Inspect and Adapt

“Fuckity fuck fuck.”

“This is such a disappointment.”

“I need to get off this bike.”

“I need a hug.”

These are all words that have come out of my mouth in the last 36 hours or so.  All of them the result of Ironman Hawaii and my poor performance.  I don’t want to dwell more than a paragraph or two on Kona;  If it isn’t obvious, I sucked.  Badly.

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The race had three redeeming qualities

  • My swim wasn’t horrible, perhaps not quite what I was hoping for but squarely in the acceptable category.
  • It wasn’t a personal worst time.
  • I got to hang out with Ben Meer a lot.

Now that the pity party is out of the way, let’s get my hands dirty and go back to the subject of this post – Inspect and Adapt.  What am I talking about?  Inspect and Adapt, I&A, is a mechanism of the SAFe framework. Which is an exceptionally buzzword filled method for accomplishing things effectively in a modern Information Technology workspace.  It boils down to breaking larger projects/efforts (features) that can be completed in a “Program Increment” into smaller components that can be delivered in full at the end of each “iteration” of the Program Increment.  A typical duration of an iteration is two weeks, and a program increment could be twelve weeks.  During each iteration you partake in mid-block reviews and retrospectives.  The focus is on accomplishing the work you commit to and minimizing outside interference.  I&A comes at the end of each program increment where you review what worked, what didn’t, and make adjustments to your program to improve it and go at it again.

Now that I’ve totally lost you, I’ll stop the buzzword bingo.  Hopefully, some of those things I described trigger the words planning and periodization to pop into your head.  The number one goal of SAFe is to enable organizations to deliver expected, desired, and valuable outcomes in a predictable and cost effective fashion.  The same is true of periodization, and the associated planning process for training.

So back to Kona: I sucked. Again. I put in the work. Again. I didn’t get the outcome I expected. Again. Which means something went wrong in the process. (Again.)  What went wrong?

I am going to chalk it up to one thing:  riding the trainer too much.  Not for the usual reason that I don’t feel comfortable in the wind (I do), or I’m a panzie on downhills (I am), but simply that the bike fits differently on the trainer than it does on the road.   Most likely resulting from me setting my fit to be comfortable on the trainer, without frequent enough or long enough outdoor sessions to provide WTF feedback.

The hot spots on both my feet from last minute new shoes (not by choice), and my inability to tolerate my position on my bike led to me being just miserable.  And unwound my day.

Aside from Kona, I am really tired of my inability to deliver consistent performances.

I have been the top amateur at WTC events.  Twice.

I have gained eligibility for a USAT elite membership.  Three times.

I have finished high enough, at the right races, to earn a Kona slot. Eight times.

I should not consider 4:28 a good day.

I should not finish 44th in my division at USAT Nationals.

I should be ashamed I can’t qualify for 70.3 Worlds when that is the reason for putting my wife and child through ~22 hours of driving.

I am sick of the trend line going in the wrong direction, with a year or two between upticks.

I bitch and moan a lot on this blog interspersed with thoughtful and helpful posts, and to share stories of my success.  For better or worse a lot of those whiny blog posts center around a lot of similar things: Wah I suck or wah my bike fit sucks (I didn’t do a through review so there could be lots of other WAHs out there). With a lot of fluffy talk, then usually with a performance good enough to forestall serious action.

I need to fix these two problems, because not enjoying my bike and not having fun are killing my enthusiasm for the sport and are resulting in me questioning if putting my family through the stress of training for anything less than what I am capable of is worth it.  Both my family and myself do not deserve outcomes like yesterday for the effort we have put into it over the past year.  If I can’t do my family and myself justice come race day, I need to search elsewhere for self-validation.

Shit or get off the pot.  At 37 I have only a handful of years, if any to maximize my racing before it starts to taper off despite what I wish.

The first order of business is to fix my fit.  I’m going to set a goal of making this happen by the end of the month.  That gives me two weeks after I get back from Hawaii to get myself to someone and do something about it.  Most importantly I am giving myself a hard deadline to do something, with a short enough target window that I can’t have some lucky coincidence leave me thinking action doesn’t need to be taken or it can be delayed.  Accountability.

After that we will have to inspect and adapt to fix the consistency of performance issue; Weighted Shorted Jobs First.

Ironman Arizona 2015

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I am pretty wired after the day today, so I figured it may be an interesting thought experiment to capture my postrace thoughts before heading to bed tonight, especially since the plan is to try to unplug from triathlon and the world for the rest of the week while at the Grand Canyon.

There’s no need to dive into the goals or plan for the race, I covered that a couple days ago.

Pre-race:
I headed over to the race site solo, since Mary had the two kids to deal with today. Fortunately our hotel was situated within easy walking distance where she could watch the swim, bike, and the run – and only be a couple of minutes from the hotel. Plus, this would leave the car close to the race site, for my hopefully broken body postrace.

Getting everything prepared was pretty typical and normal. My front tire, whose valve core had been causing me some grief upon arriving in Arizona, behaved itself and inflated, and held pressure the way it was supposed to. After getting everything set, I visited the porta potties, and got my wetsuit on. The swim corral was pretty crowded and I had a bit of a tough time getting to the front row – I guess that’s to be expected when I didn’t head over until just when the pro women started, leaving me only 5 minutes.

Swim:
IM Arizona instituted a rolling start this year, but unlike my experiences at IMCDA – a controlled influx through an arch, and IMTX, a controlled entrance through a boat ramp – they had us “walk” down the exit steps. I was not a big fan of this entrance method, and actually felt like it was a bit on the risky/unsafe side. I felt that people were pretty pushy and in a rush, considering that I ended up being somewhere between 2nd and 5th out of the water, I wasn’t even able to get in the first group down the steps. I found it pretty interesting that Luis Alverez – who swam a 1:12 was in the first row – I mean WTF dude – are you looking to get swum over?

After the start it was the usual frantic craziness of people swimming all out the first couple hundred meters, I got smacked in the face once, by some idiot within the first 50 meters of swimming. While I had no real issues with the rolling start at IMCDA and IMTX, I think IM should reinstitute the mass start here – it’s obvious that there are some knuckle heads that don’t feel the need to appropriately self-seed based on expected time. And those steps are just plain stupid.

I digress though – I planned to swim and cut the tangent of the course, I’m not sure how much this reduces the distance based off of swimming the buoy line, but since the theme of the day was do what I need to do – I made it happen. A couple buoys in, one swimmer distanced himself from me, also following the tangent, off to my left there were two or three people swimming the buoy line – by the time we had reached the rural road bridge I thought I had separated myself from them, but towards the end of the swim one of them started to get real touchy feeling – so it turns out I just gave them a free tow.

I swam pretty easy and relaxed – I just focused on swimming a solid and steady pace. I exited the water and glanced at the clock and was really surprised to see it read 1:01 -which assuming it was the pro men’s clock – meant I had swum a 51 – my fastest IM swim in over a decade.

T1:
I used the wet suit strippers to get my suit off right away – and then moved through transition quickly. Nothing special happened, just got it done.

Bike:
Based on the weather forecast this morning, and my power target of 235 – my “expected” bike split was 4:37 and change. I left T1 and immediately my legs just didn’t seem happy about the power, mostly due to tightness in my adductors, which has been a theme for the past year or so. Given my mantra for the day of wanting a positive experience – I chose to trust my fitness, and road my plan. I decided that I would ride the target until I couldn’t and then I would reevaluate then. Not knowing exactly what my body was thinking – I made sure to focus on nutrition and hydration. Take in the planned calories, and make sure to wash it down with enough water to keep it moving through – which at the least would make sure I never became under fueled or bonkish – artificially affecting my mental state of mind.

Power wise the first loop went well – I was able to elevate my power to ~245-250 on the climb to the turn around. After the turn around I was able to hammer down the hill, even with the tailwind – holding around 235 – I think this was mostly due to the addition of a 55t large chainring to my bike – thanks to Rob Gray for the idea. Starting the second loop I hit a pretty dark spot physically that lasted about until we hit the Beeline, where suddenly things started firing smoothly, my adductors finally loosened up and I started to relax really well into my position. This lasted through about the end of the second loop – where my legs started not doing so hot holding steady state power. I found myself really only able to hold about 220 steady, but I had no issues elevating power when needed – for example I was again able to ride the “climb” to the turnaround in the 240s.

