It’s been a busy year — lots of 70.3s from March-May, a cross-country move from LA to NYC in the summer, and new projects with work. Still, thanks to the coaching wizardry of Justin Daerr and support from my girlfriend Marla, I was able to show up to Ironman Cozumel in the best shape of my life. (Well, endurance shape that is. I can barely do a push-up these days…)
Given how I felt about my fitness, I came into the race with the below goals:
- Pretty Realistic: Get a 2018 Kona slot, Win M30-34 AG
- Stretch / Wishful Thinking: Sub 9 hours, Win overall amateur race
I came into the race feeling confident and relaxed. It helped spending lots of time with friends Justin and Jimmy, who were also racing, and having Marla there. I’m definitely more at ease when racing and staying with friends. Takes the pressure off a bit since the trip is more fun and isn’t solely about the result — it’s a fun experience regardless.
On race morning I actually didn’t feel great. I had stomach issues in the morning — maybe nerves, maybe something else — and my stomach continued to feel a bit off at times throughout the day. I still felt strong though and stayed positive given my confidence in my preparation.
Standing at the start line, I reminded myself that this was my opportunity to show off the past two years of training since I last raced Cozumel.
Diving in for the swim, I concentrated on form and catching a good draft. It was fast and I felt great. On the bike, I settled into a comfortable pace and only had a few rough patches where I was feeling a little off. Overall, I didn’t worry much about my watts and just pushed a conservative pace. I wanted to ride well, but knew the race would be decided on the run. Getting off the bike, I started to push hard on the run course immediately. I felt great, comfortably holding 6:50/mile pace, until about mile 17. I went from feeling awesome, to really hurting in the span of 5 minutes. Thankfully I was able to hold it together and ultimately finish strong.
The end result was a personal best across all three disciplines.
FINISH TIME 8:57:24
Swim 48:46 Bike 4:59:41 Run 3:03:43
1st M30-34, 4th Amateur, 19th Overall
I'm pumped with the result. I feel like I gave everything I had out there, properly honoring the hard work and commitment that went into training along with all the help I’ve received along the way. It was humbling to go under 9 hours — my first Ironman time was 11:23:08 in 2012 (first half in 2010 was 5:50!). Shows that anyone can make huge improves with the right guidance and willingness to do the work. Pumped that this means I get to return to Kona in 2018 too. Should be another awesome trip to the Big Island. Can't wait.
Back in 2015, I did Cozumel and had a strong race. I took out the M25-29 AG with a 9:26 and qualified for Kona for the first time. I loved the island, the course, the time of year, and the early jump on Kona qualification. While this year was spent doing mostly 70.3s, I knew I wanted to get back to Kona in 2018, so was considering this race all year. I didn’t commit right away though.
Moving from LA to NYC was tough, and I took most of July off from any structured training. The move and work had me preoccupied. It was also a nice mental break. I raced a lot of 70.3s at the start of the year, doing Puerto Rico, Oceanside, and Chattanooga, so was in great shape but a bit burned out. By the start of August, I felt re-energized and Justin got me back on track with training.
By the end of August, fitness was coming back and my day-to-day life was settling down. I signed up for Cozumel and was pumped to get back there and race.
Some pictures from early August in NYC riding with EMJ guys and late August in Tucson with Justin, Walter and other friends...
I really got back into the swing of things with a training camp at the end of August. I took a week to train with Justin along with some fast AG friends in Tucson. This got me into decent shape for 70.3 Worlds, but more importantly set the tone for the next couple months of focused training for Cozumel. 70.3 Worlds went well for where I was in my training, and I came out of it feeling strong.
From there, I kicked off a 10-week block of focused training in prep for Cozumel. I did a full post on that for those interested in getting in the weeds on my specific training sessions, etc...
Some pics from the Tucson Bro Camp w/ JD & Leiferman... this two-week stretch of training/ trying to hang with these beasts is what really got me in shape for Coz.
