling euphoric and totally re-invigorated.  Yes, I’ve heard of the “runner’s high,” but I’d only felt like this once before, and that was during a slow 13 mile training run in 2014.  Certainly never in a race at race pace.  Within the span on 30 seconds I began feeling great and accelerated up the hill.  The pace on my GPS started going down and I finished mile 8 in 7:35, even though it was full of hills.

The good times kept rolling in mile 9 and I began passing a lot of people, even though the field was pretty well spread out by that point.  I saw other people struggling up the hills and somehow that just made me feel better and run faster.  I actually started yelling out encouragement to the other runners, even though a couple of miles back in the park I could hardly speak.  My mile pace began to dip below 7:30 and it really just wasn’t making a whole lot of sense to me.  I should have been dying, but instead, I was getting stronger.  It was weird, but I kind of didn’t want the race to end.

Miles 9 – 9.3 (6:46 pace)

After passing the 9 mile marker, there were only 3/10ths of a mile left, which included a long climb up to the finish line – one of the worst hills of the day.  There were a few people within 100 yards of me, and I made it a personal goal to pass them all before the finish.  I picked off a few on Colorado Avenue and then I took the final left turn to head up to the finish.  Two guys were still ahead of me, and I passed one of them mid-way up the hill.  Even though I went into full-on sprint mode for the last 100 yards I couldn’t catch the last guy, but I darn near collapsed after crossing the finish line before they handed me my medal.  Final time – 1:11:01 – almost two full minutes faster than last year, with a pace of 7:37/mile.  As bad as I was hurting, I was thinking, “WTF just happened?”

Post Race

My euphoria evaporated fairly instantaneously, and I hauled myself over to the grass, sat down and put my head between my legs.  I’ve never gotten sick from running before, but this was a close call.  I’ve been dizzy and had to sit down a few times after finishing, but never any vomiting.  It was touch and go there for a couple of minutes though.  I saw Tressa over by the finish line, but by the time I was able to get up and move around, she was off for her cool down run.  Yeah, she’d been done for about nine minutes before I finished since she’s a beast.

After getting up, I was able to drink some Gatorade and as soon as I walked back over to the finish line I saw Candace coming through.  She’d beaten her time from 2018 by nine minutes, so my measly two minute PR paled in comparison.  No sooner had she gotten her finisher’s medal, then Meg finished – with a third place AG award to boot.

We were all pretty sweaty from running, but as soon as we stopped we all began to get cold since the wind was blowing.  Thus, we headed back inside the elementary school and snagged a free donut.  Sadly, there was no coffee, which is my only gripe about the race.  After discussing our respective races, we all parted ways and I snagged some coffee at McDonald’s on the way home.

In hindsight, I really can’t explain this race.  I’m serious when I say that my legs were shot on Sunday morning, because my quads were screaming when I walked upstairs to grab the foam roller.  Maybe I’ve just been running too conservatively all these years in trying to pace myself to avoid a bonk.  I took a devil-may-care attitude this time around and I guess it worked out.  Still, the euphoria that came on around mile 7.5 was freaky – in a good way – and I hope I can replicate it again someday.

On my way home I texted Karen my results and I told her that maybe I could’ve run those 7:30 miles that she originally planned if my legs had been fresh.  Her response, “Told you so.”

 

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Taking Stock – 2018 Year in Review

2018 was a weird year for me – it started out strong and then just sort of…fizzled.  I made my age group podium in the first three triathlons of the year and then went 0/3 to close out the year, which included a self-disqualification at the Patriot’s Olympic Triathlon in September.  In actuality, I had a fantastic race that day, finished first in my age group and even qualified for Age Group Nationals…until I made the walk of shame to the timing tent to take a DQ for going off course.  I won’t elaborate on that in detail since its been covered before here, but it was still a tough pill to swallow.  There was also the fact that my “A” race for the year in the Outer Banks was cancelled due to Hurricane Florence.

On the bright side, my fitness level has never been higher and I performed well in the back half of the year, even though I was off the podium.  My last three races included a 4/14, a 1/24 (pre-DQ) and a 4/22 in my age group in some competitive fields, so I was really knocking on the door.  I was also able to set a 5k PR in November, so the focus on improving my running speed in 2018 paid off.  There were a fair amount of 800s on the track to get there, so it was good to see the track work pay dividends.

There was no full Ironman in 2018, but I’d done Maryland in 2016 and Chattanooga in 2017 so a year off from the 140.6 distance was in the cards.  Fall Ironman races make for an exhausting summer, particularly as the long Saturday bike rides and the long Sunday runs ramp up in June or July.  Once you’ve done a full though, its really hard to readjust to some sense of normalcy once its over.