After the last turn around, the inconsistent power output continued, however I did not allow it to pierce my mental bubble. I was fueling well, and despite having the hint of some VMO/adductor cramping, I was making good time – and knew that I have run well at multiple races feeling worse then I felt today.

Around mile 90, the spitting that we were getting turned into a steady rain, which I actually found enjoyable. There are few things in life as pleasant as sailing along at 25 mph, with water spraying off your wheel into your legs.

Once the rain started, I approached all the turns with an extra level of caution, thinking that the last thing I needed was to wipe out. With about 5 miles left of the bike, I finally caught the last amateur riding ahead of me, putting me into T1 as the first age grouper. As I finished up the bike, I thought to myself – man that ramp is going to be slippery. As I slowed and rolled up to the ramp – a volunteer said – “Be careful, the ramp is really slippery”. What do I do, somehow I manage to hit the ramp not head on, my front wheel slides out, and down I go – bam – right on my left shoulder and hip.

I quickly popped back up, got back on the bike – only to find that the chain had dropped down past the small ring – thanks SRAM chain catcher….. so I just sort of skate biked the last 100/200 meters to the dismount line – which unfortunately resulted in my bike split being a high 4:39, instead of a 4:38 – always something.

T2:
Again uneventful. I took my time – got my socks and shoes situated well knowing that it would be really wet – perfect conditions for growing blisters, had a cup of water and then headed out onto the run. While I took my time in T2 – Adam Webber blazed through, apparently coming in off the bike just a few seconds behind me, and putting him out onto the run about 20 to 30 seconds in front of me.

Run:
At this point, I had become convinced that Steve Johnson was a DNS – having not seen any signs of him on the bike course, I figured I had a decision to make – assume there are no blazing fast runners behind me and go catch Adam quick like and put him out of his misery, or work the plan of doing what was right for me and simply bide my time.

I chose to bide my time, and headed out jogging – ticking off an endless string of 7:08 to 7:12 miles according to my GPS. I focused on running easy and fueling – ignoring my bladder telling me it was about to burst – I told it – let me know when you are willing to break the seal without causing me to break stride and we’ll talk.

About mile 6 Adam finally started to slow a bit, and I started to make up ground – making the pass at mile 8 or so. From there on I continued my focus on fueling – basically a shot from my gel flask every other aid station – and two cups of water at each.

Around mile 11, as we headed back down towards transition I hit a bit of a rough patch and slowed for a few miles, but I let it happen – getting passed pretty handily by Amanda Stevens at mile 13. By about mile 14, things were better and my pace came back down into the 7:teens and low 7:20s – and I was able to keep it there for the most part for the next 8 or so miles, with the exception of the few inclines on the course. Because of some confusion at run special needs I missed my bag, causing me to switch my aid station routine to a cup of water and a cup of coke to keep the calories flowing in.

Once I got to mile 20, I reminded myself that my plan was to run a strong final 10k – with strong having a loose definition. At that point I checked the time, and defined strong as being running the last 10k quick enough for a sub 8:50 finish. At each mile I would do the math of how much time I had left, how fast I had to average, and I simply plugged away.

This time as I ran down the last mile and a half to transition/the finish – I was strongly focused on staying on the pace and getting to the finish line under 8:50. In the end, I ended up at 8:49:04 – a course PR by 10 minutes and 57 seconds – on a day when the top pro went a very similar time to what Eneko did back in 2011 – indicating a pretty strong improvement over the last four years since I’ve raced here.

My run split was 3:12:02 – which is my second fastest split, but it is the fastest run split of the days where I have gunned it from the start on the bike.

I’m very happy with the result, and I ticked off all the goals I had set out for this race. I am a little bummed that Steve Johnson had some body issues that resulted in a DNS – as I am sure it would have been a great dual – I’m sure the day will come for a head to head match up.

Going into the race I had told my wife, that an absolutely perfect day would give me a time of about 8:45, with a finish time of 8:55 to 9:05 being the most likely. I’m really happy with an 8:49, telling me that today was about as perfect as the come.

I haven’t been able to download my run because I left my Ant+ stick at home, and while I also haven’t downloaded my bike, shortly before the dismount I recall that it was 220 AP/225 NP – which was a good deal lower than my target, and about 3 AP/5NP lower than my race here in 2011. I’m really not going to lose any sleep over the difference. My preparation indicated that 235 was realistic, so I guess that’s the way it rolls sometimes. On the bright side it bodes well for my CdA, and that coupled with my ability to elevate my output when needed is good – I just need to continue the progress I’ve made since Texas to help me return to a state where I am able to sustain my target power for the duration.

Closing out a few observations of people in general:
It seems like most people in the race over estimate what they can accomplish on race day – see my earlier mini-rant about swim seeding and people going out way to fast. Folks – there is no need to try and swim a 2:15 first 200 meters in an Ironman – particularly when your best time for a 100 meters is a 1:07. Slow down.

I was shocked on the second loop of the run at how “hard” it was to pass some of the first lappers. Here I am running 7:20-7:30 pace, and I decide I need to slow down because I’m unable to pass this dude who is running in a space blanket on his first lap. Guy – you are 3 miles into this thing and the race clock is at 7:40 – you are not going to be holding on for a 3:15 marathon. Slow. Down.

People do not pay attention to their surroundings on the bike. I was nearly pushed over the yellow line at least two times, by people swerving unexpectedly to the left. Countless times I had to slow and wait to pass while some person who felt it was his privilege to ride 18 mph down the center of the lane, forcing people to have to queue up to pass him.

People really appreciate it on the run when you cheer for them – no matter if you are passing them or running in the opposite direction. I got several thanks and one – “Man, I really needed that” as a result of my cheering/congratulating competitors throughout the day.

Treading Water in Texas

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I signed up for Ironman Texas last fall, about a month after finding out that we were expecting Evelyn.  I’m not exactly sure what my motivation to do so was.  It didn’t seem likely I would take a Kona spot, given that I was intending to do Ironman Arizona too.  Which meant that if things went according to plan, we would go to Kona again in 2016, keeping to our every other year pattern.

Realistically it probably had a lot to do with feeling like I had put all of the 2014 eggs on Kona (which had still to hatch), and 2011, 2012, and 2013 all went well as a whole with two Ironmans per season – where a subpar race didn’t leave the potential for feeling that the whole year was subpar.  Plus with a new baby, I figured it would be a great challenge, which I always enjoy.  After talking about it with Mary, I pulled the trigger.

A little more on the new kiddo.  Other than the few days surrounding Evelyn’s birth (+-4 weeks prior to race day), training for IM Texas was smooth and was minimally impacted by the new arrival.  It helped that I took nearly 3 weeks off of work, which coupled with a week of working from home – allowed a very easy transition.  I intentionally cut the last few long rides a bit short – 4 instead of 5 hours, with one 3 hour smash fest – but between consistency, experience, and what Best Bike Split was modeling – I felt as prepared, and was quietly confident in what was going to happen at Texas.  I didn’t have to tell myself it was going to be good – I knew it was going to be good.

I started the race in the first row of the rolling start, I had no intention of pushing the swim, though with the day in retrospect – I would go back and spend the effort to gain the 30 seconds or so I needed to get the Roka FOTW award.

After doing my own thing for a little bit, I picked a set of suitable feet and stayed there for the next 50 or so minutes.  Whoever was the owner of those feet had a swim stroke that was perfect for drafting….one of the easiest swims of my life.   I don’t know if that is a sign of my swim fitness being really good or if I just picked the right feet.

I spent most of the swim in 3-5th place, always able to see the top two guys just a little ahead, but with my eye on the bigger picture of the day as a whole and wanting to kick some ass – I was patient and just eyed the distance to make sure my tug boat didn’t falter relative to them.

The portion of the swim through the canal was really neat in that you could hear the spectators yelling at you, but it was also a lot choppier than the portion in the lake – and it felt like there was a current pulling us back out.

I exited the water with the group I spent the whole swim with – and moved with purpose to get my transition bag, and into the tent I went.  Glasses, helmet, flask – GO (my shoes were already clipped into my bike).  I grabbed my bike from my rack and started heading out of transition and was really stoked to hear them announce that I was the first amateur.  Wire-to-wire was the thought that went through my head.