Marla and I got to Cozumel on Wednesday afternoon. After a 4am wake-up in NYC and full day of travel, we were totally spent upon arrival. We got a quick dinner at our favorite, Casa Mission, and went to sleep around 8pm. I slept soundly for 12 hours. Tight.
The next few days were a mix of light training, typical pre-race errands, and lots of hanging with Justin and Jimmy, who were also racing. Always fun doing races with good friends, especially Ironmans. It makes things way less stressful and always makes for a great trip. (Brooke & Kelly, awesome having you guys in Coz too!)
After a fitful night of sleep — the typical up-every-hour, pre-Ironman "sleep" — I woke up at 4am and nailed my pre-race usual. My stomach was a total mess and I could barely get down the full container of apple sauce. I'm not sure if it was nerves or the fact that I used tap water while brushing my teeth the night prior. (Not cool in Cozumel... mental lapse on my part.) Either way, I was a little worried, but carried on as normal trying to convince myself that all was chill.
I rode to T1 with JD and Jimmy at 5am. I got my bike sorted and hopped on a bus to swim start around 5:45am. On the bus, I connected with EMJ teammate James Harrington for the first time. He was fresh off of a very strong race in Kona (9:26) and ready to smoke the 40-44 AG.
Once at swim start, I did a 15-minute warm-up run and started to get in the right headspace. Stomach was starting to feel better, which was a relief. With 10 minutes until the AG start, I got situated with the Under 1 Hour Swim corral.
While standing in the corral, I noticed a woman making her way to the front of the start line. Given her confidence in coming to the front, I figured she was a strong swimmer, but potentially one who I could keep up with. (I'm usually just a touch slower than the 1 or 2 fastest female AG swimmers at a non-championship race.) So, I lined up behind her.
When the gun went off, we were slowly let down the pier and jumped into the water after crossing the timing mats. Way more organized than it was in 2015. I got on said female's feet early and she was really pushing it. I had to work my ass off to stay with her!
About halfway into the swim, a wave hit our little group and opened up a 5-yard gap between me and this strong swimmer. I pushed to try to close it, but it wasn’t happening. She was too fast. From there, I led a smaller pack of guys for the back half of the swim.
As I approached the exit ramp, I took a quick glance at my watch and saw 48:xx and thought, Holy shit that was fast. Sub-9 hours was definitely in play.
I ripped through transition, sucked down a bit of water and two gels, and was out on the bike.
(After a quick look at results, the speedy female was Brittany Vocke. I don't know her, but she deserves a shoutout for swimming a 44:57 which had her FOTW for women AG'ers.)
On the bike, I felt pretty strong from the start and just settled into a decent pace. While normally I am VERY focused on my watts during a race, I'd been having issues with my power meter for the past month. It appeared to be reading low (by maybe 5-7%) in comparison to my other hub-based power meter and my Wahoo Kickr.
So, for this race, I kept an eye on my watts but also focused a lot on how the effort felt. I didn't want to kill myself trying to hold my goal watts of 200 if the meter was in fact off, but I also didn't want to hold myself back if 200 felt normal since the power meter could be reading correctly. (Having a messed up power meter is something that would have spooked me big time even just a year ago. I got much better at racing the bike by feel this year doing lots of 70.3s, so I was less concerned about it.)
LAP 1: Even in the first 5 miles, holding 200 watts felt too hard. I backed off a bit, knowing that this race would come down to the run, so sat right around 195. I did the first lap (bike course is 3 loops) holding just over 190 watts and my average speed was 23mph. With that in mind, I figured my power meter had to be off by at least 5%. While the wind would continue to pick up and make the ride slower, at 23mph I was on track for a 4:55-ish bike split.
LAP 2: The second lap is probably the hardest one mentally. I remember seeing 50 miles on my bike computer and thinking, OK well, just under 65 miles to go... Good lord. Not a comforting thought. I still felt good though and was pleased to be on track for under 5 hours.
At this point it was getting hot on the course. I had been hitting the aid stations from mile 1, usually getting just ice water to spray on myself. But now, I was making a more concerted effort to get at least one Gatorade bottle at the aid stations since my own fluid supply was now tapped out.