From a training standpoint, I went from 303 hours in 2016 to 394 hours in 2017 to 354 hours in 2018.  That equates to 6.8 hours/week over the course of the year, with the training load being somewhat higher in the summer than in the winter.  That was a slight pullback from last year, but I trained for Ironman Chattanooga in 2017 and I wasn’t training for a full Ironman this time around.  I also lost some training time in the Spring due to injury and illness.

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On that note, 2018 was okay for me in the injury department, but there were some bumps in the road for sure.  I continued to see Tressa once a month so she can work on my piriformis issues and my IT bands (and whatever else is bothering me at the moment), and she’s kept me moving forward pretty well.  Her sessions can be pretty painful, but she’s worth every penny.  Plus, she lets me bring my dog.  Actually, I don’t think I’m allowed to come to an appointment without my dog.

Two new issues came up this year though, with the first being (what I think is) an oblique strain on my left side.  I’m not sure what the precipitating event was, but I began having pain under my left rib cage just before Easter.  The pain was never overwhelming, but it was nagging and noticeable during training.  Diagnostics didn’t reveal anything concrete, and prescription anti-inflammatories helped for a while.  I was almost back to 100% when I ran out of pills, and then I re-aggravated it doing swim sprints.  It was re-aggravated again after spreading mulch this Fall, and its still bugging me today.  Not enough to need any additional treatment, but its getting pretty old at this point and I’d like for it to go away.

The other issue was intractable headaches that started in June and which went on for 2-3 months.  I had a headache pretty much everyday all day and I was taking 6-8 Ibuprofen per day to try to deal with it.  That made training difficult at times, because riding a bike with a splitting headache isn’t a whole lot of fun.  The only thing that I could think of that might have been causing the headaches was the fact that we’d gotten a kitten in May.  I never had pet allergies growing up, but maybe I’d developed a cat allergy over time.  Tressa finally gave me some supplements to take, and the headaches resolved within a week or two of starting on her regimen.

So overall, 2018 was a pretty good year, even though there were some hiccups.  I also turned 40 this year and aged up into the “masters” category, which is certainly bittersweet.  Still, I’m blessed to be able to say that I’m faster and fitter at 40 than at any other time in my life, but its getting harder and harder to keep the upward trajectory going.  The performance gains are definitely diminishing at this point, but I’m going to try to hold on to them for a few more years.

Looking ahead, 2019 is going to be an awesome year – with two Ironman brand races already on the books.  Ironman created a new 70.3 race in Williamsburg that takes place in May, and I think most of the Richmond triathlon community is going to be there, including Leigh Anne (its her first 70.3).  I also got the go ahead to sign up for Ironman Louisville next October, and I can’t wait to get back to another 140.6.  My current race calendar is here.

In closing, thanks to Karen Holloway and Erin Wittwer for coaching me, for putting up with all of my whining and for letting me wear the ProK dots even though I can’t seem to stay on course.  Thanks to Leigh Anne and the rest of my family for living through this with me and for the motivation and encouragement that they provide.  Thanks to my friends, who are probably sick of seeing anything remotely workout related on my Facebook wall, and thanks to the two or three people who actually read my blog instead of just looking at the pretty pictures.

As always, thanks for reading and Happy New Year!

giant acorn

Ok, so I lied about the pictures being pretty.

“You’re the face of the future, the blood in my veins…”

2018 Richmond 8k

Race Report

55:01    (11:04 min/mile)     1/5 AG

(Jillian’s Results)

November 10, 2018 – For the past few years I’d run either the Richmond Marathon (2015 and 2016) or the Richmond Half Marathon (2017) in November as my last serious race of the year.  Technically, the Turkey Day 5k comes last, but my real prep work after tri season ends has been for the full or the half marathon.  Leigh Anne had planned to run the half this year, so I was going to be on parenting duty for the race.  I could have inquired about a babysitter if I really wanted to race, like we’d done in the past, but for a couple of reasons, I decided against racing.

Still, over the summer Jillian and I began talking about whether she might be interested in running the 8k.  She’d done a couple of 5ks in the past, but nothing over that distance.  Jillian told me that she wanted to run it, but I made her commit to training for it before I would agree to sign her up.  Jackson had no interest in racing, and he’s old enough now to stay home alone by himself for a few hours.  So, after Jillian promised to put in the training, I signed us both up.  We planned to run the 8k while Leigh Anne tackled the half marathon, and then Jillian and I would have a bit of time to wait around before Leigh Anne finished.