I hopped on the bike and quickly navigated the first couple turns to get out onto the Woodlands Parkway where I settled into my goal watts.  Unlike Kona last year, I was planning to ride conservative and simply repeat past IM bike watts that resulted in no fade and a solid run.  After a couple minutes I noticed that my helmet strap was coming unstrung – so I stopped – fixed it and was back on my way.

The next 2 hours or so continued like that riding tried and true watts – while doing tried and true nutrition – moving very quickly through the course – the tailwind helped a bit.  At some point a guy in a QT2 kit rolled up and passed me – I resisted the urge to say – I’m feeling good – stick with him, and just stuck to my guns.  Probably a half an hour later I passed him back and was moving deep into the women’s pro field.

Around this time we turned into the wind – and suddenly my power was gone.  It felt very similar to what I experienced in Kona last year once the wind kicked up – kind of like I have forgotten how to handle the bike in the wind and keep the watts going.  My last ~50 miles averaged about 10% lower watts than my first ~60 – it wasn’t a continual drop – more like a drop over the course of 30 to 40 minutes and then it flattened out for the rest.

I did feel a little bit of stomach issues coming on during the ride too – I won’t say much more than that my stomach wasn’t acting like a finely tuned machine, but I wasn’t feeling completely out of whack.  I just told myself – stick to the plan – it works in training, it’s worked in the past….

Towards the tail end of the bike I started to catch a few male pros and I was repassed by the QT2 guy and two other AGers – putting my into T2 as the 4th place amateur.  Overall – I was really happy with my bike split, but disappointed in my watts, how my bike went, and how my ass felt on the bike.  I just could not find the comfort on my saddle that I find in training.  I’m not sure if it’s the pad in my Spider, indoors vs. outdoors, or something else – I was just really glad for the bike ride to be done for a multitude of reasons.

But I was extremely happy to roll into T2 and see all of the Agers in front of me – in the tent, or just leaving the tent.  I thought back to my experience at IMCDA in 2012 where I left T2 completely blitzed and barely able to walk – and I ran my second fastest (at the time) IM run.

I had faith that if I stuck to my plan to run very conservatively my fitness would see me through.  Unfortunately, as they say – no plan survives contact with the enemy.  Mile 1 was an extremely relaxed 6:5X mile, followed by a walk in the park of 7:10, and so it went for about 7 miles.  I moved into 3rd AGer around mile 2, and could see both of the guys in front of me depending on the terrain.  They didn’t appear to be slowing down, and the easier I tried to run – the more I kept hovering in that 7:10 to 7:15 range.  The heat and humidity did not seem horrendous – which means maybe the Sauna bathing I did had a benefit – so I simply focused on trying to run really easy and not force it, hoping that as the race ground on I would slow a little, but by being able to counter it with extra effort (“suffering”) – I would never fall off the cliff.

That went well until somewhere between mile 7 and 8 – where about a minute past the Red Bull aid station, after the second out and back – and probably a good mile to mile and a half until the next aid station – I suddenly had to go number 2 urgently.  The urge was so strong that I for a moment I considered turning around to use the porta john I had just left behind.  After a short bit of internal dialogue I decided that I am sufficiently practiced in butt clenching that I would see if I could make it to the next aid station – worst case scenario I would simply go in my tri-kit – which fortunately was black.

Luck was on my side and I managed to make it to the aid station, I hopped in and my butt was like a firehose for a good 15 seconds – I quickly got out and went back about my business, but my legs were really starting to complain and I accepted that my pacing decision had not been the right choice.

I had not yet been passed by anyone, so I focused on getting the job done and moving purposefully – there is no giving up, no feeling sorry – just problem solving and getting to the finish line as fast as you can – given the realities of the situation.

About 9 miles or so after my first porta potty I had to go *again* – that’s a first for me – I have never, ever had to poop twice in a race.

At this point my legs were pretty toast.  In order to keep from giving up, I picked a target – beat your 9:25 from Kona 2012 – if you do that you can at least say that this was your fastest time in hot conditions – so I spent the next six or so miles doing the math on what was required to beat that mark.  Around mile 23 I took a really solid aid station walk break to gather myself for a final push – and during that last push I kept reminding myself that this is only going to be 28 minutes or so – Mary spent all day pushing out Evelyn – you can do this.

I was really glad to see the finish line, and as long as the little victory lap they made us do before we got to cross was – I was really glad to be there and see all the fans and the finishing arch because I knew I had gotten to the finish line, and I had beat that mark I had set as the carrot in the race to keep me moving.

I was happy to find out that I finished fourth in my age group and 30th overall – I think both are a very respectable showing, especially in respect to the field that the race drew both in terms of pros and amateurs.

I am both happy with the race as a whole and feel much better about it than I did about Kona last fall – and I was pretty happy with that race.  I am happy that I finally feel like I turned in a good bike split after some poor performances on the bike in both IM and shorter races – i.e.  I feel like my watts to speed ratio is back in line.  I am happy with my swim – both that I was able to find a very good draft, but that my swim fitness was strong enough to get me through a fresh water – no wetsuit swim that quickly.

I am disappointed in my continued inability bring my run to the table, and to execute as a whole.  I may not be able to run like Johnson, Iott, or Schnur – but I have run 3:1X multiple times, with a few of them being meltdown slugfest runs.  To run 3:39 twice in a row is unacceptable and leaves me with some questions:

Why am I shitting myself, and why am I feeling like my previously proven race day and regularly tested on long training day nutrition is not working as well as it has in the past?

  • Am I overworking myself causing a breakdown in the balance?
  • I believe I have previously read that too much electrolytes can cause GI issues – do I need to include less of them?
  • Are these GI issues contributing to the bike fade/etc?

Why am I experiencing power fade on the bike?

  • Pacing?
  • Fitness?
    • Could my fitness in terms of CP both on the bike and/or run not be what it was in 2011/2012/2013 even though field testing and training says the difference is noise – or that they are “stronger” now?
    • Did I underperform on CP tests back then vs. now?
  • Am I not riding outside enough to “multitask” adequately in wind/rough roads?

Why is my saddle position on race day intolerable compared to training?

  • Pad difference in race day kit?
  • Physical saddle position/tilt?
  • Bike posture between indoors and outdoors on race day?

Was IM Texas none of the above – and simply an example of “This is what happens when you live in Wisconsin and you race in Texas in May”?

I ask these questions not to denigrate my performance, but to create a problem solving framework to enable brainstorming, solicit feedback, and to create a non-panicked approach to the next 6 months to enable me to arrive at IMAZ with the form that I have displayed previously.

Finally – I really enjoyed the race in The Woodlands.  I was a little bummed at the work it took to get in some safe pre-race bike riding, but the atmosphere, course and experience was enjoyable.  I would definitely like to come back and race here again.

Ironman World Championship 2012

Pre-Race:

After a pair of major breakthroughs at Kona and IMAZ last year, I set some admittedly lofty goals for myself this year at Kona. One of those goals was to finish in the top 5 in my Age Group; I figured a performance along the lines of IMAZ would put me in strong contention for this.

We arrived on the Big Island on Saturday, with my plan to do my last “long” workout on Sunday. Aside from a slight worry about my left calf, which was pretty tender due to a bad cramp during a swim session on Friday prior to leaving Milwaukee, race week unfolded great. My Monday 1,000 timed effort was a massive PR, and my other workouts felt great.

Wednesday I woke up with a slight sore throat, but I didn’t notice it once the day got rolling, Thursday it was pretty noticeable all day, but I otherwise felt fine. On Friday I woke up and just didn’t feel right, my pre-race S/B/R workout just didn’t have the magic I’d been feeling all week, my legs felt heavy and lethargic, and my throat was really sore.

I cut the session a little short, and picked up some Emergen-C at Target. I spent the rest of the day relaxing as much as I could, and only left the condo again for the short trip to the pier to drop my gear off.

I figured I was suffering the curse of “You have a two year old living in your house”, but rather than freak out about being sick/off/etc for the race, I simply told myself – you’ve had solid key workouts feeling worse than this. Stay calm and focus on controlling what you can control.

I woke up race morning not noticing the sore throat, but still feeling heavy like I had the previous day.

Swim:

I lined up in roughly the middle of the starting line, in the first/second row. I was fortunate enough to overhear someone talking that he was going to swim a 51, so I figured I was likely in a good spot, and just camped out the next 10 minutes or so waiting for the cannon.