As I reached the east side of the island on lap 2, the stretch on the bike course that's right on the water and exposed to a pretty strong headwind (see picture above), I started to go through a bit of a rough patch. My stomach started to feel off again, so I slowed down on fluid intake and took my first salt pill. Given the salt all over my kit, I figured I was in need. (More on my in-race nutrition here.)
I focused on just turning the peddles over and staying low given the wind. At this point, about 2.5 hours into the ride and near mile 60, a moped pulled up along side me with a camera man. I realized it was my buddy Talbot (@talbotcox), an awesome photographer. We exchanged some words and he snapped photos for about 3 or 4 minutes. This quick interaction provided a huge mental boost. I was feeling super pro haha and got back some good energy.
Before I knew it, I was riding back through town — where Marla, Brooke, and Kelly were stationed cheering — and I was kicking off the final lap.
LAP 3: Lap three was a challenge. Hot and windy. Unfortunately, a few of the aid stations were totally caught off guard too, so I was unable to get any fluids for much of this lap. Not ideal. My watts were way down from the start of it, but speed was still pretty solid - wind was picking up and was a tailwind at this point - so I didn't sweat it. With little to no fluids, I wasn't going to hammer.
With the winds picking up, the east side had a stiff headwind/crosswind as did the northern straightaway. I was riding slowly. I kept an eye on my time, and as I got closer to the 113 mile mark (the course is a mile long), I started to push a bit harder to make sure that I was coming in under the 5-hour mark. I figured that a sub 5-hour bike split would have 1st in M30-34 not too far up the road.
I cruised into T2 just under 5 hours. I quickly threw on my shoes, visor, shades, and run number, and was off.
At non-championship Ironmans, this is really where the race starts for me. I try to swim and bike well enough to allow for a strong run to win my age group and place well overall. I came off the bike in 4th in M30-34 and was just over a minute back from 1st (which Marla relayed to me about .5 miles in). My swim and bike have improved a lot over the past two years. I used to come off the bike about 5-8 minutes down on 1st in my AG.
Right off the bike, I found my legs and felt good. So good that I wasn't sure my Garmin, which was reading 6:35/mile pace, was accurate. Sure enough, I hit the mile 1 marker in 6:36. From there, I pulled back and settled into a 6:45-6:50/mile pace.
By mile 13, I was consistently running 6:50/mile pace and felt great. I moved into 1st in M30-34 and started asking Marla how far up the road the 1st overall amateur was. By mile 15, I was holding on to 1st in M30-34 and had moved into 5 overall amateur. I was still holding my pace and thought that going under 3 hours in the marathon was a real possibility.
Around mile 16, I started to slow a bit with my stomach feeling tight, and teammate James Harrington came up beside me. He had gotten off the bike about a minute behind me and was running a similar pace. With James beside me now, I focused just on staying with him. Having him next to me was a big motivator to stay on track with pacing.
This is one of the huge advantages of being part of a team. (Not to mention the "¡Vamos EMJ!" shouts we got out there. So funny.) I didn't know James well prior to the race, but we really pushed each other on back half of the run and forged a good bond through that shared suffering.
By mile 17 however, I was starting to fade with my pace dropping to 7:15/mile and the wheels were coming off. James pulled ahead and it was all I could do to keep him in sight. While my legs still felt strong, my stomach was off and my energy levels were fading. I knew I needed calories but I wasn't sure what my stomach could handle. I decided to hit the Pepsi at the aid stations HARD. (Shoutout to my man John Newsom from Epic Camp and the IM Talk Podcast for this tip.) I started slowly jogging the aid stations while yelling, Pespi!
Mile 18 through mile 21 had me averaging about a 7:25/mile pace. I was really hurting. Thankfully around mile 21, a 5-year-old Cozumel boy gave me a full pitcher of iced Pepsi. I came through yelling for it, and must have surprised him. He looked at me wide-eyed and handed me the full pitcher that he was using to refill the small cups. I guzzled most of it, while waddling for a couple steps, before another volunteer realized what was happening and motioned for the pitcher back while laughing and yelling. Maybe 5 minutes after this, I came back to life. That little kid saved my run.