Generally speaking, I made Jillian run with me at least once a week over the summer and fall, and Leigh Anne would take her some as well.  Most of the time, I’d do my Saturday morning bike and transition run and then I’d collect Jillian for her training run.  We started off running about 1.5 miles and I tried to add about a half mile every week.  Jillian has a lot of natural running ability and loves to race, but man, she doesn’t like to train.  It probably didn’t help that it was hot and humid on some of our runs, and there was a lot of complaining early on.

In those moments, I tried to remind her that it was her idea to run the 8k, and that she needed to follow through with her training commitment if she wanted to race.  On one particularly gruesome three mile run, the complaining (and even crying) got so bad that I stopped, began to walk and told her that I was done training her for the race.  Since it was so terrible, we could just walk back to the house and call it quits.  Now, I always let her run at the pace of her choosing and we took walk breaks whenever she needed, so its not like I was setting the pace and forcing her to keep up with me.  She was just having trouble getting her head in the right place on the training runs.  I guess my comment about quitting got through to her though, because she ran the rest of the way home and then apologized for having a bad attitude.  She promised to have a better attitude in the future if we could still train for the race.

Shortly thereafter, I found her pink Ipod Shuffle in a drawer and gave it to her for our next run.  Well apparently that was the magic elixer, because I never heard another complaint on any of our other runs.  If I heard anything from her at all while we ran, it was typically her singing Imagine Dragons songs.  I hate running without music too, so I’m not sure why it took me so long to solve that piece of her puzzle.

Most of the time, our training runs were done at just above a 12 minute/mile pace, which seemed to be the pace that Jillian was comfortable running longer distances.  Since the 8k equates to almost exactly five miles, my goal time for her for the race was one hour.  I was cautiously optimistic that she could make it once the adrenaline of race day kicked, but I was afraid to push her too much since she had never run five miles.  Her longest training run was just over four miles and included some walking.  Thus, I planned to run very close to 12 minute miles for miles 1-4 and then hope she had a strong finishing kick so she would come in under the one hour mark.  I was really afraid of pushing too hard early and having her bonk at the end.

Pre-Race

Race morning was clear and sunny, but it was in the 30’s as we drove downtown to the race site.  The temperature was supposed to rise into the low to mid-40s during the race, but there was going to be some wind chilling it down a bit.  I always over-dress for cold weather runs, but I was cognizant of the fact that Jillian and I would have an hour-plus wait for Leigh Anne in the cold after we finished our race.

We used Leigh Anne’s parking pass to park in the MCV Hospital parking deck and then wound our way to the 8k starting line through the hospital.  That also gave us all the opportunity to use indoor plumbing instead of having to hit the portapotties outside, and after I checked my backpack at the bag drop, Jillian and I made our way into the starting corral and nestled into the one hour pace group.  It was fairly crowded, so we held hands to make sure we didn’t get separated once the gun went off.

8k pre

Getting ready to race!

Garmin Data

Race

 

map

Mile 1 (11:31)

We were in a mass of people at the start, and it was tough to maneuver for the first quarter mile or so.  Eventually, we made our way over to the left side of Broad Street and found a little bit of breathing room.  We’d started at the back of the one hour pace group, so most of the people should have been moving at about our pace.  Nevertheless, I felt like we were constantly weaving around slower people in the first mile, including a lot of folks who’d already started walking.  There was a slower pace group behind ours in the starting corral, so I was a little perturbed by the walkers who had seeded themselves ahead of us.  I’ve got no problem with people walking the course, but a little better self-seeding would be helpful.

Jillian was cruising along in the first mile and basically silent since she had her Ipod going.  She continued to hold my hand, and I asked her every quarter mile or so if she was happy with the pace.  She voiced no concerns, so we kept plodding along and hit the one mile mark at 11:31.  A little fast, so I decided to throttle us back a little.

Mile 2 (11:50)

The second mile continued west on Broad Street and it was basically more of the same.  Jillian continued to affirm that the pace was good for her and the spacing between us and the other runners was still improving.  There were a fair amount of spectators on the sidewalk, including a band or two.  Jillian had never run in a large race, so I think she was pretty excited to see all the sights, and it probably kept her mind off of running a bit.  We finished the second mile a little closer to our 12:00 minute/mile goal, and things seemed to be going well.8k race.jpg

Mile 3 (11:41)

We hit the first water stop just after mile two and I was hoping that we could just run through it.  Jillian said that she wanted to get some water, and I figured that she would stop and take her time.  Nope, she grabbed a cup and threw it back like a champ without missing a beat.  I’m not sure when she’d practiced that move, but I need some pointers from her since since I invariably choke when I do the same.