As the clock turned over to 7 am, instead of the cannon, we were sent on our way by Mike Reilly yelling “GO, GO, GO, GO”

During the scrum that is the first few hundred meters of the swim, I focused on keeping under the red-line and staying relaxed. The crowd thinned out sooner than I expected it to and I settled in on a pair of feet. I was able to pretty comfortably follow the train of swimmers around the course, but my legs felt like logs dragging me down. A few times during the swim the thought of DNF’ing popped into my mind – I simply wasn’t enjoying it, and felt off.

A few times I tested dropping out of the draft to see how quickly we were moving, and each time it took a noticeable increase in RPE to keep with the group.

I exited the water with my watch reading 54, which left me quite a bit happier than the 56 I saw last year.

Bike:

I moved through T1 quickly, only needed to strip my speedsuit and grab my number belt before heading to my bike.

Immediately on the bike, my hip flexors and legs were screaming. They literally hurt every pedal stroke. It felt like someone was stabbing me over and over and over. As I struggled to ride the opening miles of the course at my planned target wattage, I relaxed a bit and focused on just doing what I could. I was encouraged by the fact that riding at the same power as last year felt reasonable, but my hips still screamed.

I debated for a bit about calling it a day, or just ticking the Finisher box, but I decided that I was going to kick that devil in the nuts and make something happen.

Things progressed pretty much unchanged, until the turn at Kawihae, shortly after the turn I was swallowed up by what seemed like hundreds of folks (depressing). While some of the folks didn’t seem to be riding entirely honestly, there were marshals all over the place and the penalty tents were full.

Heading up to Hawi I was dreading the pleasant tailwind and downhill – with how my legs felt and my (continued) lack of desire for the effort I was fearful that I would have a difficult time keeping the power going, which the incline and the winds were forcing me to do.

When I turned back on to the Queen K, it seemed a Godsend to see mile marker 80, only 32 miles to go. Like the swim, quitting was never far from my mind: I wasn’t comfortable on the bike, I was sore, I wasn’t having fun. The only thing keeping me from stopping was that I wasn’t able to reconcile quitting simply because it sucked against all the effort I put into preparing for this day, the cost of the trip, and everything that my family put up with for me to be here.

Around the 85 mile mark an interesting thing started happening: my legs stopped complaining, my power output started to increase again and I started passing people – a lot of people.

Run:

I rolled into T2 feeling better about things: my bike split was essentially the same as last year, even a bad run would give me a finish time close to last year, and I was feeling motivated. The run through T2 was just like at IMCDA – stiff and awkward (I have to run a marathon? Really?)

I exited T2 and focused on running an easy relaxed race, at this point my GPS wasn’t reading, and I figured I was totally out of contention for awards – so all that mattered was having fun. After a couple miles of running I settled in with Kyle (who went on to be 2nd in M25-29). We were ticking off mile after mile at ~6:50. I liberally applied sponges, ice, and water to all the important places, along with some coke and Perform at each aid station.

At mile ~8 I passed by Mary and Ethan in front of our condo, and she told me I was 5th in my AG. I was shocked, while I knew I was running fast, I couldn’t believe that I was there – and I felt great. In retrospect, I believe this knowledge unleashed a bit of competitiveness as I started to be less diligent with cooling at aid stations, which may have hurt me later in the run.

Kyle and I exchanged a few war stories, and other idle chit-chat to pass the time. It was great to run with someone, it made the miles pass by much quicker.

As the minutes passed, we worked our way back into town and up on the Queen K, where by my estimation I had moved up to 3rd place and still on pace for a very fast run. Unfortunately, around mile 12 I suddenly had the very strong need to use the rest room, at this point I was half-way between aid stations. I debated the merits of holding off until the aid station or letting it go, ultimately I decided to hit the aid station as running 14 miles with a warm ice cream cone in my tri-suit wasn’t appealing.

I was in and out pretty quickly, wishing I had just kept running as it was mostly a blowout with a couple easy to deal with rabbit turds and not a full blown disaster.

I could see Kyle approximately 45ish seconds up the road, and just settled back in my pace and things continued fine for another 2 miles. Around mile 15 I just started to inexplicably slowdown and started to feel funny. My vision was narrowing; I was seeing fireworks/flashes in my vision – after a few minutes of this, I took a 1 minute walking break, hoping I could just “reset” things. I got back on the horse for 2 minutes after that – and it took a monumental effort to tick off 8:30s, and things definitely weren’t improving.

At this point it seemed like the entire field passed me. Fortunately, I was only a handful of yards from the aid station at the Energy Lab entrance. Somehow I ended up with an ice cold quart bottle of water in my hands, which I proceeded to dump on my head. After about 5 minutes of walking down into the Energy Lab, I needed to fish or cut bait, so I set out to see how things felt. Surprisingly, 9 min/mi came pretty easy, and then I found 8 min/mi wasn’t so bad, and pretty soon I was ticking off some strong 7:30 miles and found myself doing the math game: X miles times current Pace + a little = Y minutes left, means Z finishing time.

The rest of the race went by pretty quickly, I took my time in the aid stations getting plenty of fluids and searching out cold bottles to drench myself with.

I finished up the day in 9:25:08 – a 10 minute improvement over 2011 on a day that saw many people go slower than last year. I also managed to finish 14th in my AG, and 81st overall – not a bad day.

To top it off, I managed to claw myself into 3rd place in my AG for a time on a day that saw me not in it mentally or physically for much of the day.

Definitely not the result I had in mind, but I have never before dug this deep for a performance, and am very happy with the result because sometimes you simply can’t beat a refreshing glass of homemade lemonade.

 

Ironman Coeur d’Alene 2012

IMCDA 2012 was a first of a kind race for me, in that it was an Ironman that I didn’t need to worry about focusing on qualifying for Hawaii “ I already had a slot tied up.  This gave me the unique opportunity to approach this race different both in terms of training and execution “ most importantly I would be able to enter this race while on the upswing of my season’s training, with the peak still several months off as opposed to being at my peak, to ensure the best odds at nabbing a qualifying spot.

To that end I did some things differently over the winter, incorporating a heavy run focus over the winter, which has me on pace for a year on year increase of 23% in run volume over 2011, which itself was a 25% increase over 2009 (2010 was a short running year).  I also incorporated a small swim focus early in the winter.  Both of these have helped my fitness tremendously, unfortunately the downside is my bike fitness really didn’t start getting œlegs until April “ when it was interrupted by a trip to Korea!

Before I digress to far, the point is I arrived in Spokane with exactly the fitness I envisioned myself having last December when I laid out the years plan “ strong swim/run fitness, with an overall fitness that was solid for a half-Iron.

The last few days were very hard psychologically as I tried to cope with second guessing my preparation choices.  I simply focused on reminding myself that the choices were made, and I needed to do the best with the cards I chose to arrive with.  Despite the second guessing, I managed to develop a simple and straight forward race plan: swim my normal swim, exit the water and ride to the front of the race.  Kona last year proved that the worst that would happen is I’d run 3:3X, and that I wouldn’t have to deal with a recurrence of my Ironman performances in 2009.

Swim:

The pros got a very large head start at IMCDA “ 35 minutes “ basically enough time for even the worst swimmers among them to get through the first loop of the swim.  I watched the pro start with Mary and Ethan, and dawdled around for a while.  I put my wetsuit on, said goodbye to Mary and Ethan, telling Ethan œWell Daddy’s off to a harder than normal day at the office.

I got to the beach with about 15 or 20 minutes until the start, so I just planted my butt in the sand to relax and watch the pros come through on their first lap.

With about 10 minutes to go, I put on my cap goggles, and picked a spot in the front row near some folks that seemed fast.

Beyond that the swim was it’s usual thing, though a few things stand out: People go out WAY to hard in an ironman “ swear to God man “ in those first few hundred meters everybody is gonna swim a 52 minute swim or faster.  Folks, I’ve got a fact for you, you’re being dumb as dumb gets.  Slow down and build into it, it’s a lot more enjoyable that way.  The first bit of the swim was pretty rough, but I just chilled and did my thing.  After a short bit it thinned out nicely and I found two folks to swim with.  One of them being a girl “ who was swimming nice and fast¦.not being one who is too proud to admit when a girl is faster than him, I drafted like crazy J

I followed her feet for the remainder of the race, and swam nice and relaxed.