With 4 miles left, and now feeling more energized, I decided to take it one mile at a time and simply push as hard as I could for each. I knew if I could put down 2 of the remaining 4 miles at 7:00/mile pace, I would almost certainly get under 9 hours and win the age group. I went for it, fighting to get my pace down to 6:59/mile.
I came by James around mile 23 and urged him to come with me. He picked up his pace as well. Still taking each mile at a time, I focused on doing everything possible to keep running under 7-minute pace. It hurt, and probably wasn't pretty, but I held on and finished the marathon in 3:03:43 with the final post-Pepsi-chug miles run in 7:04, 6:58, 6:57, and 6:57.
James came across the finish just 40 seconds or so behind me, also winning his age group and taking 5th overall amateur. Pretty awesome.
Friends Crushing It
Here are some photos that Marla took of Justin and Jimmy racing along with the next-level support from their wives, Brooke and Kelly.
Justin finished 8th in the pro race, with an 8:19:28. He was in contention for top 3, but faded on the back half of the run. (A mechanical on the bike led to him having to work very hard to get back into position, which likely cost him his run legs. My words, not his. He never gives any excuses.)
I'm often asked if I want to go pro or if I plan to. For most, it's hard to comprehend just how fast the pros are in comparison to most of the top AG'ers -- Justin finished well over a half an hour before me. (See photo above -- changed, showered, etc.) And that was an off day, placing 8th. He was also racing a totally different race; taking risks trying to place in the top 3. While I could probably get a pro card, I would be so far behind these guys. Not only that, it would take many years of totally focused training to start closing that gap. These guys work so hard, EVERY DAY. I'm able to do that for just a couple weeks a year. So no, I have no intention of going pro. It's just not a realistic option. Hats off to all the pros out there making it work and to the guys truly on the cusp who are making the leap. You guys rock.
Jimmy had a great race, finishing with a 10:01:16. Despite the great time and having been in 3rd for much of the race, he came in 4th in 50-54 and just missed a Kona slot (3 in that AG). He keeps getting faster, and I know he'll crush his next Ironman and get to Kona.
And finally, big shoutout to friend Lisa Roberts on WINNING the women's pro race. Lisa, you are a total beast. Looking forward to racing with you again in Kona 2018!
This was by far my best race to date. I showed up in great shape and was able to execute on the day. I'm proud of that. I'm also very thankful for the fact that no big issues came up prior to or during the race. It's not uncommon for things like mechanicals on the bike or injuries to derail an Ironman that you've invested so much into. I'm lucky that I could just go out there and race my race.
I'm also incredibly grateful for all the support I got in preparing for this race — big thanks in particular to Marla and Justin, along with the many guys I train with + those on Team EMJ. Training was way more fun this year with lots of group rides and several stretches of focused training with friends.
They say that it's about the journey, the training, and not the destination, the result. I really think that's true. I'm definitely happy with the result, but even without it, I'd still be grateful for all the experiences I've had while training this past year. This sport has brought many great people into my life and I've really enjoyed the time spent with them on the bike, at the pool, and on the road and trails. Even the time spent alone, during a relaxed cruiser or while pushing myself to the limit, has helped me gain a deeper sense of self. That's what makes this sport so special.
Probably easier to say all this after a good race, but I still believe it to be true. I don't think I'll race as much in 2018, but I still intend to log many hours training. It helps to now have Kona 2018 as a motivator too... :)
Thanks as always to awesome sponsors Taos Mountain Energy Bars and Every Man Jack**, along with the fantastic Team EMJ sponsors Felt, Roka, BOCO, Normatec, GU Energy, Garmin, Oakley, Lululemon, SockGuy, and Cobb Saddles.
Feel free to drop any questions or comments below. Happy to respond to all.
**Use code RMOHR18 at checkout for 25% off at everymanjack.com ;)
- KONA!! THE IRONMAN WORLD CHAMPS + A SHORT SEASON RECAP
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