Around mile 2.3 we hit the westernmost part of the course and took a left turn towards Grace Street to head back east.  There were a lot of spectators near the turnaround and Jillian got a lot of encouragement.  I told her that we were about halfway done and she seemed to be having no trouble maintaining our pace, even though we’d averaged about 20 seconds per mile faster than our goal pace up to that point.  I was wondering if I should push the pace even more, but I was still concerned about her bonking near the end since she’d never ran five miles before.

Mile 4 (11:20)

Right after the turnaround point we’d passed a boy who was running with his dad.  He looked like he was a year or two older than Jillian, so I pointed him out and told her that she was doing so well that she was passing a boy.  She smiled and pressed on.

We didn’t get too far though before she pulled up and said “I need to walk.”  I was immediately concerned since we had almost two miles to go, and I was already having heartburn in thinking that I’d pushed the pace too hard.  As it turned out, one of her ear buds had come out and she just wanted to fix it.  I did my best to get it to go back into her ear as we make a quick stop, and then we were off and running again.  The boy had passed us while we were stopped, and Jillian was motivated to pass him again.

All was well again until mile 3.75, when the ear bud popped out again.  We stopped to fix it once more, but Jillian told me to take it off and that she’d finish without the Ipod.  Even with the two stops, we were actually having our fastest mile so far, so I was pretty happy about that.  We only had a mile and a quarter left, so I was cautiously optimistic that we’d make it to the end without a bonk.

At that point, I decided to take a page from Coach Karen’s playbook and wage a little psychological warfare.  Even though were were ahead of schedule, I told Jillian that we were slightly behind, but that we could finish in under an hour if we went a little faster.  She said “lets go,” so off we went.  We finished mile four in 11:20.

8k race 2.jpg

Mile 5 (8:34)

As soon as we passed the mile 4 marker Jillian looked at me and said, “I want to run fast.”  I told her to set the pace and that I’d follow.  The next thing I knew, she was running at a sub-9:00 minute pace and we were passing people left and right.  I reminded her that we still had about a mile left to go, but she was on a mission.  I knew that the end of the course was downhill and fast, but she was running so hard that I was still a little worried.

We continued east on Grace Street, and then the course cut over to Franklin Street for a couple of blocks.  There was then a right turn onto 5th Street, which left a half mile to the finish line.  Jillian’s breathing was getting really labored and she started telling me that her legs hurt.  We were too close to the end to ease up though, particularly with nice downhill finish.  Thus, I told her that it was a good burn that that she’d feel great once we crossed the line.  Her favorite shirts of all time (mine and hers) say “Suck It Up Buttercup,” so I told her that the shirts were talking about that particular moment and to revel in the pain instead of hating it.

At that point, I started picking out people ahead of us and telling her that we’d better not let them beat us.  Lady in a purple shirt…guy with a red hat, etc. We’d pass that person and then I’d pick someone else out for her to catch.  We did that all the way down the hill and we passed a lot of people!  Finally, we saw the finish line camera so I told Jillian to make sure she looked up and smiled.8k finish.jpg

As we crossed the finish line, the announcer must have read his screen wrong.  He said, “here comes Justin Gravatt, how about that folks, only eight years old.”  We got a good laugh out of it, but I was concerned that perhaps our bibs had gotten mixed up or something.  Thankfully it was just an announcing error, and we’d finished in 55:01 – five minutes ahead of our goal.  Jillian had run the last mile in 8:34, so she had plenty left in the tank coming into the last mile.  Who knows how fast she could have run if I hadn’t held her back for four miles.  Maybe we’ll find out next year?

Post-Race

After finishing, we went to the bag check and got my backpack so that we could both put on some additional clothes.  It was getting pretty chilly since we’d stopped running, and we had about an hour and a half to wait for Leigh Anne to finish the half marathon.  As Jillian and I walked back towards the finishing area, a girl approached us and asked me for my number so she could text me the photos she’d taken of us on the course.  One of those photos is the cover for this post, and she said that she thought it was cute that we were holding hands while running.  In actuality, Jillian held my hand for the entire race, with the only exceptions being the times that she’d grabbed water at the aid stations and when I was fixing her Ipod.  I don’t really track the stat, but I’m pretty sure that five miles of hand holding beat my prior hand holding PR by at least four miles.

After a while, Leigh Anne finished her half marathon and earned a PR of her own, even though it hadn’t been a perfect race for her.  She’d followed the pacing plan that her coach put together for her though, so it had all worked out in the end.  As we walked back up Broad Street towards the MCV parking deck we came across a reporter for the Richmond Times Dispatch, who asked us a few questions about ourselves and about the race.  We made it into the paper the next day, so that was neat.  Even better though, was finding out later that night that Jillian won her age group by over seventeen minutes – despite being the youngest female in the entire race!  Hopefully that’s a sign of great things to come for her.

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