T1:

I exited the water and moved through T1 without many issues.  Unlike a couple weeks ago at Elkhart lake, I felt clearheaded, fresh, and ready to go.

Bike:

I think I passed one person in transition, and knew a few guys were out on the course in front of me. Per my race plan I decided only a Jens Voigt attitude was appropriate “ œAttack.  I rode out of T1 hard, but not insane “ and caught two people relatively quickly.  I knew that around 7 miles in I would be able to gauge my position in the field at the first turn around.

At the turn around I was just under two minutes down (IIRC), and I focused on riding strong, but was starting to notice that my saddle seemed low and as time went on it felt like it was getting lower “ NOT GOOD.

As I went through the first aid station I thought about stopping to make an adjustment there, but decided that I would wait until the second aid station as it didn’t seem that bad.  As I continued to ride the saddle kept slipping and slipping.  When I finally arrived at the second aid station it had slipped over 4 cm total.  It took me about 2:15 to get things back to normal, then I was off.  I quickly picked off the few folks that passed me.

The remainder of the first loop went OK, then as I got into the second half my power began to fade.  The remainder of the bike turned into a pretty painful affair of me fighting the losing battle against the power meter.  To stave off negative thoughts, I simply told myself: œJudge yourself based on your current fitness, not your life best fitness.  Surprisingly it worked, because despite riding stupid hard for the first 50+ miles, I still ended up with my best ride (power wise) year-to-date.

As I came back into town, I had no idea how the run was going to go.  I felt completely nuked.  The bright spot was I knew that as long as I didn’t give up on the run I would finish under 10.

Run:

My run through transition was stiff, awkward and painful, as I hit the run course it took a lot of holding back to keep it around 7:00 pace.  I started the run as 9th in the amateur race, and once my running legs proved they were decent I focused on trying to catch as many as I could.  In the end, I managed to pick off 5 folks to finish 4th amateur and 2nd in my AG.  I turned in my second fastest IM run at 3:14 (on a legit+ course!).  Things held together very well until about mile 19 “ when I finally fell off 3:09 pace (5 minutes in 7 miles lost!!!!)

Closing:

I ended up finishing up in 9:38, my 4th fastest Ironman to date, (15th OA, 4th Amateur, 2nd AG).  In the end I fell short of my secret goal for the race of a Top 10 OA time, but I gained some valuable insight and experiences:

  • Going to the roll down and seeing somebody get a trip to Kona because I was able to pass on my slot was neat.
  • I learned that even when you feel totally nuked coming off the bike “ trust your fitness.
  • IMAZ wasn’t a fluke, I can race an Ironman, and when October rolls around “ I’ll execute the day with the same plan.

American Triple T 2012

2012 marked my 7th trip to Shawnee State Park in Portsmouth, Ohio for the American Triple-T.  After having done the last 5 iterations of this race as member of a team, I was back to the solo division this year.  Early on in the season planning, I established 3 goals for myself this season, one of which was to finish in the top 3 overall in the solo division.

My training and race performances as the year developed suggested that this was a definite possibility, and I felt I was prepared to go all-in for this event and race; willingly to risk a meltdown in order to achieve my goal.  Even with the added stress of bringing Ethan home and the training adjustments that required things were looking great until about 10 days out of the race when both Mary and Ethan came down with a pretty nasty cold.  I did my best to prevent catching it: lots of vitamin C, rest, hand washing, etc.  Unfortunately, despite my best efforts on Thursday (one week out), I started seeing the signs of myself getting sick: sneezing, runny nose, body aches.

Fast forward a week later to Friday morning as we are leaving for the race, and I have managed to weather the cold pretty well.  I’m feeling well enough that there will be no excuse making about my performance for the upcoming weekend.

Friday:

I’ve always played it pretty conservative on Friday night “ always harboring a fear of tweaking something for a œsilly race at the beginning of the long weekend.  This year, I had no intentions of holding back “ given that there were some mighty fast people at the race, and I didn’t know who was solo and who was a team  – gaining 5 seconds here, or only losing 5 seconds there might mean the difference between Mission: Accomplished, and 3rd loser.

I finished up the race a little disappointed in my run (~6:03), but happy with my bike “ which left my dry mouthed and with my second highest 3 minute power of the year “ significant for it being in the midst of a race, rather than a œtest effort “ and an overall time faster than any previous Friday evening race + a top 10 finish to boot!

Saturday AM;

Saturday morning was a frustrating race.  Each leg of the race has its own highlight to make the race memorable.  Somehow, I failed to digest the instructions for the swim course properly; as a result as I came into the beach at the half way point, I failed to keep a yellow buoy on my left, so when I got to shore I was told I need to go back out and around it.  Miffed at my own stupidity I zipped back out and around said buoy and onto the second lap.  In truth “ this probably made the course a legit 1500 meters for me, but caused me to swim an extra 100 meters relative to the rest of the field.

The remainder of the swim was uneventful, and I got out onto the bike course.  Immediately, I wasn’t happy with how things felt on my bike.   My saddle height left me feeling that I just couldn’t apply any gas to the pedals.  I tried several times to stomp the gas, but every time I upped the power output I just couldn’t sustain it “ despite not feeling that I was really at a limit “I just felt constrained and uncomfortable.  The only time I really felt comfy and strong was standing¦

Needless to say how I felt on the bike left me a little crabby as I started the run, which gave me a lot of motivation to run hard.  I ran my fastest time on the course by about 2 minutes “ which left me feeling pretty pleased.

After I downloaded everything and saw that my overall time was my best by several minutes and both the bike and run were quicker “ my crabbiness dissipated a bit.  Another top 10 finish didn’t hurt J

Saturday PM:

While I warmed up for the Bike-Swim-Run race, I made a few adjustments to my saddle position, and felt a bit better about that.  As a whole this race was pretty uneventful “ I managed to ride as fast solo as Matt and I had as a team previously “ which I found made the ride a fair bit harder.  The swim and run were pretty boring “ the run wasn’t the fastest thing ever “ I felt pretty horrible the first 3 miles “ but it was an exact tie for my best time for this race “ which had me able to draft with Mr. Amman.

Sunday:

While the main goal for the weekend was Top 3 Solo “ which I had no clue where I stood at this point, I had a secondary goal of running 1:3X for the half.  I figured that with how my run has been developing the past few months, it would be pretty disappointing to not run that fast, I even secretly hopeful for something as quick as 1:31 or 1:32.

The swim was rather uneventful “ after Saturday morning’s mishap “ I made sure to keep the buoy right.  I exited the water in 22:XX “ which meant that the swim was [unsurprisingly] short.  While I used to get *real* bent out of shape when the swim (or run) course is not the right length “ now I only get slightly annoyed “ because it isn’t overly difficult to dial the course in, and particularly on the swim since every meter helps me out!  That said “ everyone swims the same course “ so whatever.

I’ve always approached pacing for the half at the Triple T with the exact same targets I would for an Ironman “ perhaps a little higher, but not much.  After getting out of the park and onto Highway 125, I immediately pegged it to the target wattage “ and immediately noticed that despite raising my saddle yesterday, and that morning, it still felt incredibly low.  I briefly considered returning to transition and finding a multi-tool and making an adjustment, but I decided that the time cost was not worth it; plus I’ve been riding like this for months “ so whatever.

I spent the first part of the ride alone, until I was caught by Adam Zucco and Scott Iott around mile 8 at the top of the first climb.  From there I spent the remainder of the first loop alone “ aside from a bit of company from the team of Colin Riley and Adam Brown.

I pulled back into the park and swapped out my fluids (3 bottles, 9 gels mixed in) “ tracked down a multi-tool and jacked up my seat.  The extra 90 seconds I spent, was definitely worth it.  I felt stronger and more comfortable on the second half of the bike “ finding an extra 10 watts, and riding 2 minutes faster.  While the official split is probably pretty similar to what Matt and I rode last year “ it was easily 90 seconds faster “ given the stop “ so I was very happy as I pulled into T2 “ particularly since I felt pretty good.

I charged out of T2 “ eager to reach the first turn around and see where I stood, as I was headed into the turnaround I was pleasantly surprised to see myself in 7th place with Adam and Scott only a few hundred meters in front of me “ with a fast looking guy about the same behind me. I managed to close the gap by the half-way point, and was a bit surprised to see a half way split of 44:40, I was even more surprised to see the guy behind me closer than he was at the far turnaround “ he was running REALLY fast.  A couple miles later I hit a rough patch, and slowed a bit “ particularly on the uphills and was repassed by Scott and Adam, but was still holding œfast guy off.

I kept telling myself that if I could make it to mile 10 “ I would be able to ride the downhill in and things would get much better.  By the far turn-around œfast guy was breathing down my back “ and he passed me on the last hill of the run “ not much I could do.   My spirits were buoyed by the fact that I was slowly closing the gap back down to Scott and Adam.   I kept things moving and the wheels on as best I could, and with a distance I can’t remember left “ I repassed Adam and Scott “ and pressed on to the finish.

I stopped the watch with a 1:33:27 run split and a time of 4:51:20 “ not a bad time.  If you add a couple minutes for the swim “ a still respectable 4:54 or 4:55.

Overall “ I managed to bag 3rd overall in the solo division “ œfast guy Darryl Austin out raced me by 5 minutes in the half, but I banked enough time in the previous races to beat him out.

J-Hawk Earlybird Triathlon 2012

I’ve opened the season with J-hawk four of the last five seasons, each year using it as a rough benchmark of my fitness.  After a long winter focused on my running and a recent PR at the half-marathon distance, I had high hopes for the race.  However, recent life events, caused me to wake up race morning just hoping I’d show up in Whitewater with everything needed to race and get to my start on time!

Swim:
5:49 (1st OA)

I can’t recall the exact time I seeded myself at when I entered the race, but it put me as the second swimming in my lane.  The first swimmer was a younger kid with the look of a decent swimmer, so I didn’t worry about catching him and having to pass him quickly, especially since my warm-up was non-existent.  7 seconds after the first swimmer started, off I went.  I swam easy and relaxed, building into it.  My primary goal for the swim was to exit the water even with, or ahead of Matt Behnke, who was swimming in the lane next to me and one swimmer ahead.  So coming out even, actually meant a 7 second lead for me!

I caught and passed Matt around the 250, and caught the lead swimmer in my lane just before the turn at 450.

Bike:
33:33 (1st OA)

The goal for the bike was simple – ride fast enough to get to extend the lead.  If Matt closed the gap on the bike, Plan B was to put in a *very* hard surge until the elastic snapped.  Fortunately, Plan A worked out just fine, and I pulled into T2 having added 17 seconds to the lead, which put me 30 seconds up at the start of the run.

Run (Cross Country):
19:03 – (2nd OA)

I had a bit of trouble getting my Saucony A5s on in transition – the insole of my right shoe folded up as I slipped my foot in.  The same thing happened last year with the Kinvara’s and the A4s – they just don’t seem to be designed for sockless running.  I didn’t spend much time messing with it and just took off; I figured that a 5k wasn’t enough to cause any serious blisters or chaffing.

I felt very strong and comfortable as I started out the run.  I strapped my garmin on, I didn’t plan to use it for pacing, but simply to capture the run split and look at the download after the fact.  A little after mile one I let myself check behind me to see where Matt was, and my stomach tightened when I saw him only a handful of yards behind me.

Initially, my thought was crap – he shut down 30 seconds in a mile to mile and a half – I’m in trouble.  After about 5 seconds of panic, I put my pokerface back on and did like Jens Voigt.

By the time I cleared the wooded section of the run (roughly mile 2), I had started to open the gap back up, and by the time mile 3 rolled around it was back to 30 seconds and the question of the day shifted to breaking the 1 hour mark and setting a course record.

Summary:
59:41 (1st OA)

I crossed the finish line in 59:41, my best time on the course by almost 2 minutes and breaking the course record by one minute, 16 seconds – set by Michael Boehmer back in 2008.

A thanks for the support to: Brent and Steve and the rest of the gang at Emery’s, the new bike is great and the 808 FC wheels are hands down the most badass wheels I’ve ever ridden; RACC pb Gear-Grinder, my wife Mary and the newest addition to the family Ethan!

Ironman Arizona 2011

After having a good race in Kona, but sub-optimal (broken spoke on my front wheel with massive rubbing for 65+ miles, very poor pacing on the run), my only desire for IMAZ was to qualify for Kona 2012.  No time goals, no place goals, no split targets – nothing mattered except qualifying.  Despite having an opportunity to qualify next June at IMCDA – I wanted the spot now, so that I could train the next 7 months with no pressure – and focus 100% on Kona.

This meant that I was putting an immense amount of pressure on myself to perform – though heavily inspired by Rappstar’s Sunday in the San Gabriels – I felt up to the task.

Until 9:45 Saturday AM – I felt 100% confident it was going to happen, I felt as if my recovery from Kona and preparation was going great, with my fitness starting to tick upwards.  All was good until a near miss with a car on my last tune up ride resulted in my bike getting driven over by a car.

I went from feeling confident and ready to go – to having to face the distinct possibility of not even starting the race.  Fortunately I was able to get a rental powertap wheel and rent a bike in time for the bike check in.  I ended up with a slight upgrade in wheel – BWR 100mm w/ PT + Disc cover, to a Zipp 900 Disc w/ PT, but took a slight downgrade in frame – SpeedConcept 9 to QR CD 0.1.  I was able to get my fit coordinates mostly transferred over, but it wasn’t perfect; particularly the angle of the saddle.  Everything was close, but I felt slightly off all over the place, as if I was being nickeled and dimed everywhere.

Better than not starting the race.

I went to bed Saturday very stressed out, with no idea what tomorrow held – but even more determined to deliver after having spent a small fortune to rent equipment for this race.

 

Race Day:

This was my first Ironman having to prep not just myself and my equipment, but to also make sure Mary’s equipment was in order.  Fortunately Mary knows the routine and was able to get most of her gear tucked away and everything in order and I just did the double checks.  She did forget a couple things, but it all worked out.

We made the usual visits to the porta potties a couple times pre-race and around 6:40 put on our wetsuits, turned in our morning clothes bags and made our way to the swim entrance arch.  Once in the water we wished each other luck, kissed and then went to go find our swim spots.

Last time at IMAZ, I started right on the buoy line.  This time I intended to shift my start closer to the wall and make a straight shot to the third or fourth buoy down the row.  As has been the case the last few Ironman, my primary concern was to start smooth and finish the swim strong, comfortable and confident.  No loopy headedness.

The cannon sounded and I started swimming.  I didn’t bother search out any feet  – just swam towards the buoy I had picked and swam at a comfortable effort.  Initially a bunch of guys blew by me, but I didn’t let it bother me.  I ended up catching most of the fast starters by the time I reached the rural road bridge.

The remainder of the swim was uneventful – I exited the water and glanced at my watch and saw a 53 – and was happy.

T1:

I got my wetsuit peeled off and ran to get my bag and change. I was struck by how deep I was chilled.  I didn’t feel cold, but my muscles were moving very slowly.  As I was putting my sunglasses on, the snapped right at the bridge – the only though in my mind was “Great another obstacle, hopefully they don’t have to many bugs out on the bike course!”  I’ve had really poor luck with Tifosi sunglasses – and am just not responsible enough for something of better quality.

Bike:

My goal for the bike was to pretty much ride the same ride that I rode in Hawaii – just with 5 fewer gels to help prevent any stomach backups because of overfilling (4 starting bottle, 10 Bontrager speedbottle, 4 SN bottle).  This meant riding roughly 230ish watts.  Since IMAZ is relatively flat at the beginning I didn’t have to burn some extra watts on a climb as you tend to in Hawaii on the Kuakini highway.

My plan to ride 230 watts didn’t last long as the urge to race got the best of me pretty early on as I started chewing through the handful of guys that swam faster than me.  I told myself that once I felt confident that I was the top amateur I would back down a bit.  As good as that sounded, once I started riding through the back end pros – my restraint went more or less out the window.  Riding a wattage target was pretty much over – I did stay responsible enough to keep an eye on my Joule and stay away from sustained efforts at a level that I knew for sure would wreck my day.  I just listened to my body and power meter to ride at a hard sustainable effort that my training had demonstrated was possible.

By the time I was done with the first lap I was very confident that I was the top amateur and my body was telling me that today the game was on.

My average power for each hour on the bike was roughly 230 watts.  It was basically ~237 into the wind, and then lower as the wind pushed me.  The last 40 minutes of the bike I faded quite a bit – “only” averaging 220 watts.  It was an honest combination of backing off a bit for the run, the slight down hill trend back to transition, and fatigue.

I pulled into transition blown away by how quick I had ridden – and despite fading towards the end of the bike I was pretty happy with how I felt.

T2:

Nothing special.

Run:

The run is where I really intended to differentiate this race from Kona.  While I had come into the race with the primary goal of simply getting a Kona slot for Hawaii, starting the run believing I was the top amateur – I felt that this was the time to tick that 6 year old goal off the list.  I started running – purposely holding back.  I learned in Hawaii that I may have the run speed to run a sub 3 Ironman marathon, I’m not yet ready to do it off a 230 watt bike ride – perhaps 200 to 210, but not 230!  I ticked off the first three miles all @ 7:10, feeling confident I had 23 more of them in me, and I was going to be able to turn in a low 8:5X Ironman.  I let racing get the best of me around mile 3.5 or so – as I came down the path behind transition my dad told me I was the second amateur and that the lead guy was a bit in front of me.  He didn’t know how much, but at that point, I again let racing take over and tossed out my conservative pacing (the feedback from spectators telling me that the guy up the road was struggling reinforced the urge to race), and started running about 7:00.  I didn’t run any sub 7 miles (according to my Garmin), but from mile 3 to 13 I was 7:00, with the exception of the mile that ran up the hill on Curry.

At mile 7 I caught my foe and just kept running.  As I neared mile 10 or 11, I knew that I had put out to much effort on the run and that it was going to come back and haunt me, I just had to hope that I had the mental strength to keep moving forward as strong as I could and that my effort to this point had put enough of a buffer between myself and the guys behind me to hang on.

I cracked at between miles 12 and 13 and went from 7:00 back down to 7:1X, but unlike my first few miles this wasn’t 7:10 holding back, this was 7:10 gas pedal to the floor wishing I had a lot less than 13 miles to run.

As I was nearing the finish of my second loop, I was passed by Eneko and a minute or so later by Paul Amey as they were finishing their race.  To know that they both were likely to crack 8 hours, put into perspective that while I was having an awesome race and had a good chance to break 9 hours – that I was just a minnow in an ocean of very, very big fish.

The upside of being passed was that it really helped to give me an external focal point in the race and distract me from the urge to slow down or to simply start walking.  I did my best to match Paul’s pace – which in reality meant that rather then simply getting the doors blown off I simply watched him disappear into the distance over the course of several minutes.  Fortunately for me this brought me back to the “hot-corner” of the run, and I was able to get a mental boost by running through groups of runners just starting their run.

Things kept going well, though my pace was still slowing, but the call of nature that I had been putting off since mile 2 on the run was getting really strong, and it was being joined by the urge to do the unmentionable.  Now I have always said that the next time this happened I was going to just let it go and clean it up later because it wasn’t worth stopping, but the thought of running the last 5 miles in my own mess – suffice it to say it didn’t sound as fun as it sounds when you are joking with friends.  Discretion is the better part of valor.

At the aid station at ~mile 21, I ducked into the porta potty and did my business, and got back out on to the run course.  I instantly felt better, though I did assume that there was at least a 50% chance that I had been passed.

The last several miles passed as they typically do in an Ironman, just guts and the constant thought that each step is bringing you closer to the finish line and that the distance left to run is less than your everyday run distance.

When I got to the aid station just before the Hill on Curry road, I was passed by a pro that I had passed early on in the bike – and we both exchanged our thoughts on how unpleasant this was.  I entered the aid station and gave in to the urge to walk – I told myself it was OK, that I needed it, etc.  I managed to get myself running again after a glass of coke and water, and got up the hill the best I could.

The last two miles of the run was just a pure fight to try and get to the finish line as quickly as I could – I hoped that I was still the top amateur at this point, but I figured I wasn’t – but I knew that I had a fighting chance to break 9 hours – and I wanted that badly.

When I broke off from the loops of the run course to head to the finish line I knew I would break 9 hours and that was a great feeling.

All of that changed as I rounded the corner onto Rio Salado for the last 100 meters or so of the run – and a couple of guys started to go ape yelling that I was the first age grouper.    At that point I gave up caring about a sub 9 Ironman – I had done it – my longest standing triathlon goal was conquered.  I soaked up the finish line and took my time as I heard Mike Reilly say I was an Ironman and that I was the first amateur to finish.

I had no idea what my time was at that point and really didn’t care.

It was only about an hour later when I was looking at the official results on my phone – while trying to see how Mary was doing when I saw my time: 9:00:01.

I want to add in some special thanks to a number of folks – that really helped enable this race and the season as a whole: first on the list is my wife.  She puts up with my insanity on a daily basis and I have no idea how she does it – I’m very lucky.  I also want to thank Marc @ Ironman Wheel rentals for finding a power-tap disc for me to rent, and pointing me to Ed @ the inside out sports booth for a bike rental.  I owe Marc and Ed a great deal of gratitude for helping me get what I needed to start the race.

Beyond that I also want to call out Paulo for his help with my bike fit this past winter and some “cryptic” posts in a number of threads related to training questions I’ve posed – that I found to be very helpful and insightful.  MarkyV for spending a great deal of time emailing back and forth with me this summer and helping get me on a good path.  desert dude get’s the same thanks for the insightful email conversations and excellent solicited (and unsolicited) advice.  So to you three guys: Thanks.

Thanks also to the guys at Emery’s for all their bike support this year, and to Team GearGrinder for all their support!

Ironman World Championship 2011

Pre-race

The last 2 weeks of training leading into Kona were perfect.  In many ways some of my workouts were so good it was frightening.  I honestly couldn’t remember the last time I felt this good so early in relation to a big race.  Based on my final benchmark workouts “ I felt that a time in the 9:09 to 9:20 range was a very likely possibility and given the out of the blue performance at Ironman Wisconsin in 2010 “ anything in the 8:50 to 9:45 would have not surprised me.

As far as goals for the race I had three tiers of Goals (in order or satisfaction level):

  1. Run the whole marathon
  2. Top 100 overall
  3. Top 5 Age Group

Swim

56:16
12th AG/78th OA

My intention for the swim was as it always was “ swim fast enough to have my swim plus transitions be an hour.  In the past “ I’ve gotten myself into trouble by pursuing a target time or trying to build a cushion on the swim.  It’s simply too easy for me to swim beyond my fitness level and not realize I’m doing it.

I lined up a so that it was a straight shot to the second buoy on the course.  The swim start was rather frantic in the last moments before the cannon and I lost my first row spot.  When the cannon sounded I simply started swimming!  I swam pretty much my own pace and opportunistically located feet to swim on.  At the turn around boat I glanced at my watch and was right around 26:XX “ which surprised me “ I didn’t feel like I was swimming that fast.

The return trip dashed the hopes of a super-fast swim split.  I’m not sure if it was my choice of effort, feet to follow or what “ but the trip back to the pier took forever.  The swimmer in me was a bit discouraged to see a 56 swim split (my slowest ever), but the triathlete in me said “ swim + transitions will be about 1:01 “ that’s just fine.

T2
2:06

T2 was pretty uneventful “ since you are allowed to leave your bike shoes and helmet at your bike in Kona, and there is no wetsuit to remove “ it was a pretty simple stop to remove my swimskin “ grab my sunglasses and nutrition and be on my way.

Bike
5:05:11

The plan for the bike was simple “ bike fast and deal with the run when it got there.  OK “ not that simple, but close.  In reality the plan was to ride with a power target of 225 watts “ and hope that it resulted in a sub-5 hour bike split.   I wanted to ride the course powerwise as if it were flat with the exceptions of Kuikini and the meat of the climb to Hawii “ where I would bump the power up a little bit because of the uphill.

Some boring notes on nutrition for the ride “ I started the ride with a small water bottle with 4 gels + water + 3 salt stick tablets.  I drank this by the second aid station.  Once that was gone I started in on a flask that had 5 gels and a couple salt tablets.  Unfortunately I lost this flask shortly after I took my first shot out of it.  I also started the race with a Bontrager speed bottle filled with 11 gels and 7 salt stick tablets.  At special needs I had a backup bottle of nutrition identical to the first “ assuming I would do something dumb along the way and lose my gel flask.

This combination gave me 20 gels on the bike.  Along the course I also picked up another 3 (I think).  I also drank a lot of water (probably too much “ more on that later), and sprayed a water bottle on my core and back to help stay cool.

Back to the ride “ fortunately the Bowe side of my heritage will be pleased to know that I was blessed with some great experiences to enhance my story telling.

Early in the ride as I completed the out and back on the Kuikini Highway and turned onto the Queen K “ a spotter called out that I was the 29th amateur at that point.  After my sub-par swim this buoyed my spirits quite a bit “ even though we were only about 10 miles into the bike ride “ I knew my fitness was solid and it was one of those rare days when your body is telling you it is ready to perform.

As I rolled through the miles some of the perennial AG front runners came by “ I keyed off them to keep the pace high and while they rode away from me “ it was not occurring in a way that was discouraging.  Being passed by a sub-9 hour athlete and not seeing them dwindle in the distance within 45 seconds is highly motivating.

As the saying goes “ all good things must end.  I’m a little fuzzy on which happened first “ but two of the three problems I experienced on the bike (if you discount losing a gel flask “ which I basically anticipated in my plan).  I’m not sure what happened first, so in good Bowe fashion “ I won’t let the facts get in the way of a good story.

About 40 miles into the race “ after cruising along on the Queen K highway “ the course makes a left hand turn, screams downhill for a mile or two “ and finally you make a right hand turn and begin what is essentially an 18 mile ascent from sea level to 600 feet above sea level.  This may not seem like much, but add in crazy winds that are intent on blowing you from your bike “ and 90+ degree temperatures “ and it’s a barrel full of monkeys.

I tell you all this because this is a key part of the race, and having a power meter is an awesome tool to enable you to ride this 18 mile segment right at the edge “ getting you to the turnaround as fast as possible, but without cooking your NeNe.  This is important because at mile 33 my power meter died.  Here I am “ in the biggest race of the year “ with perfect fitness, it happens to be the day that my power meter and cycling computer decide to stop talking.

Initially “ I had hopes that it was just a temporary glitch in the wireless communication “ basically a dropped call “ but as the minutes rolled by it became clear that I was on my own.  After a short little panic attack “ I took my skirt off and said “ I can deal with this.  I’m far enough into the race “ my body won’t lie to me and tell me I’m going to easy.  I told myself the biggest loss out of this will be the loss of the power data from this kick-ass performance.

I had an uneventful few miles “ teased a few times by the computer coming alive and then cutting out “ but never-the-less I kept riding.  As I crested a hill just shy of the turn-off “ I stood to stretch my legs and heard the most horrible noise a cyclist will ever hear “ I’ve been blessed twice now with this noise!  As part of my brain realized that a spoke on my front wheel had just broken and proceeded to freak out “ another part tried to convince itself it was just a rock that had ricocheted off my bike.

Once I looked down and saw how wildly out of true my front wheel was “ my heart truly sank.  In about 30 seconds I experienced the emotions of having to cope with a mechanical DNF/massive loss of time/etc.  Once I let those emotions run their course “ I decided that I would simply ride this piece of carbon until one of the following occurred: it failed and I crashed spectacularly (or some variation on that theme), I found a support vehicle with a spare wheel, or I finished the race.

On the brightside “ when I got myself back together and in the race “ I was pleased to notice my powermeter and computer where functioning again!!!

The remainder of the ride was truly uneventful “ with a couple exceptions:

  • On the return trip to Kona “ my powermeter cut out *again* at the same spot!
  • I did not suffer a failure of my wheel, it held up like a trooper “ and as best I could tell was true enough that it wasn’t rubbing the brake.
  • I saw a neutral support vehicle going in the opposite direction with wheels, but given that the wheel wasn’t rubbing “ I felt like I may lose a lot of time flagging them down “ and swapping out.

I finished up the bike “ not knowing my exactly split time, but knowing it was under 5:10, and knowing that my wattage was exactly was I had planned for.  So no matter how you slice it “ an incredible PR on the bike.  The fact that I never reached the point of needing to be off the bike “ left me feeling pretty confident for the run.

T2
2:28

Uneventful, except I took a digger shortly after entering transition as I rounded a corner.

Run
3:29:14

I started out the run “ just running.  Nice easy perceived effort “ not wanting to blow myself up in the first mile.

At first things seemed to be going pretty good.  I clipped off the first 4 miles in just under 28 minutes, despite feeling tough “ I told myself œThis is an Ironman “ it’s supposed to be hard.  However “ a fear was starting to form in my brain that this was going to be a bad day “ œbreathing is labored, œit’s hot, œit’s really hard, œyour stomach is backing up, œblisters are forming already said the litany of voices in my head.

I did my best to fight them off, but they were very persistent.  By the time I saw Mary for the second time around mile 8 “ a small portion of me had accepted that it was likely only 10 or 15 more minutes until it turned into a death march to the finish.

I kept fighting though “ I told myself that between my bike split, and the first 5 miles of running “ if I just kept it together enough to stay œrunning I could probably PR and walk away with a great result.

Before long I was at the hill that is Palini Drive “ like 2007 my stomach was pretty bloated at this point, but I was mentally very motivated to make this happen.  I ran up about 1/3 of the hill “ than switched to a power walk (it’s not as if my 12′ mile run up the hill was much better than my 14.5′ mile walk up the hill).

As I was cresting the hill I decided I needed to do something about my stomach.  I could stop taking in fluids and nutrition and hope that it would clear out and risk bonking badly.  Or I could force myself to ease off a bit by walking a couple aid stations and taking in just coke.

I moved through miles 11 to ~17 walking every other aid station “ keeping cool and drinking coke.  Around mile 17 I started to feel better, just tired, and was able to start running (strongly) again.

I did some mental math and realized that depending on the terrain mix and what my legs had left I would be somewhere between a 5 minute PR and a sprint for it PR.

Fast forward to mile 26 “ after having bombed down Palini Drive, I was in a dead sprint to the finish to earn a PR “ I crossed the line “ savoring the victory of the day “ and the 54 second PR “ 9:35:15.

Summary

Despite having my worst œrun in an Ironman “ I am not one bit disappointed with my race.  There was a point where it would have been very easy to quit and call it a day “ and move on to give it another shot in six weeks in Phoenix, but I choose to flip the switch and end the day with a PR.

I’m left with a couple thoughts:

  • Nutrition “ why did my stomach back up?
  • Too aggressive on the run?
  • Too aggressive on the bike?
  • Heat?
  • Too much gel?
  • Too much fluid?
  • Some combo?
  • Based on previous experiences of having my stomach backup like this “ I think the problem is probably related to being overly aggressive with hydration.  I have had issues in both training and racing when I get much over ~20 oz. of water an hour.  I’ll be honest and say the aid stations were coming *really* fast, and I was drinking a lot.  Also grabbing extra gels off the course and consuming them was probably a bad idea since my body wasn’t calling for them.  Would backing down a bit on the bike have helped?  Most likely, but sometimes biking œtoo hard is an easy scape goat to blame instead of other mistakes.  End result “ one or mistakes on my part.
  • Going forward “ my powertap will get fresh batteries prior to every main race.
  • When I picked my bike up from transition I found that my front wheel was rubbing horribly on my brake on every rotation “ to get back to my condo I had to remove one of the brake pads from the front brake¦

 

 

 

J-Hawk Early Bird 2011

Took the swim pretty relaxed, no rush on the swim.  Got taken to school by a couple high school kids and towed the last 75 yards for a VERY VERY easy float into T2 “ ~5:50 @ touch.

Bike:
I intended to keep the real time watts +- 300, but tempered with the reality of the potential for a tactical ride (which never arrived).  Average ended up @ 278, with a normalized power of 288 “ mount to dismount.  Pretty much identical to my last four races here in terms of power “ about 1:40 slower than last fall due to the wind.  It was definitely the windest conditions I’ve ever had to race (and possibly even ride) in “ time/power was lost in a lot of the turns to keep from getting whipped around.  Did I mention the wind was horrible?

Run:
Best run on this course by 15 to 20 seconds “ mostly sheltered by the wind, but a couple exposed sections.  20:08 (~6:29) for a cross country 5k. 6:14/6:35/6:35/change.